Durga puja undoubtedly being celebrated in the grandest way across India, but In Bengal the celebrations are supremely magnificent. People in Bengal wait for an entire year for Durga puja to come. And the preparations for the same begin much before.
Durga Pujo as the bongs call it, is a 10 day festival celebrated during Navratri, of which last five are of significance. During this time, it is mandatory for all schools, colleges and offices to have holidays as every one would be busy with the grand preparations and would be keen on welcoming Goddess Durga. The Puja shopping begins months before and people eagerly wait to celebrate their biggest festival.
I would be taking you all through my experience of Pujo and also about how each day is being celebrated in Bengal.
WHY IT IS CELEBRATED?
Goddess Durga is believed to have emerged from the combined power of all the supreme powers and gods.
In Hindu mythology, it is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil, as goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura.
As per Bengali traditions, Durga puja is to celebrate the visit of goddess Durga to her natal home with her children. Where Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartike are considered to be her children and they are also worshiped during this time. We will always see their idols along with goddess Durga in every pandal.
Grand idols of Goddess Durga of different shapes and sizes are intricately crafted. Every year there would be several photographers and tourists/visitors clicking the idol makers shaping the idol. Each idol also comes along with four other smaller idols of her children and also of the demon Mahisasura.
THE CELEBRATIONS AS PER THE DAYS
This day marks the beginning of Goddess Durga’s journey to her natal home and this is the same day that she is believed to have stepped on Earth. And it mostly lies two three days before the Navratri starts (though this year its almost a month before it). There are several beliefs about Goddess Durga arriving and departing in a particular mode of transport like if she arrives on a boat then it usually rains on this day (as it indicates floods and good harvest), she might arrive/depart on a horse too (which would indicate drought), her arrival/departure on a palanquin/paalki indicates plague, whereas her arrival and departure on an elephant is believed to be the best as it indicates good harvest season and bring prosperity. However her arrival and departure on the same transport mode is considered a bad omen. This year Goddess Durga arrives on palanquin and departs on a boat. The mode of arrival is decided on the basis of the day of the week.
This day is celebrated by the Bengalis with full ardour and zeal across the globe. Mahishasur Mardini is being played on the radio early morning and the mantras are being chanted to envoke the goddess. Also we will have several TV channels showcasing the story of Goddess Durga. People greet each other saying Subho Mahalaya and burst firecrackers to celebrate this day. This day thus bring the feeling of warmth, joy and festivity to mark the beginning of the most awaited festival of the year.
The main Puja usually begins on the 7th day after the Mahalaya i.e on the 5th/6th day of Navratri and ends on the Dussehra/ Dashami i.e the 10th day of the Navratri.
DAY 5th & 6th (PANCHAMI & SASHTHI)
These are the days when the idols are being brought to the various pandals.
DAY 7th (SAPTAMI)
On this day a ceremony called Pran Prathistha is performed to invoke the presence of the goddess in the idols. Another ritual called “Kola Bou Bhaat” is performed, where a tender banana plant, the “Kola Bou” (symbolized as the bride) is drapped a saree and given a river bath at dawn and then carried back in a procession to be placed near the Lord Ganesha’s idol. She is symbolized to be Lord Ganesha’s wife.
DAY 8th (DURGA ASHTAMI)
This is the most important day. An important ritual of flower offering, called Pushpanjali is followed on all the days but performing it on the Durga Ashtami holds a very special value for the Bongs. It is performed by the priests doing the sacred utterance to be repeated by the devotees and several flowers are offered at the Goddess’s feet. Devotees perform this offering while fasting and then complete the fast by having the Bhog offered to Goddess Durga.
Another important ritual that takes place on the auspicious evening is the Sandhi Puja where 108 lamps are lit and 108 lotuses are offered, to worship the Chamunda form of Goddess Durga. It is a 48 minute long ritual which is performed in last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami. It is believed that this is time when the Goddess Durga avatars as Chamunda form to put an end to the demons Chanda and Munda. It is also believed that its the same time, when Goddess Durga opens her third eye and shower blessings on her devotees.
DAY 9th (MAHA NAVAMI)
The ninth day begins by the sandhi puja’s end and is completed by the Maha Arti. On this day the fasting devotees offer Navami Pushpanjali after the Mahayagna.
DAY 10th (VIJAYA DASHAMI)
It is the same day that marks the victory of the good over evil. It is believed that on this day Goddess Durga departs for her home in the Himalayas, to her husband Lord Shiva. The celebrations end with idols being carried in enormous processions amid the drumbeats for immersion. The procession is initiated by women who perform a ritual called “Sindoor Khela”, in which women (especially married, usually dressed in sarees with red borders), apply sindoor (vermilion) to the Goddess, offer sweets to her and then playfully smear each other’s faces with vermilion. This ritual is said to bring good fortune and long life to their husbands.
