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In 2021, India recorded the world’s highest daily tally of 314,835 COVID-19 infections on April 22nd, as this second wave sent many more into a fragile health care system, critically short of hospital beds and oxygen. Working with our partners, hospitals, and governments, AIF has launched a three-pronged Phase 2 Emergency Response Strategy to address this crisis. Here is an overview.

The American India Foundation is committed to improving the lives of India’s underprivileged, with a special focus on women, children, and youth. AIF does this through high impact interventions in education, health, and livelihoods, because poverty is multidimensional. AIF’s unique value proposition is its broad engagement between communities, civil society, and expertise, thereby building a lasting bridge between the United States and India. With offices in New York and California, twelve chapters across the U.S., and India operations headquartered in Delhi NCR, AIF has impacted 6.7 million lives across 26 states of India.

Kali Pooja

I am sitting in my room in Kolkata and pondering over my next blog post. Writing is something which doesn’t come to me at all. I can’t stop but help noticing how many poojas are performed in Bengal especially when I hear the Dhaki (a form of Indian drum) loud and clear being played in the background. I landed in Kolkata on 21st September. The entire city was already in a blissful state of affairs. The festivities were kick started by Durga Pooja followed by Lokhi Pooja (a form of Lakshmi Pooja) and Kali Pooja on Diwali. My host family believes in celebrating all poojas and doing justice to each and every God and Goddess known to mankind as per Hindu mythology.

Kali is first of the ten incarnations of Durga. The date of the pooja coincides with the festival of lights, Diwali. The only difference being as the rest of the country worships Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) on this day its Kali in West Bengal and some other states. Legend has it that the Goddess was on a killing spree. To stop her, Lord Shiva threw himself under her feet. Surprised by this gesture of Shiva, Kali stuck out her tongue in shock and put an end to the killings. Kali for the above reasons is considered one of the most aggressive forms of Durga. For the same reasons the Goddess is associated as the destroyer of evil. The underlying reason of performing the pooja is to bring peace, prosperity and happiness to the family. Kali is also known as a fighter for justice.

As per tradition the pooja is done in the night. The venue of the pooja can be either a cremation ground or the residence of the family performing it.

Kali Pooja celebrations can be seen mainly in Bengal, Orissa and Assam. Since I am not a native of any of these states my excitement grew by leaps and bounds to be a part of the entire pooja proceedings. Finally the pooja starts at 10pm. The offerings to the Goddess include fruits, vegetables, rice, liquor, ganja (marijuana), and hibiscus flowers. There is a small bottle of royal stag right next to the idol. The people who perform the pooja must fast. Aarti is offered to the Goddess approx 7-10 times in the course of the pooja. Each time the Shank (shell) is blown along with the Dhaki . The rituals performed in the pooja are similar to those done during a Bengali wedding. After approx 3 hours into the pooja anjali is offered to the deity. The entire family repeats whatever the Brahmin (a Hindu priest) asks them to. The anjali indicates that the first half of the pooja is over.

The worshipping in the first half of the pooja is similar to those performed during a Bengali wedding. The second half starts with a havan or homam. Towards the end of the havan 108 lamps are lit by the family members. The lamps can be lit only by married people or children. After about 2-3 hours the pooja comes to an end. Its 4 am the next day and the marathon pooja come to an end. By this time the bottle of liquor (Royal Stag) has disappeared. The fast is broken by the family members. The same day is a ritual performed exclusively by married ladies. The Goddess is offered sweets and sindhur (vermillion). It is similar to Sindhur ceremony done during Durga pooja.  The entire family along with the idol heads towards the bank of the holy river, Ganga. It is immersed into the Ganges marking the end of the pooja.

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