Durga Puja is celebrated all over the Indian subcontinent with great joy, pomp, and show. Durga Puja is the most important festival of West Bengal where Goddess Durga is worshipped for 9 days. Singing, dancing, ‘bhogs,’ pandal-hopping, enjoying street side ‘chats’ are an integral part of Durga Puja. People exchange gifts with the near and dear ones and express their gratitude for the elders and love for the younger ones. During October, people get lost in devotional zeal of Goddess Durga and ladies colour themselves during ‘Sindur Khela.’ Being marked as the most awaited or the biggest festivals of Bengalis, Durga Puja even holds great significance for the people of Assam. Besides Bengal and Assam, Durga Puja is celebrated with full fun, enthusiasm, and gaiety in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and Tripura. Navratri is celebrated for nine days even in Gujarat. The nine auspicious days hold a great place in the Bengali calendar.
The origin of Durga Puja
Also called Durgotsav, Durga Puja is the annual festival of Hindus celebrated across South Asia. During the festival, the idol of Goddess Durga is worshipped and is observed mostly for six days. The six days of Durga Puja are named as Mahalaya, Sashti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Maha Dasami. During the lunar fortnight, Durga Puja is celebrated from sixth to the tenth day. Durga Puja is celebrated to commemorate the triumph of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura, the demon in buffalo form. In fact, the six auspicious days are solely reserved to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Durga is the very ‘Durgotinashini,’ who destroyed evil to protect her devotees. Its prominence increased during the colonial era or the British Raj. Durga, the consort of Lord Shiva, is the beautiful warrior having her seat on the Tiger. The miraculous coming was the consequence of immense cruelty of Mahishasur, the monster-demon. The demon through the great austerities achieved invincible strength. The water-buffalo was much dreaded by even Gods and divine powers. Neither Lord Shiva nor Lord Vishnu could manage to prevail over the demon. Only the energy of Shakti could suitably vanquish Mahisha, and thus, the eighteen-armed Durga went out to kill Mahisha. She fought the battle and killed the demon buffalo, and thus, we have Durga Puja. Since the medieval times, we have been celebrating Durga Puja.
Goddess Durga fighting the terrible battle
Goddess Durga, also known as ‘Shakti’ or ‘power,’ ‘Goddess of War,’ is one of the most popular Goddesses among the Hindus. She is the very embodiment of power, strength, protection, and goodness. The Divine power protects us from selfishness and evil forces. Durga is invincible and someone who is inaccessible. Mounting on the ferocious lion, Goddess Durga went to the battlefield to kill Mahisha. She was fully armed with the weapons given to her by other Gods for protection. Being the aggressive and angry aspects of Shakti, the role of Goddess Durga is immense in Hindu Mythology. She fought and conquered Mahisha and thus the Goddess is the very personification of power or ‘shakti.’ By killing Mahisha, she restored heavens to Gods. Since that time onwards, we invoke Goddess for protecting us from evil powers. To celebrate the goodness, power and its victory over the evil, Hindus celebrate Durga Puja.
The ten armed supremely radiant Goddess
Goddess Durga is supremely radiant and the very embodiment of woman power, ‘nari shakti.’ Durga is the mother of Ganesh, Laxmi, Kartikey and Saraswati. She is the warrior aspect of divine mother. Maa Durga formed an army to defeat Mahishasur and slew him. Vijayadashami is the day of celebrating the victory or triumph of Goddess Durga.
The nine days of Navratri
Navratri is the nine days for which Goddess Durga is worshipped. The last day is Vijayadashami. On the first day of Navratri, Shailputri is worshipped who has two arms, carrying lotus and trident. Shaiputri has ox as her mount. She is the daughter of Himalayas, and in the previous birth, Shailputri was called Sati. She became Sati since her parents did not invite Lord Shiva. This was an insult to her husband, and thus, she entered the burning flames. However, she was reborn as Shailputri. Bhahmacharini is worshipped on the second day, and this form is related to the severe penance undertaken by the Goddess to attain Lord Shiva as a husband. Chandraghanta, worshipped on the third day, is the very image of bravery. The eight-armed Kushmanda is worshipped on the 4th day. Then we have Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Maha Gauri and Siddhidatri. The festival of Navratri lasts for 9 days, and thus, it is known as ‘Nav-ratri’ meaning ‘Nine days.’ All through the nine days, fasting and feasting take great precedence. Evening hours are reserved for dancing, feasting, pandal-hopping and merry making.
Durga Puja culminating in Mahanavami
The festival, Durga Puja, takes its culmination on Mahanavami. On the day of Mahanavami, ‘Kanya Puja’ is done. Each and every Hindu offers food to nine ‘kanyas,’ representing the 9 forms of Goddess Durga. To respect the girls, their feet are washed, and the one inviting them for feast touches the feet to takes their blessings. They are given new clothes, delicious food and gift items. This ritual is performed in major parts of India.
The specialties of Durga Puja
Durga Puja is really the most colourful festivals celebrated in India. People flaunt new clothes, new hairstyles, and latest jewellery items. Having delicious ‘bhogs,’ visiting ‘padals’ to seek blessings of Maa Durga, indulging in crackers and fireworks, savouring the taste of mouth-watering delicacies at the food corners, etc. form an integral part of the celebration. The beating of the ‘dhaks’ (drums), chants of ‘mantras,’ and offerings of sweets characterize Durga Puja, and it seems that the entire India seems to drown in the festive spirit. Everyone indulges in joyous celebration of Durga Puja.
Among all the festivals of India, Durga Puja is the most important. In the month of Ashwin, Durga Puja is celebrated every year. It is the real festive occasion mostly for the people of West Bengal. Celebrated in the autumn, Durga Puja is the very celebration of ‘Nari Shakti,’ victory of good over evil and the tremendous power of Goddess Durga.