For five days in a year, all the schools, colleges and government universities remain closed. This is when the entire state of West Bengal is immersed in the celebration of Durga Puja Festival. Apart from West Bengal, it is also celebrated in other states like Assam, Tripura and Odisha. This ten day popular Hindu festival is also celebrated in Bangladesh by the Hindu community there. Other states where the festival is celebrated with gusto are Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The festival starts on the first day with Mahalaya and ends on the tenth with Vijay Dashmi. An interesting fact about the festival, among many others, is that from the 6th to the 9th day, Goddess Durga is worshipped in a different form and depicted in a different way. Each day has its own significance. Here, we take a look at the history, religious significance, Durga Puja legends and related stories, how is it celebrated and various other aspects related to the festival. Remember though, that in 2020, it will be celebrated from October 22-26, with Mahalaya being celebrated on September 17th.
The origin of this festival is shrouded in mystery, since there are no definitive records or accounts regarding it. However, there are many theories revolving around it. According to one of them, this festival was first started by the landlords or Zamindars of Dinajpur and Malda between late 16th to early 17th centuries. It is also said that in 1790, 12 friends, belonging to Guptipara in Hooghly district district of West Bengal, collected funds from the locals to organise the first ever community puja, called the baro-yaari. This is where the tradition of community puja is believed to have originated. The first Durga Puja Celebrations in Kolkata were held in 1909.
Several scholars have their own take on the origins of the festival in West Bengal. One of them, Pranab Bandhopadhyay, believes that the worship of Durga Maa, and her more fierce avatar, Maa Kali, become especially popular with the Islamic invasion in the medieval era. Rachel Mcdermott, Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, is of the opinion that it evolved into a social festival largely because of the persecution of Bengali Hindus in the Bengal Sultanate. Worshipping the supreme form of Mother united all of them with a spiritual and emotional bond.
Although the festival also finds a mention in the Hindu dharm granthas, there is an inconsistency regarding it. In some of the Puranas, it has been mentioned as a spring festival, while in Devi-Bhagavata Purana and Shakta Puranaas, it has been referred to as an autumn festival. Even the Indian mythology books differ regarding its origin. While the Ramayana, which is popular in North India, South India and West India depicts Lord Rama invoking Surya, the sun god, before his battle with Ravana, the Bengali version of the Ramayana depicts him invoking Goddess Durga.
The religious significance of Durga Puja is that it is celebrated to mark the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahisasura. It is symbolic of the victory of good over evil. During the course of the festival, the goddess is worshipped in various forms like Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. She is a symbol of love, power, courage and kindness. She is also a mother who loves her children and a warrior goddess who defeats her enemies single handed, just as she killed Mahishasura after engaging in a battle with him for 10 nights and 10 days. During the last five days, the mother is revered through various rituals and ceremonies, one of the most famous of which is the Ashtami Anjali.
This festival also has a social and economic significance. The creation of the idols, setting up of the pandals, installation of lights and other decorations and performance of rituals involve various segments of the population, from craftsmen, potters, painters and blacksmiths to artists, artisans and cleaners. This generates income for them for a short period of time, and this is especially true of people living in the rural areas. Besides that, it is an occasion for family members and distant relatives to come together and celebrate this wonderful festival together. Families and friends go pandal hopping, while every community organises its own puja. It is also a great time for the street food vendors, particularly in Kolkata, for Kolkatans love nothing more than gorging on their favorite foods while visiting the pandals.
The story of Goddess Durga has always captivated our minds and imaginations. The heroic way in which she defeats and kills Mahishasura, the buffalo demon, never fails to inspire us. Here is one of the most famous legends behind the Durga Puja Festival, and why is it celebrated.
It is believed that Mahishasura was the king of the asuras and had the head of a buffalo. Even though he was an asura (demon), he was deeply devoted to Lord Brahma and performed years of difficult penance for him. Finally, Lord Brahma was impressed with the hardships he had gone through and was ready to grant him a wish. Mahishasura, drunk with power and wanting to dominate the entire earth, oceans, skies and seas, demanded immortality. He desired that he should not die at the hands of either a man or an animal. Lord Brahma immediately granted him his wish, but also told him that his death would occur at the hands of a woman.
However, Mahishasura was amused by this prediction as he believed himself to be too powerful to be killed by any woman. Drunk with power and motivated by his invincibility, he attacked Trilok (the three worlds – earth, heaven and hell). He did not even spare Indralok, the abode of Lord Indra. Even though the gods waged a war against the buffalo demon, they were unable to defeat him because he had been blessed by Lord Brahma. Helpless and frightened, they decided to seek Lord Vishnu’s help. After hearing out their problems and the grave threat facing them, he decided to create a female form. Since Lord Shiva is known as the god of destruction, all the three gods came together to create Goddess Durga, an avatar of the ultimate Shakti.
According to the story, Mahishasura and Goddess Durga were engaged in a war for about fifteen days, during which he kept changing himself into different animals and assuming different forms. Finally, when he changed himself into a buffalo, Goddess Durga stabbed him in the chest with her trident, while her lion dug its claws deep into his flesh. That was the end of the evil buffalo demon.
