The Bengali version of Dussehra, Durga Puja/ Durga Pujo is, as the name suggests, dedicated to the worship of West Bengal's most beloved deity - the Goddess Durga, the embodiment of all feminine virtues representing power and unity. Durga Puja is the time to worship ‘Shakti’ or divine power.
As per the Hindu calendar, Durga Puja is celebrated on the 9th day of the Ashvin month which occurs in the autumn months around September/ October. The Bengalis schedule the festivities according to the ‘Titthi’ i.e. time calculated on the basis of the movement of the moon. ‘Mahalaya’ falls on the new moon which marks the beginning of the ‘Devi Paksha’ and the count-down for the Durga Puja. The puja is conducted for four days which begins on ‘Mahashashthi’ i.e. the sixth day of the full moon and ends on ‘Dashmi’ - the tenth day.
Rituals of the Durga Puja
Durga Puja festivities continue for a period of nine days, although the preparations and the excitement begin long before that!
The rituals include fasting to seek the blessing of the Goddess and offering prayers to the ancestors at the river banks. The festival begins on Mahalaya and the goddess is inaugurated on Mahashashthi. For three days – Mahasaptami, Mahaastami and Dashmi, prayers are offered to the Goddess by reciting mantras and shlokas. The resounds of the drums and conch shells (Shankha) announces the beginning of the aarti.
Durga Puja Traditions
Although Durga Puja is celebrated with much fervour in the entire northern India, traditions of Durga Puja vary from state to state. In Gujarat and Maharashtra Durga Puja or Navratra as it is more commonly known celebrations are accompanied by garba and dandiya. While in West Bengal rhythmic drum-beats are in intrinsic part of Durga Puja celebrations. Traditionally known as dhaks these are special kind of drums which are held on the shoulders with the beating side facing down. The drums are beaten with the help of two sticks that creates a mesmerising ambience at the Durga Puja pandals.
In northern India Goddess Durga is worshipped as the gentle bride who epitomises family unity while in South India she is revered in her warrior manifestation.
Durga Puja Celebrations
In all neighbourhoods, gorgeously decorated idols of the goddess are created- often in the form of large tableaux which depict her in the act of destroying the demon Mahishasura. Installed in specially erected pavilions known as 'pandals', the idols attract huge crowds who come to admire the tableaux and their decorations.
Stalls selling a variety of foods and other wares, including household appliances, clothing and the like, come up around pandals, and that, combined with the loud music played at each pandal, makes this a very noisy (but enjoyable!) period.
The festivities reach fever pitch by the ninth day, following which, on the day of Vijayadashami, the idols of the goddess are ritually immersed in a river or sea. The immersion (known as 'visarjan') symbolises the return of Durga to her husband after her ten-day sojourn in her parent's home.
Durga Puja Celebrations in Kolkata
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata are popular as the city dons a new look for this five- day festival. Considered as the most important festival of the city, the celebrations for Durga Puja starts from the sixth day of the full moon day i.e. Mahashashthi and culminates on Bijoydashmi i.e. on tenth day.
Although the actual celebrations start on the sixth day of the festive season, the preparations for the festival start months in advance. Artisans start making the clay idols of Goddess Durga which are well-known world over for the traditional style in which they are made. Elaborately decorated pandals are made in different parts of the city which are sponsored either by a community or corporate. There are awards for the most beautifully decorated pandal.
During the Durga Puja celebrations there is a general ambience of festivity and all the educational institutes and offices are closed for these five days as people are in the holiday mood. Shopkeepers do a brisk business as people flock to malls to buy new clothes, gifts and other things for themselves, family and friends.
Chanting of mantras and shlokas with the rhythmic beats of exquisitely decorated dhaks creates a captivating ambience. So do plan a visit to Kolkata during Durga Puja to get an unforgettable experience of the festival.
Other India Festivals
the Hindu festival of Dussehra marks the God Rama's victory and subsequent rescue of his consort Sita from the clutches of King Ravana. It is the time to celebrate the victory of good over bad, right over wrong.
Strings of deeps and diyas, platefuls of mithai, the crackle of pattakas and the sparkle of phuljharis. That's the festive season of Diwali - light and bright, all glitter and flash.
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