The Sharodiya Durgotsav or the Durga Puja is the major and a grand festival of the Bengalis. In true sense, this magnificent festival is beyond any limit. It is a festival beyond any regionality, any ethnicity, any religious discrimination, any economical difference, any age, any orthodox tradition… it is beyond anything and everything. It is a festival beyond a festival… it is an emotion, a fever and a celebration of life.
Although the preparations for Durga Puja starts long before, the actual excitement begins from the day of ‘Mahalaya’. Thus, Mahalaya marks the beginning of the Durga Puja with the early morning ritual of listening to the audio drama of ‘Mahishasur Mardini’ (Annihilation of the Demon). This is not a ritual but this is a habit which has been carried along for generations since the year 1930 when it was first broadcast in the All India Radio (AIR).
The audio drama of Mahishasur Mardini is an excellent compilation of songs, recitals, hymns and verses from the religious scripture of ‘Chandi Kavya’. The popularity of this audio drama primarily rests on the magical voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. He as a narrator recites the story of Durga destroying the Demon and descending to earth. The audio compilation was composed by the legendary Pankaj Mullick and sung by the famous singers Hemanta Kumar and Arati Mukherjee.
Since generations, this has transformed into a habit or rather a ritual in every Bengali family whether in Bengal or elsewhere. The day begins at 4 am in the morning with the musical, modulated voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. This holy beginning is then followed by the Tarpan (a ritual to pay homage to the departed ancestors) performed in many families. On this day of Mahalaya, the Pitri Paksha ends and the Devi Paksha begins. (Hear the ageless audio drama of Mahishasura Mardini.)
For the commoners the tarpan may be the final ritual for the day but for the artisans who has been sculpting the statue of Durga for many days, it is the time to give the life to the idol, it is the day to paint the eye of the Goddess (the auspicious ritual of Chokkhu Daan.) It is a belief that along with the Chokkhu Daan, the Goddess begins her descend from her heavenly abode to this mortal world.
The autumnal Navratri coincides with this and the corresponding celebration takes place in other parts of the nation. After the Mahalaya it is time for the last minute preparations by the Puja Committees and the households organising pujas and it is also the time for the artisans (the creator of the creators) to give the final touch and send their creations to different destinations. It is a busy time for all, even the commoners are not left behind in these rush hours. They too are busy in their last minute purchase of either some matching earrings or some matching heels or some other accessories.
In every corner, you feel the breeze of busyness. The stalls are getting ready for selling various items near the Pandals, the Pandals are getting their final piece of decorative accessory to look elegant, the small trader horde saleable to do a good business the puja days, the moving vendors look for the perfect spot to station themselves for these four days.
With all these happening around the idols arrive at definite venus – pandals and the households to avoid the last minute traffic congestion. Finally, on the sixth day of the waxing phase of the moon, on the day of Maha Sashti, the face of the Goddess is unveiled with the traditional beat of the dhak. The priest performs the Kalparambha where he commits to conduct every ritual in its purest form which is then followed by the Bodhon (the awakening of the Goddess).
The next day of Maha Saptami begins with the Kola Bou Snan, where a banana tree is bathed in the holy water of the Ganges and applied vermillion and draped in a saree and kept beside the idol of Ganesh as his bride. After this, the Saptami puja begins with the worship of Nabapatrika. Nabapatrika is the worship of nine plants namely Banana (who is considered as the wife of Ganesha), Turmeric, Wood Apple, Pomegranate, Ashoka, Colocasia, Rice, Jayanti and the Ashoka tree.
On the day of Maha Ashtami, along with the ceremonial puja, Kumari Puja is also held in many places. Kumari Puja is the worship of a young girl child who has not reached the age of puberty. (Read more about Durga Puja and Kumari Puja.) The Ashtami rituals end with the Sandhi Puja marking the beginning of Navami puja.
The Sandhi Puja (meaning the puja held at the time of convergence) timings start twenty-four minutes before the Ashtami tithi ends and lasts till twenty-four minutes of the first hour of the Navami tithi. It is considered as the holiest of all time of Durga Puja. Maha Navami is the final day of the Durga Puja with the next day being the day of the Visarjan.
The day of Dashami brings in the heavy atmosphere around. The Goddess is supposed to return back from her maternal home to her husband in Kailash. The Dashami rituals begin with the Darpan Visarjan where the priest performs the holy immersion of the image of the idol in a large bowl of water. This is followed by Boron, Sindur Khela and finally, the idols are taken out along with a grand procession to the Visarjan ghat for the immersion.
Thus the festivities of Durga Puja ends. The hard work and months-long preparations end in a few joyous days with the hope to celebrate next year. With time, Durga Puja has evolved in every dimension to a festival that is beyond any limit. This is a form of worship of Shakti, a worship of the mother Goddess, the worship of a woman. When worshipping a woman, other women cannot stay behind. These days many pujas are held by women only group where only women participate and perform every task involved in organising and performing the Puja – a festival to celebrate women empowerment.
The festival is beyond the binding of sex, age, caste, creed, religion or economic strata. People from every caste and religion participates enthusiastically in every step. Even people from other religion are known to purchase new clothes to celebrate the Durga Puja. This is also the festival to celebrate unity.
These days Durga Puja has been transformed into an industry providing the source of livelihood for many. The big budget pujas organised by various puja committees creates a great scope for business from mobile vendors to small-scale traders to big merchants. It is like a chain that benefits many. While the temporary vendors get a source of income, the small traders get a hike in theirs. The big names in business need no mention for their profit scale during this festival. Thus this Durga Puja is a big business benefiting many.
This festival is again a form of showing reverence to the women, nature and the age-old traditions. Through the worship of Nabapatrika, it promotes the worship of nature and the natural elements. Through the rituals and the ceremonial steps, the age-old traditions and the heritage is maintained. This festival is again a celebration and recognition for nature and the natural elements.
Theme based pujas have been in the show and many a time been a topic for various debates. There is healthy competition within various committees to bring up the best theme and portray it in the form of Durga Puja. In this was it is an opportunity for artists to show their skills, it gives them the liberty and the platform to showcase their creativity. Durga Puja can also be called the festival of creativity.
These theme-based pujas have gone beyond the traditional concept and ideology of the age-old orthodox style of performing puja. They have introduced new ideas and new procedures, have completely given a new dimension to the Durga Puja. This is again an old festival wrapped in a new cover, a festival to welcome the newness.
As the other Hindus fast during this phase, the Bengalis feast. There is no rule or any limitation on the taste buds. A festival of openness a festival of freedom. The list can be unending to talk about. Despite all these factors, this puja is performed with a lot of reverence and faith. It is a festival of passion a festival of warmth where the mother Goddess is welcomed as a daughter in every household. The elderly women adore her with motherly affection – a touching act of a mother turning a daughter and a daughter turning a mother. (Read more about Durga Puja and Kumari Puja.)
As we worship the Goddess, we worship the power of a woman, we worship the spirit of a woman, we worship the strength of a woman, we worship woman as a whole. But do we really worship a woman from our heart? It is not just the males to be blamed, it is also a woman who also holds the onus. The true form of worship will only be successful when we woman will respect and stand for ourselves. The males will change, the scenario will change and the world will change – then it will be the truest form of Durga Puja.