“Pujo Ashche” these two words set many Bengali hearts aflutter. This year’s countdown has already begun. Bengalis all over India are gearing up for their most cherished and awaited festival – Durga Puja. Ah! The name itself puts the biggest smile on every Bengali’s face. Vivid images of Goddess Durga, spectacular pandals (temporary shrines), chic clothes, irresistible mouth watering food, cultural programs, sports and aroma of dhunuchi come to my mind when I think of the festivity surrounding the 6 days of Puja. This popular festival also coincides with North Indian festivals of Navaratri and Dusshera. A fascinating glimpse of this grand festival would for sure satiate every reader’s curiosity about this popular celebration.
Beginning of the festival
Mahalaya is the day which marks the beginning of worshipping of Goddess Durga. On this auspicious day, Goddess Durga is invoked to descend on earth and after seven days she is believed to arrive. Hymns are chanted and beautiful voices sing devotional songs in praise of the goddess.
Every year on this day I wake up at 5:00 AM to watch my favourite TV programme “Mahishasuramardini” which is a dance drama depicting Goddess Durga killing the evil demon Mahishasura. The day of Mahalaya is also significant as on this day people worship their late parents and relatives either by going to the nearest river or to the Ganga, seeking blessing from the departed soul’s peace and wellness for themselves and their families.
Durga Puja, a Hindu festival is celebrated every year in the month of either September or October. Asura, the demon used to disturb the Gods and the sages by killing them and destroying their properties. The Gods then decided to approach Durga, wife of Lord Shiva for a solution. Durga thought of pacifying the Gods by killing Asura single-handedly. The Gods collectively helped Durga by gifting her lethal weapons which she held in her ten hands. In the battle that took place for several days, Durga ultimately killed Asura. This deed of Durga got viral and her sagacity spread all over the world. People then started believing Durga as all powerful Mother who can destroy the evils of society and protect them and bring wellness and prosperity.
What Hindu Mythology says
The actual time of Durga Puja is in the spring and the puja performed during this season is known as Basanti Puja in Bengal which is celebrated in a limited way, mainly confined to few houses. However, according to Hindu mythology, Rama performed a puja to please Goddess Durga before going to fight a battle with Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. The puja performed by Rama was in the autumn season and came to be popularly known as Akal Bodhon (untimely worship).
The Image of Durga
Durga is a ten handed idol accompanying with her sons Ganesha, Kartika and daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. While Durga mounts a lion, the animals that carry each of her children are Mouse, Peacock, Owl and Swan respectively. In her ten hands she keeps the lethal weapons given by the various Gods, wishing her success in the battle. Beneath the feet of Durga lies Asura (the demon) with whom Durga fought the battle and killed him and a Buffalo that later transfomed as Asura. On the top of Durga, an image of Lord Shiva is placed who was overseeing the battle between Durga and the Asura.
Brief history of Durga Puja
In late 1500, the first Durga Puja was believed to have been performed in Bengal by some Zamindar family in Malda and Dinajpur Districts of Bengal. In the later years, people from different places (from and within Bengal) started celebrating Durga Puja every year, thus becoming a ritual.
Durga Puja has now become a festival spread over 6 days, though the preparations begin almost from a month before. From artisans giving their last detailing to the clay idols to companies announcing special schemes and offers luring people to go on a Puja shopping spree, every bit of the preparation speaks out loud of how enthusiastically and energetically every Bengali looks out for the arrival of Ma Durga.
Each day has a separate name as per the tithi of the month like Panchami, Sasthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Bijoya Dashami. Pandals are erected at various locations, reflecting various themes in decorations and constructed by artists using unthinkable material like match-stick, straw, Bamboos, Rice husk, thermocol etc.
Panchami, Sasthi, Saptami and Navami – on each of these days, Goddess Durga and her associates Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped separately by the Priest, chanting hymns with sound of drumbeats (Dhaks). People offer Anjali (Prayers) with flowers, repeating the Mantras as chanted by the Priest. After the Puja for the day ends, people get fruits and sweets as Prasad and later in the day participate in the community lunch known as Bhog that includes Khichdi, labra tarkari (mixed vegetables) and kheer. Evenings are packed with cultural functions that are locally organized or invite popular artists to take part.
The last day’s Puja is known as Bijoya Dashami. After morning Puja, a Prasad known as Dadhikarma made of Curd, Sweets and beaten Rice is prepared and distributed to the people present. By noon, ladies assemble in front of Ma Durga and apply vermilion on her face known as Baran. Ladies then engage in a ‘Sindoor khela’, when they play and put vermillion on each other’s face. A ritual called ‘Darpan Visarjan’ takes place where the priest places a big bowl of water, trying to capture the reflection of Durga and with everyone catching a glimpse of her by looking into the water.
In the afternoon, Ma Durga and her children are carried in a vehicle and transferred to the Ghats for Immersion in a procession. Immersion happens to be the last leg of the celebration, thus bringing to an end the brief visit of Ma Durga to her parent’s house. After returning from Ghats, people embrace each other, wishing each other Shubho Bijoya and accept sweets distributed by the organizers at the respective Pandals. The Bijoya program lasts till Deepavali and during this time people visit one another’s house, exchanging pleasantries and sweets.
It is said that Bengalis start looking into the Panjika (the astronomical almanac) for Ma Durga’s advent next year, even before this year’s celebrations are over. One can only imagine the special place Durga Puja occupies in every Bengali’s heart.
Abar Fire Aso Maa (Please do come back next year) – is what everyone prays for while bidding a tearful goodbye to Maa Durga, hopeful of receiving her in an even grander way the following year.
– Suparna De