The Durga Puja begins from today unofficially for Bengalis, lives all over the world especially in West Bengal (A state in India where most of the population are Bengali), with the beginning of Devi Paksha(Fortnight of the Goddess). Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya (the last day of the previous fortnight “Pitri Paksh” or “Fortnight of the Forefathers”), and is ended on Kojagori Lokkhi Puja (“Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Full Moon Night.
Durga Puja is the biggest and grandest festival in West Bengal especially in Kolkata (Capital of West Bengal). This is my most favorite festival like all the Bengalis all over the world. That is why I wanted to share with all about this festival. I want to share how rejuvenating and scintillating those five days of celebrating Durga Puja are!
India is called land of fairs and festivals. It is so called because people of various religions live here and they all celebrate their fairs and festivals all through the year. Durga Puja is the festival (Worship of goddess Durga) celebrated by the people especially in the Eastern part India.
It is also known as Durgotsav or Sharadotsav of which six days are observed as Maha Sasthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Astami, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami. Goddess Durga is worshipped all through the days of this festival. Devi Durga comes with her children (two daughters- Laxmi and Saraswati as well as two sons- Kartik and Ganesh) every year for these five days. It brings a happy festive atmosphere all over the country especially in West Bengal. Devotees go to ‘Pandals or mandaps’ (where there is a stage on which Durga reigns standing on her lion mount holding ten different weapons in her ten hands) to visit and worship the idol of goddess Durga with full devotion for their well being and prosperous life.
This festival marks the victory of goodness over evil power, a buffalo demon Mahishasura. People in Bengal worship Durga as “Durgotinashini” means a destroyer of evil as well as a protector of devotees. People worship goddess Durga to be safe from the evil power.
It is considered as, once there was a demon king, Mahishasura, who was ready to attack on Gods of heaven. He was too powerful to defeat from God. Then an eternal power was created by Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva which was named as Durga (a magnificent woman having ten hands with special weapons in each). She was given eternal power to destroy demon Mahishasura. Finally she killed that demon on tenth day called as Vijayadashami. Durga puja is the symbol of victory of goodness over evil power forever.
Durga Puja is the most glamorous, most popular and largest festival in Kolkata. No other Indian city celebrates Durga Puja as enthusiastically as Kolkata. Kolkata becomes a Puja madhouse blazing lights, millions of people wearing new clothes, shoving and pushing etc. The city is adorned with lights and the vibrant nightlife is the most exciting thing to experience during the Puja. Streets, alleys, parks, houses and trees glitter with fairy lights. Popular movie songs as well as traditional music such as Rabindra Sangeet, ‘Chandipath’ are played on loudspeakers. Fairs are set up in numerous parks and public spaces, complete with merry-go-rounds, giant wheels and stalls. People from all over the country visit the city at this time, and every night is one mad carnival where thousands of people go ‘pandal-hopping’ with their friends, relatives and family. Thousands of temporary food-stalls which cater to massive crowds are installed on pavements and roadsides. Traffic comes to a standstill, and indeed, most people abandon their vehicles to travel by foot after a point. A special task force is deployed by Kolkata Police to control law and order. Most of the clubs and housing complexes organise cultural programmes on each four evenings. Many people also come out to join adda at their neighbourhood pandals and festivities continue late into the night.
But Puja is not only about wearing new dresses, eating delicious food and hopping to Pandals. It’s a certain feeling that you can recognize when you feel it.
Pujas are basically organised by a committee which represents a locality or neighborhood. They collect funds called “chaanda” through door-to-door subscriptions. These funds are pooled and used for the expenses of pandal construction, sculpture construction, ceremonies etc. The balance of the fund is generally donated to a charitable cause as decided by the committee. Corporate sponsorships of the Pujas have gained momentum since the late 1990s.
Pandals and sculptures inspired by a particular theme have been the hallmark of many community or Sarbajanin Pujas in Kolkata now-a-days. Puja committees decide on a particular theme, whose elements are incorporated into the pandal and the sculptures. Popular themes include ancient civilisations like the Egyptiancivilization. Contemporary subjects like Titanic and Harry Potter have also been the subject in some pandals.
Despite the resources used to organize a Puja, entry of visitors into the Pandal is always free. Pujas in Calcutta and elsewhere experiment with innovative concepts every year. Communities have created prizes for Best Pandal, Best Puja and other categories.
On the day of ‘Mahalaya’, we’d hear the invocation to the goddess on Radio echoing across the sleepy neighborhood and welcoming Durga home. We have heard the same songs and the same voices for decades.
When the Puja starts officially a large number of people use to walk into the Puja Pandal premises near Kolkata and also other places of the West Bengal. This is the religious center of the festivities and the crowds gather to offer flower worship or pushpanjali on the mornings of the sixth to ninth days especially on eighth day (Asthami)of the Devi Paksha. You can see the boys wearing their once-a-year dhotis and the young girls in starched cotton sarees in the morning of Asthami when people gather to offer Anjali to the goddess Durga. The priest recites Sanskrit prayers.
At the end of Durga Puja, Durga, the mother returns to her husband lord Shiva, ritualized through her immersion into the river waters. On this day traditional dhunuchi nritya is performed in front of the goddess according to the ceremonial drumbeats (dhak), married women smear each other with red vermillion powder, which is known as ‘sindoor-khela’ while exchanges of Bijoya greetings and sweets take place. Huge processions snaked through the streets of the locality. We always feel a little bit of disappointment when the beautiful image of the goddess would be immersed into the river with little bit of tear in our eyes.
Durga Puja for me is a reminder of happiness and celebration. Every year I feel this happiness same or even more. I wondered when I was a child to think that if the goddess misses us or not during the whole year till she would come again next year. Now I’ve grown up but I still feel the same every year, at least for a moment.
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I will share more about Durga Puja celebration in Kolkata during the days of Durga Puja…