The festival of Durga Puja celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Goddess Durga is the embodiment of female power. She is also the Mother Goddess, deeply revered by her devotees. This festival is the biggest festival of the Bengalis and is celebrated with great fanfare in West Bengal and Tripura (which have a maximum Bengali population) apart from celebrations in other states.
In the Hindu month of Ashwin, this festival is celebrated for five days (known as Shasthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami). The holy period begins from Mahalaya, when the Goddess is invoked on radio and on television. People pray to their ancestors, taking part in what is known as tarpan. A few days later, the celebrations begin. This entire fortnight when the celebrations take place is known as Devi Paksha.
Durga Puja: Legends and Myths
The Triumph Over Mahishasura
There are many legends associated with Durga Puja. It is believed that the demon king Mahishasura had become too powerful and was creating great unrest in the heavens. As he was invincible, the Gods combined their powers together to create this feminine form, Durga. They donated their most potent weapons to her and imbued her with great strength. Hence she came to symbolize power, seated astride a lion with her ten hands holding ten different weapons. The Goddess ultimately defeated the demon and peace reigned after that. In idols that are sculpted, she is shown driving a dagger in his heart.
Return of the Mother Goddess to Her Maternal Home
According to another legend, the celebration of this festival coincides with the visit of Goddess Durga to her maternal home. She returns each time with her four children. They are Ganesh, Lakshmi, Kartik and Saraswati. Each of these Gods and Goddesses has their own powers. While Lakshmi is the bringer of wealth, Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge, Ganesh is the God of prosperity and Kartik is the God of war. There are different modes of transport that this Mother Goddess takes each time to return to her maternal home and each of these has their own symbolic significance. For instance, when she returns on an elephant, it is believed that the next year will be prosperous. When she returns on a horse however, it signifies an oncoming period of drought. A boat signifies a flood whereas a palanquin signifies an epidemic.
The Worship by Lord Rama
Another legend states that at this time of the year, Lord Ram took the blessings of this Mother Goddess before setting out to defeat the demon king Ravana. He performed Chandi Puja before setting out. With the blessings of this powerful deity he was able to defeat Ravana who had abducted his wife Sita.
Celebrating Durga Puja
Celebrations for this festival occur months in advance. Many centuries ago, this celebration was performed by big zamindars and there were barowari pujas (where twelve friends pooled in their resources to conduct this worship). Nowadays, clubs in each neighbourhood organize this worship in a very special way. Very fancy temporary structures (pandals) are constructed to house the idol. Each club competes with the other in the design of the pandal and the sculpture of the idol. Prizes are given out by multiple organizations for the best organized club, the most safely organized celebration and so on.
People buy new clothes to wear for each day of the festival. The state observes holidays for a few days and people spend time walking from one pandal to another, saying their prayers at each stop. In between, they visit food stalls constructed on the roads and fill their appetites.
On each day of this festival, devotees offer a flower worship (pushpanjali ) and the priest conducts an aarti. Drummers called dhakis play their instruments with great gusto as the priest chants prayers. At the end of these five days, the idols are immersed in water. As the devotees bid farewell to the Mother Goddess they softly say ‘Aasche bochor aabar hobe’ (We will celebrate your arrival again next year).