Durga Puja is one of the most important festivals in India. It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shasthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami. More than just a festival Durga Puja is a celebration of life, culture, popular customs and traditions. It is a time of reunion and rejuvenation to love, to share and to care. Durga Puja is an important Hindu Festival celebrated all over India with different rituals and festivities especially in the eastern region covering the states of West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Tripura. In West Bengal and Tripura, which has majority of Bengali Hindus it is the biggest festival of the year. Apart from eastern India, Durga Puja is also celebrated in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir, Karnataka and Kerala.
It is celebrated in the month of September/October every year. This festival involves the worship of Shakti i.e Goddess Durga. The legend Shakti lays back to the story of Mahisasur, a powerful daemon also known as the Buffalo Daemon. Through years of intense praying and worship he got boon from Lord Brahma that no power could him making him invincible. But once the divine powers were bestowed upon him, he started ravaging the whole world and killing people and eventually wanted to uproot the Gods too.
The Gods, in dismay, combined their powers to create a beautiful maiden, and each placed his or her most potent weapon in one of her ten hands riding a lion. Durga killed Mahisasur and won the heaven back for the Gods. Her return in each year in the Bengali month of Aswin (September-October) commemorates Rama’s invocation of the goddess Durga before he went into battle with Ravana. Durga Puja is celebrated as one of the biggest festival in Bengal and is also most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali society.
Durga is the Goddess of divine power against all evils. The story goes that Mahishasur, the Buffalo Demon, through years of praying, received blessings from Lord Brahma, that no power can kill him which means he is invincible. But once gaining this power he started ravaging the whole world and killing people and eventually wanted to uproot the Gods too. The Gods, in dismay, combined their powers to create a beautiful maiden, and each placed his or her most potent weapon in one of her ten hands riding a lion. Her return in each year in the Hindu month of Ashwin (September-October) commemorates Rama’s invocation of the goddess Durga before he went into battle with Ravana. The traditional image of the Bengali Durga follows the iconographic injunctions of the Shastras. It is similar to the Durga of Aihole and of Mahabalipuram (seventh century). The tableau of Durga with her four children – Kartik, Ganesh, Saraswati and Lakshmi, representing respectively the Protector, the Initiator of the puja, Knowledge and the Provider – signifies the complete manifestation of the goddess. The celebration of Durga Puja in the month of Ashwin is also known as Akalbodhon or untimely celebration. It is called Akalbodhon because the time of worship differs from the conventional period which is spring or Basanta.
In Ramayana, it is said that Lord Ram wanted the blessings of the Mother Goddess in order to save his wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana. Satisfied with Ram’s devotion, Durga appeared before him and showered her blessings. Since Ram evoked the Goddess during autumn this period of worship is therefore known as ‘Akalbodhon’. According to other traditions, it is believed that Lord Shiva permitted Durga to visit her mother only for nine days in a year. This festival of Durga Puja therefore marks her visit to her mother’s place and ends with the Vijaya Dashmi day, when Goddess Durga leaves for her return to Mount Kailash.
Durga Puja has transcended geographical boundaries and reached every corner across the globe. The four-day fair – has become an indispensable part of every one’s life in India.
It is one of the biggest festivals in Bengal. Durga Puja is celebrated on a mass scale with puja pandals dotting nearly every corner of West Bengal. Community pujas in Bengal are organised in every locality. On the final day the idols are taken in elaborate processions to be immersed in the river or the pond. Such is the charm and seduction of the occasion that several big community pujas in the city are being sponsored by multinational companies and commercial firms.
Durga Puja celebrations
The inauguration starts on Mahashasthi. The main puja is for three days – Mahasaptami, Mahaastami, & Mahanavami. Three days of Mantras and Shlokas and Arati and offerings – needs an expert priest to do this kind of Puja. Because of these facts, the number of Pujas held in the family has reduced and Durga Puja has mostly emerged as a community festival. The city of Kolkata takes a different look during these three days, especially at night. Millions of people come to the city and line up before the pandals. The streets are lighted and the electricians display all different kind of light shows. The restaurants are packed and numerous temporary food stalls are opened though out the city.
Schools, colleges, offices remain closed during these four days. Bengalis in other cities in India visit their relatives in West Bengal. After the three days of Puja, on Dashami, on the last day, a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess. The idols are carried in processions around the locality and finally are immersed in a nearby river or lake. Bengalis all over the world celebrate this great event of their culture.
In West Bengal’s neighbor state Orissa, the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated in a similar manner. Especially in the city of Cuttack, a large number of idols of Durga and Mahadev are worshipped in profusely decorated pandals.
Life comes to a standstill in the city as crowds pour over the Puja Mandaps to enjoy the festivities. On the day succeeding ‘Vijaya Dasami’, the last day of Dussehra, the images are taken in a spectacular procession for immersion in the river Kathajodi.