Durga Puja is the most popular festival among the Bengali community and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy in all parts of India. Popularly known as Shardiya Navratri, mostly in Northern & Central India, this festival marks the time when Goddess Durga ascends upon the Earth from her parental home, Mt. Kailash. This festival illustrates the victory of good over evil.
Durga Puja is celebrated each year for 10 days in the month of Ashwin (September-October), but the main festival commences on the 6th day of this Navratri period. This year, Durga Puja will start on 20th October 2023, which is first day of Navratri and end on the 24th of October, the 25th day of Navratri.
It is celebrated differently in the northern and the eastern parts of India. However, the most prominent and popular version is the one that comes from West Bengal. The first day of Durga Puja is called Mahalaya, which is the day when the clash between the demons and deities takes place and Goddess Durga is summoned to win the war in favor of the Gods and Goddesses.
According to the Hindu Mythology, Mahishasur was a demon who went through an exceptionally tough penance to ask for a boon of his choice. The boon was that he should be invincible in a way that no man and no Devata (deities) can kill him. He exempted women from this category as he felt women to be too weak and mediocre to be able to bring him to his end.
He was granted this boon as he wished. However, his atrocities began, and he misused them all to seek revenge on the Devatas to get an upper hand. The destruction he was causing was unfathomable and to end it, an entity had to be brought to life who had the capacity to kill this demon. That is how the birth of Durga took place.
Durga was born from the blessings of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. She was a woman, not a man or a Devta and, therefore, was the only one to control and kill Mahishasur.
A 10 days war took place, where Mahishasur shape-shifted quite a few times to confuse Durga. Durga, however, understood each of his illusions and finally when he came to his original form of a buffalo, slashed his head off. Thereby, bringing an end to the havoc caused by him in all the realms of the world that he so lusted to claim and bring destruction to.
On Durga Puja each year, Goddess Durga ascends to the Earth along with her four children – Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati, to visit her parental home, from her bridal home in Mt. Kailash, where she resides with her husband, Lord Shiva. In a way, this journey of Goddess Durga is considered as the annual homecoming.
Idols of Goddess Durga are erected in Pandals (canopies) on a grand scale where she is worshipped in her demon-slaying position. She is accompanied by her children on both sides and her husband, Lord Shiva, overseeing from above. All the deities are mounted on their animal carriers and together form a beautiful family portrait, which is reverently worshipped.
The five days of Durga Puja are celebrated with pomp and show – Shashti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Vijaya Dashami. Each day has its own significance and meaning.
The five days of Durga Puja are observed as follows:
On the 6th day of Navratri, as per mythology, Goddess Durga comes to earth with her four children– Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya. On the evening of this auspicious day, the face of idol Durga is unveiled, and rituals are performed with ‘dhaak’ (cylindrical drums) and ‘dhunuchi’ (the burning of coconut husk mixed with holy and sacred frankincense) to bring positive vibrance and strength.
On this auspicious day, the Maha Puja is performed. At sunrise, a banana tree is submerged in holy water and then adorned in a new sari as is worn by the newlywed women. This ritual is called ‘Kola Bou Snan and Puja’.
On this auspicious day, it is said that Goddess Durga executed the Demon Mahishasur in the battle between the demons and deities. Prayers and flowers are offered to the Goddess on this day during ‘Anjali’. Anjali means offering flowers and reverence to the deities. This ritual is considered very holy.
Girls younger than nine years are represented as the incarnation of Goddess Durga and are worshipped with reverence. This ritual is called the ‘Kumari Puja’, which is followed by the Sandhi Puja. Sandhi Puja is a lengthy ritual which often spills into the next day, Navami.
After the Sandhi puja ends, the auspicious day of Maha Navami begins where in the evening ‘Maha Aarti’ of Goddess Durga is performed with lots of excitement, pomp and show. It is believed that the 9th form of Goddess Durga keeps us protected and safe from fear, disease and anxiety.
Vijaya Dashami is the last day of the festival of Durga Puja and Navratri. Women apply and perform ‘Sindoor Khela’, where married women apply the red vermillion (Sindoor) on the Goddess and on each other. The festival culminates with the immersion of the Goddess in the river Ganga, preferably, which is known as ‘Ghat Visarjan’. This ritual includes taking out a procession, where the idol of the Goddess is carried by the devotees on trucks, along with the beating of dhaks and drums, accompanied with singing and dancing which brings an end to the Puja rituals.
The end of this festival brings the hope of celebrations for the next year once again and devotees and enthusiasts start to await the return of Maa Durga to her earthly abode. These few days of festivals brings in positivity, warding off any negative vibe, strength, and hope for the win of good over evil always.