Durga Puja is known by different names in West Bengal, including Durga Pujo, Akalbodhan, Sharadiya Pujo, Maha Pujo, Maayer Pujo. In Bangladesh, it is also known as Bhagabati Puja. The popular Hindu festival is celebrated for 10 days, with the last 5 days being the most famous and widely known to those outside West Bengal. According to the traditional Hindu calendar, it is celebrated in the month of Ashvin, which, in the Gregorian calendar, falls between September-October. Ashvin is the seventh month of the Hindu calendar.
Durga Puja starts with Mahalaya, and is followed by Shasthi, Shaptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami, on the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th days respectively.
The celebrations of Maa Durga begin on Mahalaya which occurs on Amavasya. It is held on the last day of the dark fortnight in the month of Ashvin, according to the traditional Hindu calendar. This day is marked by preparing for the arrival of Goddess Durga on earth along with her family consisting of Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Saraswati and Lord Kartikeya. A famous legend associated with Mahalaya states that Goddess Durga arrived on earth to destroy the demon buffalo, Mahishasura. The demon king Mahishasura had been granted a boon according to which, he could not be killed by any man or animal. Shakti, the ultimate female power, thereupon took the form of Goddess Durga to kill the demon.
On this day, Mahisasuramardini, a radio program is broadcast in the early morning. About one and a half hours long, it consists of recitation from the verses of Sri Sri Chandi or Durga Saptashati. It is recited by the soothing voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, and so powerful yet sonorous is his voice that one listening to it is immediately enveloped by a spiritual aura. Since the program is held at daybreak, most of the Bengali households wake up early to listen to this powerful program.
Shasti – 6th Day
Shasti is the 6th day of this wonderful festival, and it is on this day that the pandals are inaugurated. On this day, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Katyayani and adorned with weapons which were gifted to her by different gods to kill the buffalo demon Mahishasura.
Saptami – 7th Day
Saptami is celebrated on the 7th day, and is marked by the bathing of the goddess, selection of the priest and recitation of elaborate prayers (aarti). On this day, a group of nine plants called Nabapatrika are tied together as a way to invoke Goddess Durga. These nine plants are believed to represent the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga. During the early hours of the morning of the morning before sunrise, these plants are immersed in the waters of River Ganga.
Ashtami – 8th Day
Ashtami is celebrated on the 8th day, and is considered to be an immensely important day. You may miss other kinds of celebrations, but you should never miss the Ashtami anjali. The puja which is offered on this day is meant to prepare the Goddess for her battle against Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. The famous Sandhi Puja, which is also offered on this day, is performed at the precise moment when Ashatmi ends and Navami begins. In fact, the last 24 minutes of Ashtami, and the first 24 minutes of Navami, are regarded as Sandhikhan. This is the moment when Goddess Durga finally killed Chando and Munda, the two allies of Mahishasura who attacked Goddess Durga from behind. The offerings on this day are as grand as the occasion itself. Besides 108 lotuses, 108 earthen oil lamps, single whole fruit, hibiscus flowers, saree, uncooked grains, jewellery, bel leaves and a garland of 108 bel leaves are offered to the Goddess. Even though every family has its own unique way of offering to the Goddess, what is always found in each household is the 108 lamps, lotuses and bel leaves.
Navami – 9th Day
On the nine day of the Durga Puja Festival in India, Goddess Durga is revered as a girl child. It is marked by the Kumari Puja, where little girls are adorned in jewellery and make up which resembles the Goddess. All the other ceremonies, from blowing the conch to swinging the silver hand fans, are observed as usual. It is an interesting sight to observe, for not often do you come across such a unique form of celebration.
Dashami – 9th Day
Finally, you have Dashmi, the last day of the festival. Although it is as important as any other day, the people are overcome with emotion as they bid farewell to their beloved Mother Durga. Popularly known as Vijaya Dashmi, it is the day when the goddess reunites with her husband, Lord Shiva, on Mount Kailash. People, especially the ladies, get together to bid farewell to Goddess Durga, with vermillion and an assortment of sweets. This is followed by the Bhashaan, where the idol of Durga Maa is taken to the Holy Ganges and immersed, symbolically representing her return to Lord Shiva.
Durga Puja is a major festival of Hinduism which carries immense religious and social significance. There are many interesting facts about Durga Puja Festival which are worth knowing. Here, we tell you some of them.
It’s Durga Puja, and what better thing to do than to go pandal hopping. It is so much fun because each pandal differs from the next in various ways, including theme, idols and layout. Some are famous because of their enormous size, while others attract crowds because of their theme or decoration. Here are the most famous Durga Puja Pandals in Kolkata.
Apart from West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, where Durga Puja is celebrated more or less the same way, other states in India celebrate it in different ways. Here’s bringing you some of them.
Goddess Durga is an avatar of Shakti, an embodiment of ultimate power, energy, ability, strength, and indeed, the entire cosmic energy. There are numerous temples across the country which have been built in her honour. These are some of the popular Durga Temples in India which you can visit and seek her blessing.
The dates for the Durga Puja Festival 2020 are mentioned below. Be a part of the celebrations and join others in celebrating the glory of Goddess Durga.
So, now you have all the important information regarding Durga Puja Festival 2020, including the legends behind it, rituals & ceremonies, most famous pandals, dates and interesting facts. Why do you look forward to the celebration of Maa Durga and what do you enjoy most about it? How many of these most popular Durga Puja Pandal in Kolkata have you visited and which are your favorite ones? Read the blog and let us know.
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