Durga Puja, also known as Dussehra and Navaratri in other parts of India, is one of the main festivals of the Hindus. The puja is dedicated to deity Durga who is the Goddess of divine power against all evils. It is the celebration of joy, culture, tradition and customs, more than just a festival. Much awaited Durga Puja is the time of reunion and rejuvenation, a share of joy and care. It is also one of the biggest festivals in the state of West Bengal. It is celebrated in the month of September/October every year. The festive moods build up as ‘dhakis’ (drummers) gather near the city. The beat their beautifully decorated feather drums which create the essence of the Puja. The first recorded Durga Puja has taken place in Nadia district, West Bengal in or around 1606. In those days Durga Puja was a festival of the upper class or landlords.
Durga Puja Celebrations
It is one of the biggest festivals in Bengal. The festival is celebrated on a mass scale and the city is dotted with puja pandals nearly every corner and streets of the state. Several big community Pujas in the city are sponsored by multi-national companies and commercial firms. Puja inauguration starts on Mahashasthi. The main puja is for three days – Mahasaptami, Mahaastami, & Mahanavami. Durga Puja is organized both as family Pujas and “Sarbojanin” in Pandals meant for men and women. An expert priest is needed to do this puja. The city of Kolkata glitters up in lights, music and colors of joy and celebrations. People comes from different parts of the state and country and line up before the pandal to take a view of the idols crafted very skillfully and inventively maintaining the theme of the pandal. The streets are lighted and electricians display several types of light shows. Schools, colleges and offices remain closed during these four days. Bengalis from different parts of the country visit their relatives in West Bengal and exchange gifts. Shopping mania reaches its peak during this time. People of all economic and age groups indulge in shopping and buy clothes and accessories for both self and gifting purposes.
Durga Puja is the worship of shakti, the divine power. The myth is about the fight between the evil and the good. Mahishasur, the Buffalo Demon, through years of praying received blessings from Lord Brahma, that no power can kill him which gave him the status of immortal and invincible. As Mahishasur received power he started ravaging the whole world killing all kind of human life on earth. He also wanted to uproot the Gods too. Realizing the present scenario of human kind, the Gods combined their powers and created a beautiful maiden. Then each of the Gods placed his or her most potent weapon in one of the ten hands of the deity who was riding on a lion. After receiving the power and the weapon from the Gods she slew the evil demon Mahisasura and won against the fight between good and evil. According to other traditions, it is believed that Lord Shiva permits GoddessDurga to visit her mother (earth) only for nine days in a year. The festival therefore actually marks the deity’s visit to her mother.
Durga Puja days and rituals
The five days of Puja begins with the welcome of Devi Durga with dhak (drums), dhunuchi(fire) and Shiuli(flower). Sashti is the day when ‘Bodhon’ (welcome) rituals are performed. Saptami features the first day of Durga puja that too begins with rituals and bathing of ‘Kala Bow’ (banana tree). Ashtami is the most important day of the puja. This day celebrated durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasur. Devotees offer Pushpanjali, recite mantras and offer flowers to Devi Durga. Nabami is commencement of ‘ Sandhi Puja ‘ with Nabami bhog. Food is offered to GoddessDurga and then distributed among the devotees.
Vijaya Dashmi- the end of the five days festival
The festival of Durga Puja ends with Vijaya Dashmi day. It is said that Goddess Durga leaves for her return to Mount Kailash. “Sindur Khela” is a major event of Dashami. Married women apply vermilion to each other and greet each other with sweets. With heavy heart Bengalis immerse the idol of Durga in the sacred Ganges.