Durga puja

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					                                    Durga Puja
Durga Puja, the festival of Bengalis, is the worship of 'Shakti' (strength). Durga Puja is
not only the celebration of the victory of goodness over evil, but is also synonymous to
the thronging crowds, the elaborate pandals with their display of lights, the sound of the
dhaks, the decorated homes and an overall sense of festivity in the air.


Durga is a ten handed goddess modelled out of clay astride a lion. Each of those hands
holds a weapon in them except two, which hold a spear struck into the chest of the
demon, Mahishasura. Half the body of the demon, i.e. the lower portion of it, is still a
buffalo, and the demon seems to be coming out of that form. In most of the cases, the
head of a buffalo is seen lying beneath. The face of Durga exudes more motherly
feelings than that of a demon killer – she appears to be unbeatable and dangerous, yet
caring.


The images that are worshipped in the different pujas of the city are mostly crafted in
Kumartuli, a place in north Kolkata. This is the neighbourhood of ‘Kumars’ (potters), a
community of artisans who specialise in making clay images of deities. In the days
leading up to the Durga Puja, Kumartuli is a fascinating hive of activity.


Durga Puja is celebrated on a mass scale with puja ‘Pandals’ (marquees) dotting nearly
every nook and corner of West Bengal. Pandals are generally made of bamboos and
cloth, though in recent times artisans have started using different mediums like clay/
terracota, clay pots, coconut shells, aluminium foil, used matchsticks, shells, different
kinds of leaves, straw to make their pandal as strikingly different from the next one as
possible. The same applies to the Durga idol, which, is typically made of clay, bamboo
and straw; but other materials like metals, shola (pith), paper mache, sand etc. are also
used to make an idol unique. The interiors of the pandals are also decorated with varied
types of handicrafts. Very often the talented artisans and craftsmen who make the
Durga idol as well as the puja pandals, manage to transform these into pieces of art, a
true visual delight for the crowds who set out to see as many of these beautiful creations
as possible.


Preparations for the Durga Puja begin long before the actual day arrives. Before the puja
people buy and exchange new clothes and gifts within the family, give their homes and
offices a thorough pre-Puja cleaning, listen to new music albums and read festive issues
of magazines and books specially published as part of the widespread celebrations. The
spirit of well-being and happiness is cherished during the Puja days.




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Goddess Durga is worshipped in the season of Sharat (autumn), and hence the occasion
is also known as Sharadotsab. The coming of the season is heralded by the welcome nip
in the autumnal air at dawn, accompanied by the fragrance of Shefali and Shiuli flowers
that carpet the ground. In the mornings, the blades of grass remain heavily laden with
dew. The grains in the fields turn to gold amidst clumps of snowy Kaash flowers.


Durga Puja is celebrated for ten days and the main portion of the Puja is restricted to
the final 4 days. During these four days the pandals become a dazzling array of new
clothes, shiny faces and a spectacular display of lights. Pandal-hopping is also a
favourite pastime for all. The rhythmic beat of the ‘dhak’ (drums) and dance with special
earthen lamp ‘dhunuchi’ add to the mood of Bengal’s most popular festival. During the
four days of Durga Puja, Kolkata changes dramatically - the city doesn’t go to sleep.


Durga Puja commences on the day after ‘Mahalaya’, usually on the last day of the
waning or new moon in the Bengali month of Ashwin (mid September to mid October).
In the early morning on Mahalaya, melodious strains of Agomoni (welcoming) and
Chandipath (readings from a religious Hindu text Chandi) exude from radios and
television sets. The countdown to the final days of the Puja itself begins from the day of
Mahalaya. Traditionally, the artisans draw the eyes of the Durga Images on this day and
this process is called ‘Chakshu Daan’. The fifteen days from the new Moon to the full
Moon is called as ‘Devi Paksha’ or the fortnight of the Goddess.


The main puja and festivity start from Shasthi, which is the sixth day of the Devi
Paksha. Either on Shasthi or on Saptami, (the seventh day) early morning the image of
the goddess is infused with life. The ‘Pran’ (life) of the Devi is put inside the image after
it is brought from a nearby river through the medium of a banana plant, called the ‘Kola
Bou’. The Kola Bou or Banana Bride, bathed and draped in a new yellow sari or in a red
& white sari, resembles a newlywed bride. The process of virtually implanting life into
the Image is known as Bodhan.
The Main puja or worship starts thereafter and the primetime is reached during the
transition phase or ‘Sandhikshan’ between Ashtami (eighth day) and Navami (ninth
day). Special Puja known as Sandhipuja, with 108 earthen lamps and lotuses, is offered
during this period. This is the time when Devi Durga transformed into Devi Chamunda to
kill Mahishasura. The Navami coincides with the ‘Navratri’ celebration in the western
India.