After the idol immersion, people greet each other with “Shubho Bijoya” (Bijoya meaning Victory), seek blessings from their elders and exchange gifts and sweets with family and friends.
Dhunuchi Naach (Dance) is a devotional dance performed amid the manic drum beats using earthen pots containing the dry coconut husk, a burning piece of coal to ignite it and dhuno (a plant resin of Sal tree) to create the fragrant smoke. It is an eminent custom and the most anticipated activity of evenings(during Durga aarti) every day. Men and women can be seen holding burning dhunuchi in each hand and performing to the rhythmic beats of drums and bells. This dance acts a source of major attractions every year, thereby the Durga Puja Organizers often organise competitons for Dhunuchi Naach at the pandals.
PANDALS/ CROWD AND THEMES
We have different themes for different pandals in different areas every year. The themes may vary from recreating an entire palace or a temple or using unique materials to construct the pandal, sometimes even the waste products are used.
One such unique example was when the entire Rameshwaram temple was created as the theme in one of the years for a pandal. It was so amazing and breath taking at the same time. Also in one of themes the Mahishmati Kingdom (From Bahubali) was recreated. Then there was another time where the entire pandal was decorated completely from the match sticks. The theme can also be based on the legends of the gods and goddesses or can be monestries, houses, village scenery, or even a social cause to spread awareness etc. for different places. We can imagine the time and effort the karigars would have to put, to build the entire pandal with such unique themes every time. The intricate design and the detailing is worth praising.
The local pandals also have competitions for the best pandal every year. For pandals that are constructed in large grounds/areas, also have fairs there. People with kids and also teens prefer to visit the fairs for the various adventure rides and for the numerous shops selling goods like toys, games, dolls, crockeries, local handmade jewelleries, bags and what not. We cant miss the food stalls outside every pandal selling pani puris, bhel puris, ice creams, chaats, jalebis, popcorns, dahi vadas… the list never ends.
People from different parts of India visit Bengal during this time to witness the grandeur and the brilliance of the culture. During the day time you can get a better view of the pandals due to the less crowd, but the spectacular lightings of the magnificent decor in the evenings is itself an astounding view. The most crowd that we see is after evening. Even at mid night we would find the roads are heavily jammed with trucks and cars loaded with people whistling and singing, enjoying with their families, visiting different pandals. The localites visiting their nearby pandals choose to walk rather than taking their vehicles. For some areas there are huge queues for viewing a single pandal, people literally have to park their vehicle at some area and then join the queue which might be 500 mts to 1 km long or may be more depending on the crowd. But every thing is just worth the wait, for the stupendous and incredible art works and fun.
We get to witness so many cultural events taking place during this five day carnival. Numerous renowned dancers, singers, musicians and also actors are called at various pandals and various activities are organised. There are also various competitions for paintings, singing, drama that are organised for the people. During my school days, I too use to participate in various competitions every year and take part in the cultural programs for dancing, along with other girls of my locality, the preparations for which we begin a month before.
DURGA PUJA IS AN EMOTION!!
Durga puja brings us immense enthusiasm and joy, especially because we get to meet all out friends and hang out with them. Pandal hopping as we call it, is taking a tour of the various pandals. Since there are thousands of pandals, it really requires planning to be able to cover most of them.
Also food, is a major feature during the Durga Pujo, we all know Kolkata is famous for its varied dishes, but the most loved one during Pujo is the special “Bhog”, especially the Maha Ashtami Khichuri (Khichdi) Bhog, which is offered to Goddess Durga and later distributed among the devotees. The Bhog comes in a earthen pot and will mostly contain – the famous Khichdi, payes (Kheer), mix veg and some sweet tomato chutney. All the pandals offer the bhogs and also there are lots of community kitchens setup for the communal meals.
We also get to see the grandeur of Durga puja in movies and serial depicting the Bengali culture. Durga puja is not just a festival but is an emotions for us. We celebrate and worship Goddess Durga, the supreme power, to mark the victory of good over evil.
I would definitely recommend one, irrespective of his/her caste/belief must visit Bengal during pujo, atleast once in a lifetime to experience its splendid celebrations and tremendous culture.
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The images are taken from kolkatadurgapuja.
About The Author
A software developer by profession, a trained dancer, fashion enthusiast, blogger and an entertainer. Hardcore shopaholic, loves travelling and cooking. Believes in standing for whats right and creating a sunshine of her own.