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DURGA PUJA - The Festival

Durga Puja is a Hindu festival widely celebrated in India. It is celebrated with most zeal and enthusiasm in the state of West Bengal. Take the name of Durga Puja and it will bring a smile onto the face of every Bengali. It is a festival of singing, dancing, sweets & gaiety. Nowadays many cultural organizations organize Durga Puja celebrations in countries like United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, among others. It is celebrated in autumn every year generally in September or October.

Mythology Behind Durga Puja
Durga Puja is celebrated to mark the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasur. According to Hindu mythology a demon named Mahishasura, earned the favor of Lord Shiva after a long and hard penance. Lord Shiva, impressed with his devotion, blessed him that no man or deity would be able to kill him and that only a woman can kill him. Mahishasur was very pleased with this boon as he thought that a woman can never defeat him. Arrogant Mahishasura started his reign of terror over the Universe and people were killed mercilessly. He even attacked the abode of the gods and conquered the heavens and became their leader. The Gods then decided to create a woman who would possess the power to fight and defeat Mahishasura. All the Hindu Gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva  and others gave their powers to create Goddess Durga.

Each God gave something or the other to make Goddess Durga very powerful so that she could defeat Mahishasura. For example her ten arms were from Vishnu, her feet were from Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva gave her a trident, Agni gave her a spear, Himavat gifted her with jewels and a lion to ride on, etc. After her creation the fight began with Mahishasura and his allies. Mahishasura changed from one form to another to escape. For example he took the forms of a lion, a demonic buffalo, an elephant and a human being. But he could not escape the wrath of Goddess Durga and was finally killed when the Goddess pierced him with her sharp trident and then beheaded him with her sword. In this way Durga Puja also symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

The Rituals of Durga Puja
The festival starts with Mahalaya, the day on which the finishing touches are given to the Durga Puja idols created for worship. Mahalaya is an auspicious occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Durga, the goddess of supreme power. It's a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth. This is done through the chanting of mantras and singing devotional songs. The main festival starts on Mahashasthi that is seven days after Mahalaya. It is believed that on Mahashasthi Goddess Durga arrives to the mortal world from her heavenly abode, accompanied by her children. She is welcomed with much fanfare amidst the beats of Dhak. Unveiling the face of the idol is the main ritual on this day. The next day is Mahasaptami on which the nine planets are worshipped as a symbol of Goddess Durga. Mahaspatami is followed by Mahaastami. The most important ritual of Durga Puja called Sandhi Puja starts on Mahaastami and continues till the next day.

The next day is known as Mahanavami. This is the concluding day of the Durga Puja. The Navami Bhog is offered to the goddess. This is later partaken as Prasad by the devotees. Mahanavami is followed by Dashami.

After the three days of Puja, in Dashami, in the last day, a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess. There is a tradition called Sindur Khela in which women smear each other with red color just before the idols are taken out for immersion. The idols are carried in processions around the locality and finally are immersed in a nearby river or lake. Vijaya Dashami is an event celebrated all over the country.

Special food items are needed for offering on each day of Durga Puja. The various food items include honey, curd, betel leaves, sugar, ghee, rice, fruits etc. Sanskrit hymns are recited in community Puja Pandals as thousands of devotees offered Anjali to the goddess.

Ritual drummers - Dhakis, carrying large leather-strung Dhak - show off their skills during ritual dance worships called Aarati. These Dhakis also accompany the idol to the lake or river where it is taken for immersion.

Food and Dressing during Durga Puja
Durga Puja can never be complete without good food. Durga Puja means a flavor of authentic Bengali food. Be it seasoned mutton, fried fish, richly flavored “Daal”, spicy “Khichuri” with dollops of ghee, or simply a platter of “mishti” (sweets), there is no matching Bengali cuisine during the favorite festival of West Bengal. This is the reason why, most restaurants start offering Bengali food spread exclusively during Durga Puja.

Since Durga Puja is a traditional festival, so the dresses which people wear on Durga Puja are also traditional. The men generally wear dhotis, kurtas and churidars. The women are seen in sarees especially the traditional red-bordered white sari is the preferred attire for Bengali women during the five-day gala.

In West Bengal Durga Puja is the biggest festival. It is celebrated by great zeal and enthusiasm. Puja Pandals are created at various places where the Durga Idol is kept and worshipped. The Pandals are very beautiful. There is also a lot of decoration with lights. In Kolkata various clubs organize Durga Puja. They generally pick up a theme based on which they create their Pandals and the light decoration is also based on that theme. Durga Puja means five days of fun and frolic.

People keep hopping from one Pandal to another. Nowadays awards are also given out to the best Puja Pandals in Kolkata. On Dashami when the idols are taken for immersion, there are processions and drums and music accompanying them.

Commercialization of Durga Puja
Nowadays there is also a commercial aspect to Durga Puja. The festival has become more of a community festival rather than a family festival. Clubs and organization have come to the forefront. They organize Durga Puja in a grand manner. Community Pujas have come to be known as Sarbojanin Pujas in today’s world.

Big Corporates and companies sponsor Durga Puja at many places. They provide funds for the Puja committees or Sarbojanin. There are hoardings at display at the Puja Pandals and its surroundings to advertise for the sponsors.

There are singing and dance competitions arranged at some places and awards are given out to the winners. Also bands and singers are called in to perform on stage. In someway one can feel that the essence of Durga Puja is getting lost in this commercialization of the festival. Neither there is the soft carpet of ’shiuli’ flowers (which blooms at this time of the year), nor the swaying white ‘kaash’ flowers across the green fields. The expenditure is going up. Lakhs of rupees are spent for decoration and other arrangements. Some big Pujas are inaugurated by film stars and other celebrities. With the increasing number of theme Pujas taking place, the organizers are only concerned about media publicity, prizes offered by various media houses and other companies. But it is still a festival which brings joy and happiness for one and all.

Globalization of Durga Puja
Previously Durga Puja used to be a festival only celebrated in India especially in West Bengal. But day by day it is becoming a global festival. It is being celebrated all over the world. Durga Puja is organized by cultural organizations in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France and many other countries. In the United States Durga Puja is organized in community halls. There is feasting and cultural programs organized to celebrate the festival.


“Every year we wait for these few days when Maa Durga returns to bless us.”
  - Kousik Das, Resident Salt lake FD block.

“Asche bochor abar hobey (Next year it will come again)”
  - Suvra Majumder, Resident Birati on the eve of Vijaya Dashami.

“Khichuri and mutton are my favorite.”
 - Ipsita Biswas, Resident Beleghata on her favorite food during Durga Puja.

“Jago tumi jago (Wake up you wake up)”
 - Bengali song played on the eve of Mahalaya welcoming the Goddess.

“Sindur Khela is the thing I like the most.”
 - Debjani Kundu, Resident Park Circus on what is the best part of Durga Puja.

Significance of Durga Puja
Durga Puja signifies the victory of good over evil. The complete image of Goddess Durga represent destruction of evil and protection of good and reflects the point that in order to become divine one should keep one's animal instincts under control. Thus, by worshiping Durga the idea of ruthless destruction is invoked to annihilate all the desires and unfold divinity. Dashami is also called Vijayadasami. “Vijaya” means victory, here it symbolizes the victory of good over evil. So we finish by saying Ashche bochor abar hobey.

Compiled by : Neha Azmi.
BA General, 3rd Year.
St. Xavier's College, Kolkata.


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