Finally on Dashami, the tenth day of Devi Paksha, the puja ends and the image
undergoes ‘Bisarjan’ or immersion into a river. This also marks the departure of goddess
Durga along with her four children to her husband's heavenly abode in Kailash and the
wait begins for yet another year. After the immersion of the idol Bengalis meet friends
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and family, exchange sweets and greet each other. This ritual is known as Bijoya or
Bijoya Dashami. On this day Dussehra is celebrated in all over India.


Being the incarnation of Shakti, goddess Durga is worshipped during times of hardship,
conflicts and confrontation. She is worshipped by different names in different parts of
India. She is known as Durga or Kali or Jagadhhatri in Bengal, Navaratra or Navapatrika
in western India, Amba in Kashmir, Vaishno Devi in Jammu, Hingala or Rudrani in
Gujarat, Kalyani in Kanauj, Ambika in Deccan, Uma in Mithila, Naini Devi in Uttar
Pradesh.




Mythology related to Durga

A demon called Mahishasura earned the favour of Lord Brahma through extreme
austerity and long meditation. Brahma blessed him with a boon that no man or god
would be able to kill him. Empowered with the boon, Mahishasura, the green skinned
demon with the form of a giant buffalo, started his reign of terror over the earth and
heaven. The king of gods, Purandara or Indra, was defeated and all the gods were
driven out of the heaven. Routed they went to the three supreme gods Brahma, Vishnu,
and Shiva, to save themselves and the inhabitants of the world. Angered by the
atrocities committed by Mahishasura, the supreme gods unleashed their rage in the form
of luminous energy. Great flames issued forth in all directions, the fires illuminating all
three worlds: heaven, earth and the nether-world in penetrating light. The energy of
their fires coalesced at a single point to take the form of a young woman and thus the
Goddess Durga, the eternal mother, was born. The boon of Mahishasura could only
make him invincible against all males but not females. Durga’s face was formed from the
light of Shiva, ten arms were from Lord Vishnu and legs were from Lord Brahma.


Each god blessed Durga and gave her divine gifts: Pinakadhrik gave her a trident,
Krishna gave her a disc, Barun, the god of sea, gave her a conch and the Agni, the god
of fire, gave her a missile. From Paban, the wind-god, she received arrows. The king of
gods, Indra, gave her a thunderbolt, and the gift of his white-skinned elephant, Oirabat,
was a bell. From Yama, the god of death, Durga received a rod and from the ruler of
water she got a noose. Many other precious and magical treasures were also given to
Durga: gifts of jewels, new clothing and a garland of immortal lotuses. Heaven's
architect, Vishwakarma, gave her a bright axe and magic armour. Himavat, the god of
mountains, gave her a magnificent lion to ride into battle.




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Now equipped with the fearsome weaponry and special powers of the gods, dressed in
golden armour and jewellery she set off, seated gracefully upon the lion. She engaged
Mahishasura and his demon allies on the battlefield. The armies of Chikasura, and
Chamara, the two chief commanders (also called Shumbha and Nishumbha) were
destroyed in the battle.


Confident but confused by the humiliating defeat of his loyal and powerful commanders
Mahishasura did his best in arranging and equipping his personal army. On the other
side, from her breath Durga’s army was constantly replenished with new brave and
resolute warriors. Shocked and enraged by the disastrous events on the battlefield, in a
desperate bid Mahishasura then reverted to his own form, a buffalo, and charged about
on the battlefield. In a wild rage he charged at Durga's divine soldiers wounding many,
biting others and all the while thrashing with his long, whip-like tail. Durga's lion,
angered by the presence of the demon-buffalo, attacked him. While he was thus
engaged, Durga threw her noose around his neck. But through magical spell
Mahishasura kept changing his shape and form from one to another so as to puzzle her.
Durga drank the divine nectar, gift of Kuvera, and transformed into Devi Chandika, the
most ferocious form of the Goddess. Finally the Goddess beheaded the buffalo and from
it emerged Mahishasura in his original form. Durga pierced his chest with the trident and
killed him. Hence, Durga is also called Mahishasuramardini (the slayer of Mahishasura).


The gods went back to the heaven and the peace returned in the heaven and on earth.
The Goddess Durga was worshipped.




Durga Puja in Autumn– Akalbodhan

According to Puranas (the epics), King Suratha, used to worship the goddess Durga in
spring. Thus Durga Puja was also known as Basanti Puja (Basanta being Spring). While
the vernal worship of Durga still goes on, it is the King Rama of Ayodhya of Indian epic
Ramayana, who worshipped Durga in the autumn month of Ashwin (as per Bengali
calendar). Hence it is called ‘Akal Bodhan’, Akal means unconventional time, Bodhan
means worship. In Bengal Durga Puja is performed in the autumn.


Rama of Ramayana went to Lanka along with his army of monkeys from Kishkindhya,
led by Hanuman (Monkey god). Rama went to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita, who was
abducted and imprisoned by Ravana, the king of demons of Lanka.




