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Durgapujo - At a glance

Durga Puja is one of the most celebrated festival of Hindus in India. The festival is celebrated popularly in the state of West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar and in Bangladesh. In other parts of the country it is celebrated in the form of Dushera and Navratri.

Durga puja is celebrated twice in a year. During the season of Spring in the month of March or April Durga puja in the form of Basanti puja is celebrated which is also known as 'Bodhan', whereas 'Akaal-Bodhan' is being performed while Devi Durga is worshiped during Automn where 'Akaal - Bodhan' means worship at an unconventional time and during Autumn [Ashwin] in the month of September or October Devi Durga is worshiped during purnima, when the full moon is on the sky.

Mythological Thoughts :-

Several mythological tales about the history of Durga puja festival are known. The most popular among them is the tale of Lord Rama, the hero of Hindu epic, Ramayana. During 14 years of exile Lord Rama's wife Sita was kidnapped by the ten-headed demon Ravana, the king of Lanka. Ravana was empowered with divine powers by worshiping Lord Shiva which made him so powerful that he became invincible. To rescue Sita from the possession of Ravana, Lord Rama started to worship Devi Durga , the Goddess of divine powers against all evils. To worship Devi Durga Rama needed 108 blue lotuses but he was able to collect only 107 lotuses. So, he prepared to dedicate his eye in front of Divine mother as a worship and the 108th lotus. Devi Durga pleased with his dedication and appeared before Lord Rama and blessed him.Lord Rama fought a fierce battle and won against Ravana and rescued Sita.This puja is celebrated as todays Durga Puja during Automn season in the month of September-October. This unconventional time of Durga puja is called as 'Akaal Bodhan'.

Another tale of Goddess Durga in the name of Mahishasurmardini is very popular in Bengal. The demon Mahishasur with his years of worship or 'Tapasya' of Lord Brahma got the boon that no male could be able to defeat him and got the power of Invincibility. After getting the boon Mahishasur started torturing and killing the people, disturbing the saints from doing their worships. He then attacked Devlok and defeated the gods by acquiring their kingdom. Finding no other way, Lord Indra, the King of Swargalok, with other gods went to Lord Brahma to find some way out. Lord Brahma told them that no male can kill him, so on his suggestion by ammalgamation of the power of all the powers of Gods, Goddess Durga the divine power took birth. She was powered with the weapons dedicated by the Devtas in her ten hands riding on a lion. During a fierce battle the Divine mother killed Mahishasura and the war symbolizes the win of good over evil.

According to another old belief, Goddess Durga, the daughter of Daksharaja comes to her parents house every year with her son Ganesha [God of prosperity], Kartick and daughters Lakshmi [Goddess of wealth], Saraswati [Goddess of knowledge].Every year Goddess comes in different means of communication like Horse, Elephant, Boat or Palki. Her homecoming on Maha-Shasthi is celebrated with great rejoicing and festive mood. People with heartfelt sorrow and sadness give farewell to Goddess when she gets back to her husbands house leaving her paternal home on Bijoya Dashami.

Other local beliefs are that Goddess Durga is the other form of Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva who was empowered for destroying the evil powers.

History of the Puja :-

During old days Durga Puja was celebrated by the Jamindars [Land-lords] and the rich people as their family festivals. According to the records the first Durga-puja has been performed in Nadia district of West Bengal in 1606. In 1610 Sabarna Choudhury , the Jamindar of Barisha arranged a Durga puja which was recorded as the oldest puja in Calcutta. At that time general people used to attend the pujas organized by the Jamindars and rich people. The first publicly organized Durga Puja was done by a twelve men committee of Guptipara of Hooghly District which is called Barowari Puja (comes from Baro Yaar or Twelve Friends) because they were debarred from attending the pujas organized by the rich people. Later on the Barowari pujas were replaced by the Sarbojanin Durgotsav committees where the general people started taking participation. In 1910 first community puja in Calcutta was done at Balaram Bose Ghat road. In olden days Aath-Chaala idol of Goddess Durga with her sons Ganesha, Kartick and daughters Saraswati, Lakshmi in a common structure was used to be worshiped. Buy now a days both Aath-Chaala as well as single self styled idols of Goddess along with her children are being worshiped.

Pre-Puja plannings :-

In Bengal Goddess Durga is worshiped as Mahishasurmardini during the season of Autumn in the month of September or October which fells on the Bengali month of Ashwin.

Pre-puja preparations of the festival starts more than a period of month in advance. The employees working in different sectors were paid bonus and puja advance for celebrating the puja. All the Departmental stores and Garment shops were fully loaded with various varieties of clothes. This festive season is the high time for business. During this time Big publishing houses publish special editions of their magazines and 'Sharad Sankhyas', where famous as well as new writers and poets share their columns. During this festive occasion new music albums of eminent and fresh artists were also released by the music companies for the music loving people. People start marketing of new dresses, newly released music albums and grab sharad sankhyas a month before the puja commences.

