Durga Puja - All You Need To Know About This Festival
Celebrated in the month of Ashvin (September – October), Durga Puja (fondly referred to as Pujo) is one of the most awaited festivals in India, especially in West Bengal. It is a celebration of traditional culture and customs. While the rituals entail ten days of fast, feast and worship, the last four days—Saptami, Ashtami, Navami, and _Dashami—_are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur in India and abroad, especially in Bengal, where Goddess Durga is worshipped with great passion and devotion. Durga Puja for Bengalis is much more than a festival. It is an emotion and an occasion for reunion and rejuvenation.
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The experience of Durga_ puja_ cannot be expressed in words. It is a feeling that people live through. The celebration they wait for throughout the year. Several cultural elements like theatre, dance as well as art competitions provide an intriguing visual delight in the puja pandal. Decorated thematically, the pandals exhibit fine craftsmanship in various materials as well. Durga Puja not only attracts the devotees of Maa but also admirers of cultural art forms. You can feel all your senses awake as soon as you step into the lanes leading to any pandal and before you know it, you’re swaying to the sound of the dhak, dancing with the dhunuchi and revelling in the smells of the freshly cooked bhog as you stare at the bright shades of red around you.
Origin of Durga Puja
The auspicious festival of Durga Puja is an annual five-day celebration originating in the Indian subcontinent which pays homage to the goddess Maa Durga. It celebrates the victory of good over evil as Goddess Durga killed demon king Mahishasur. According to Hindu mythology, it is believed that the Goddess visits her earthly abode during this time to bless her devotees.
Although Durga Puja is popular among the Bengali community it is also celebrated, with much pomp, in other states like Odisha, Assam, Tripura, Bihar and Jharkhand. People begin their preparations to welcome the Goddess on Mahalaya. The festival ends with Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra, marking the end of Durga Puja and the nine-day-long Navratri celebrations. Vijay Dashami marks the triumph of Goddess Durga over the demon king Mahishasura. On the other hand, Dussehra or Dasara celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana.
Significance of Durga Puja
According to Hindu mythology, the demon Mahishasura had received a boon of invincibility from Lord Brahma, which meant that no man or god could kill him. Mahishasura attacked the gods and chased them out of heaven after receiving the blessing. To fight off the demon king, all the gods came together to worship Adi Shakti. The divine light that came out of all the gods during the puja created Maa Durga.
The fight between Maa Durga and Mahishasura lasted for ten days. Goddess Durga slayed the demon king on the tenth day, and hence the day is celebrated as Vijaya Dashami, symbolising the victory of good over evil. On the last day, devotees immerse Goddess Durga’s idol in the holy water of the river Ganges. It is known as Durga Visarjan. Before the immersion, worshippers carry out processions accompanied by the beating of drums, singing and dancing.
Durga Puja Celebration
Sindur Khela Bengali ritual
Durga puja is a ten-day event, of which the last five days involve certain rituals and practices.
- The festival begins with Mahalaya, a day on which Hindus perform tarpaṇa by offering water and food to their dead ancestors. The day also marks the advent of Durga from her mythological marital home in Kailash
- The next significant day of the festival is the sixth day (Sashthi), on which devotees welcome the Goddess and festive celebrations are inaugurated.
- On the seventh day (Saptami), eighth (Ashtami) and ninth (Navami) days, the goddess along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya are revered and these days mark the main days of worship with the recitation of scriptures, puja, legends of Durga in Devi Mahatmya, social visits to elaborately decorated and illuminated pandals(temporary structures meant for hosting the puja), among others.
- The tenth and last day, called Vijaya Dashami is marked by sindoor khela, where women smear sindoor or vermillion on the sculpture idols and also smear each other with it. This ritual signifies the wishing for a blissful marital life for married women.
- The tenth day is also the day when Durga emerged victorious against Mahishasura and it ends with a procession where the clay sculpture-idols are ceremoniously taken to a river or coast for immersion rites. Following the immersion, Durga is believed to return to her mythological marital home of Kailasha to Shiva and the cosmos in general.
Durga puja epitomizes the victory of good over evil. The primary goddess revered during Durga Puja is Durga but celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity), Saraswati(the goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha(the god of good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war). In Bengali and Odia traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga’s children, and Durga Puja is believed to commemorate Durga’s visit to her natal home with her beloved children.
Durga puja in Kolkata has been inscribed on the Intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO in December of 2021.