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Before embarking on the invasion of Lanka, Rama worshipped Durga. During those days
to worship Durga one used to need one hundred ‘Neelkamal’ (blue lotus). But Rama
managed to get only ninety nine of them. Out of desperation and intense desire to
please the goddess, Rama decided to take out one of his eyes and offer to Durga.
Impressed by his devotion, Durga appeared and blessed him for the ensuing battle.


In this battle Rama came out victorious and emancipated Lanka from the clutches of the
demon, Ravana. It is said that Ravana was killed in the ‘Sandhikhan’ (junction) between
‘Ashtami’ (eighth day after new moon) and ‘Navami’ (ninth day after new moon) and he
was cremated on ‘Dashami’ (tenth day after new moon). In India Dussera is celebrated
on Dashami with much fanfare and the effigy of Ravana is burnt.




Mythology related to Bengali Tradition

Uma, one of the incarnations of Goddess Durga, was the daughter of Daksha and
Menoka, the king and queen of the Himalayas. Uma worshipped god Shiva, one of the
Divine Trinity, as her future husband. Shiva, pleased by her penance, came to marry
her. But Uma’s father King Daksha was not impressed by Shiva's attire of tiger skin and
ash smeared all over his body. Though he didn’t agree to this marriage, Uma married
Shiva. However Daksha prevented Uma from going with Shiva to his abode in Kailash.


Daksha then organised a special Yagna (worship of Agni, the god of Fire), where he
invited all the gods except his son-in-law Shiva. Uma was ashamed and insulted by her
father's rude attitude towards her husband and starved herself to death. Shiva was
enraged when he heard about Uma's death and went to King Daksha's house. He lifted
Uma's dead body over his shoulders and started his famous aggressive and devastating
dance ‘Tandav Nritya’. This dance was so intense that the entire Universe was on the
verge of destruction. Seeing this god Narayana, another of the Divine Trinity, threw his
weapon ‘Sudarshan Chakra’ (flying discus) and cut Uma's body into pieces. Uma's body
parts got scattered and fell all over India and Shiva was finally pacified when the last
piece fell off his shoulder. [The places, where these pieces fell, were known as ‘Shakti
Piths’ or places of energy and different incarnations of the divine mother are worshipped
in these places, Kalighat (Kali Temple) in Kolkata is one of them.]


Narayana then gave a boon to the dejected and repentant father Daksha that Uma
would be reborn in his family and would get married to Shiva again. Subsequently,
Parvati was born to Daksha and Menoka and was married off to Shiva. She then
accompanied Shiva to his heavenly abode in Kailash in the Himalayas. Every year
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Uma/Parvati comes to her parents' home along with her four children Ganesh,
Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kartik, who represent Wisdom, Knowledge, Prosperity and
Beauty respectively. As this much awaited visit by the full family takes place only once a
year, this event is associated with so much festivity and celebrations.


Close to the heart of almost every Bengali is the image of Durga as the daughter who
visits her parents annually. Each year, there is great rejoicing at the time of her
homecoming, but the air is tinged with sadness on the day one bids adieu to the deity.
The Bengalis identify more intimately with the human face of the omnipotent Goddess.




Children of Goddess Durga

Durga and her husband Shiva have four children – Laxmi, Saraswati, Kartick and
Ganesh. Laxmi is the elder daughter of Durga. Laxmi is married to Narayana, one of the
Divine Trinity. She is the goddess of wealth and fortune. She rides an owl. Saraswati is
the younger daughter of Durga. She is the Goddess of Knowledge, music, dance and art.
She rides a swan. Kartick is the eldest son of Durga. He is the God of warfare and
beauty. His 'vahana' or carrier is a peacock.


Ganesh is the youngest child of Durga. He, the 'Siddhidata' whose carrier is a mouse, is
worshipped as the starter of anything, specially any business endeavours. Even before
the worship of Durga starts, Ganesh is worshipped first, to ensure that he lets the Puja
get going. Regarding his face which is that of a white elephant, the story goes as
follows. Shani, the brother of Durga, is a god whose eyes are powerful enough to
behead one in a single glance. On Ganesh being born, Shani was so happy that he forgot
about the power of his glance and went to see his newborn nephew Ganesh. Invariably,
Ganesh was beheaded by Shani’s glance. On realising what he had done Shani consulted
Lord Narayana immediately and it was Narayana who told him to go in a specific
direction and bring the head of the first thing he met on his way, which would remake
Ganesh's head. Shani found a white elephant on his way and brought its head to
Narayana, who in turn, fitted that head into Ganesh. On being told by Durga that people
might not worship this elephant headed funny looking God, Narayana gave Ganesh the
boon that Ganesh will be worshipped before starting anything, including the worship of
other Gods.




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