Puja committees of different towns amd villages start collecting contributions [chandas] from the houses in their locality and also starts preparation for construction of pandals and idols of Goddess. Plannings of different cultural programmes to be staged during the festival and rehearsals were started well in advance before the pujas. Now a days puja committees announce different themes in their puja pandals and try to educate people through their puja themes like Communal Harmony, Shaksharata Abhiyan,Globle Warming, AIDS etc. Artisans and handicrafts of different regions like Madhubani Art, Tribal Arts were used in Puja Pandals which gives encouragement to regional arts.During all the days of pujas several cultural programmes were organized by the puja committees which give encouragement to local as well as new artists to perform before the audiences.

Different sponsor groups create a committee of eminent writers, sportsmen, actors-actresses,artists and intellectuals who visit different Puja Mandaps and declare the best Puja Mandap, best theme puja,and best idol of Goddess and award the puja committees with the Sharad Samman & other similar honours.

Commencement of puja :-

The flavour of Durga puja starts commencing on the day of Mahalaya when during dawn people get up early in the morning before the sun-rise and start listening to Agamani songs and Chandi Path, a religious hindu text about Chandi the Durga in radios and televisions. As the ritual goes that on Mahalaya Goddess Durga is Abahaned or welcomed to kill demon Mahishasur. The Chandi-Path by Sri Birendra Krishna Bhadra during Mahalaya has become an epic in the life of Bengalis. Thousands of people gather at the holy ganges to offer spiritual prayer called Tarpan to their anchestors. On Mahalaya Goddess Durga's eyes were drawn by the clay-artists, This ritual is called Chakshu-Daan.

Way back, when clay artists starts building Durga idols, they perform another ritual by bringing clay from the Barbanita's Angina or a Prostitute's arena and the belief goes behind this is that man leaves all his good things at the arena of a prostitute's place before entering her house. This clay is considered divine and clay artisits starts making Durga idol with clay brought from this places.

During Panchami the thousands of Dhakis from different regions gather at the metropolitan railway stations of Kolkata and start beating Dhaks [a kind of drum] in a rhythm to attract the puja committees as the sound of Dhak is one of the customary rituals of the worship during the four days of the pujas.

Actual puja starts on Maha-Shashthi, the sixth day of the lunar fortnight after Mahalaya when the ceremony of awakening Goddess Durgas is held for her annual worship called Bodhan . Several big pujas in Kolkata were inaugurated on Shashthi by the eminent authors, film-actor-actresses, sportsmen and intellectuals.

On Maha-Saptami, the seventh day of the lunar fortnight at early morning people in empty stomach offer prayer through flowers and holy mantras called Anjali to the Goddess Durga. After the anjali they take prasad which were offered to the Goddess. At night people with their children in new and colourful dresses visit different Puja Pandals to see spectacular display of lights, decoration and the idols of Goddess Durga. The puja pandals with rhythmic sounds of Dhaks create a spiritual atmosphere. People eat fast-foods,soft drinks and sweets at night. Puja committees used to play new puja songs on this ocassion.

On Maha-Asthami, the eighth day of the puja the priests by virtue of worship and shlokas create life in the Goddess which is called Pranpratistha. A bowl of water infront of the goddess is kept where due to the movement in water the impression of movement in reflection of the goddess can be observed. People offer anjalis to the Goddess in empty stomach. In Ramkrishna Math Kumari Puja is done in which a little girl is being worshiped as Goddess Durga. At the evening Sandhi puja is being carried out.

On the ninth day of the Puja, that is Maha-Navami Mahabhog is offered to the Goddess. After the puja Mahabhog is being distributed among the people.

On Bijoya-Dashami several rituals were carried out to bid farewell to the Divine mother. Married women offer sweets and sindoor to the Goddess with sorrow in their eyes and pray to the Goddess to come back every year. They share sindoor on the forehead, bangles of each other with the other married women who are also present there. Students touch their books on the feet of the Goddess to get blessings. This ritual is called Baran. On Bijoya Dashami idol of the Goddess Durga is being immersed in the holy river of Ganges after the Baran rituals. After the immerse of the idol every one hug each other with Shubha-Vijoya greetings and children touch the feet of the elders to take their blessings. At night everybody go to their neighbour and relatives house to offer Vijoya greetings and share sweets and foods. In other parts of India Bijoya Dashami is also Celebrated as Dushera when Lord Rama killed ten headed demon the king of Lanka, The Ravana. Every year on Dushera the effigy of Ravana is being burned with fire-crackers on Ram-lila Maidan to celebrate the win. Dushera symbolizes the win of devine powers against all the evils. Bengalis all over the world irrespective of where they stay ,they celebrate Durga Puja in their own customary rituals. Durga idols were flown to different parts of the world where the overseas Bengali people live months well before the Durga Puja commences. This puja creates an occasion for the overseas Indians to celebrate their rituals and cultural heritages. In India also Durga Puja and Dushera is not only celebrated by the hindus but also celebrated by the people of all the community irrespective their caste,creed or religion. These festivals represent the communal harmony of the counrty.
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