Durga Puja, the five-day long festival is an integral part of Bengali life, culture and tradition. The autumn is the herald of the Durgotsab which is also called Sharodotsab. As per the religious scriptures, the worship of Devi Durga in the form of Basanti Puja is held in the Bengali month of Chaitra. Though less popular but is still celebrated in many Bengali households. The Sharodotsab is associated with or rather initiated by the mythological story of Lord Rama worshipping Goddess Durga in autumn, in quest of victory against Ravana in the war. The untimely worship of the Goddess gave it a name of Akal Bodhan. Gradually this became the much favoured and the primarily celebrated festival for the Bengalis.
The history of Durga Puja celebration dates back to the medieval age. It became more popular during the 18th century when the celebrations were held by the zamindars and the rich aristocrats. A famous name among them was Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Shobhabazar, who started a grand ceremony at his residence. During this festival, the doors of the rich and dignified, holding the pujas were opened to all to join the festivities and feast together. Thus it became a festival of unity of all classes. Later the celebration has spread beyond the wealthy families to “Barowari” (refers to the public organisations for some cause, the term was coined as baro means twelve and yaari means friendly connection), celebrating the community pujas.
As goes the folklore, Goddess Durga as a daughter visits her maternal place on earth, along with her four children every year. Her four children are Lord Ganesha, Lord Kartikeya, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati. On the auspicious day of mahalaya, the pitri paksha ends and the Devi Paksha begins and lasts for the next fifteen days till Kojagari Purnima. This is when the Bengalis celebrate Lakshmi Puja. Durga Puja coincides with the Navaratri celebration throughout the other parts of India, where Devi Amba, another form of Durga, is worshipped.
This is a festive time throughout the country. While the Bengalis feast the rest fasts. I read few interesting accounts on this topic recently on social media. I came to a better understanding of the reason behind this. As per the account, Bengalis are majorly followers of Shaktism. They worship the Mother Goddesses like Kali, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Since ancient age, the worship of Goddess Kali is linked with animal sacrifice. While the bhog for the other goddesses include some form of fish and rice. So this age old tradition is followed till now as a sacred belief to have non-vegetarian food during the pujas.
I have travelled from the land of Durga to settle in the land of Ganesha. Read about Ganapati Festival in Pune. The excitement and enthusiasm of Durga puja are more for the Ganesh Utsav here. I recollect the memories of my days in my hometown. In my childhood, I used to go Pandal hopping with parents. Later the pandal hopping days were shared between family and friends. The Navami day was fixed for a visit to a cousin’s place. The household puja there had a different fervour. Meeting and greeting near and far relatives, joining hands in the rituals, offering pushpanjali and after the pujas relishing on the delicious Bhog.
Along with the time, concepts has changed. Now most of the Sarbojanin (for all) Barowari Pujas are fighting for the theme. Keeping aside the age old tradition they try to portray various subject to attract visitors. And thus, the competition among the Clubs and Samitis organising Sarbojanin Durgotsab sores high. Some organisations even come forward to focus on some social cause – distributing new clothes and food to the needy, taking the residents of the old age home and orphanage to visit the Pandals, organising blood donation camps, taking initiative saving the environment and so on. The age old pujas of the Rajbaris and Zamindar Baris still continue with their ancient family tradition. The pandal hoppers don’t like to give them a miss.
The Sovabazar Rajbari Puja, the Jorasanko Puja, the Chatu Babu and Latu Babu’s Puja, Thanthania Puja, the Kumartuli Puja are few names of the famous pujas that holds the old tradition in every aspect of the Puja. Another puja of worth mention is that of the Belur Math. Read about Belur Math. Here the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Divine Mother. Swami Vivekananda also introduced the Kumari Puja (worshipping a little girl child) to create the awareness of the potential divinity of women and propagate a respectful attitude towards them. The puja held here is performed through an elaborate ritualistic form.
The ‘shiuli’ (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis flower), the ‘kash’ (the flower of the wild sugarcane grass), the ‘dhaker awaz’ (the beating of the drums) are all synonymous to Durga Puja. The ‘dhaker awaz’ from the nearby puja wakes you up in the morning. The day-long religious activity of pushpanjali followed by eating bhog prasad. Then getting dressed up in the new attire and moving from one pandal to another, pushing through the crowd to enter a makeshift quick bite stall to grab a munch. A tough time for the digestive tract to handle the junk overdose.
I miss them all. Though I attend few Durga Pujas held in Pune too. But when I sit to count the number of pandals visited, I sadly end up in a couple as compared to numerous in Kolkata. So in this post, you can find few old pictures clicked in my hometown combined with the current pictures. These five days the city never sleeps. The food and other stalls make a good business.The artisans’ days of hard work travels to pandals emptying their premises, ultimately to dissolve in the waters. The pandals and the idols are aesthetically made with great care and decorated elaborately. Even the lightings are a must mention. Months-long preparation for these five days. The city gets a new makeover, to end up in the visarjan on the day of Vijayadashami.
On the final day, before the Visarjan, married women gather to bid adieu to the Goddess with the sacred plate full of ritualistic items. Which include betel leaves, Sindur, mirror, sweets and many other things as per individual family tradition. Platforms are built for the women to climb up to reach the face of the Goddess. They wipe the face of the idols with betel leaves (with motherly affection), apply vermillion to the forehead, stuff sweetmeats into their lips. A gentle and caring gesture before bidding farewell to their daughter. Later they apply the same vermilion on other married ladies. This is considered as a sign of good luck and prosperity.
Durga Puja marks the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura (the buffalo headed demon). So Devi Durga is also known as Mahishasuramardini (the destroyer of Mahishasura). Grand processions are held to take the idols to the visarjan ghats. Aarti followed by a few other rituals are done before immersing the idols into the water. After the visarjan, Vijayadashami (the victory of good over evil) is celebrated by exchange of Vijaya greetings and sweets. The devotees return after the visarjan with slogans of “asche bochor abar hobe” (will happen again the coming year). And thus the Goddess returns to their heavenly abode.