No matter where you reside the imminent arrival of Ashwin (October) fills the heart of every Bengali with nostalgia and overwhelming joy in the yearlong anticipation of one of the most significant Hindu festivals around the globe, the Durga Puja, where the Hindus pay homage to Goddess Durga who is considered the bringer of protection, strength, motherhood, destruction, and wars.
Locally called Pujo ( Durgotsava or Sharadotsav), the entire city of Kolkata is adorned during those 5 days, with streets flocked with overflowing revellers, street vendors, worshippers, and with ‘themed’ Puja pandals at every corner.
For every Bong out there, Durga Puja is not just an auspicious occasion but also the ideal time to flaunt their best attire to the world. There are many notable decisions to make like what to wear on Shashti or Shaptami, during Aarti, etc and most importantly which delicacy to gobble on during the Pandaal Hopping- Fuchka, ghughni-chaat, rolls, kobiraji and Mughlai parota you can feast on during the Pujo and the much-awaited Bhog in the Pandals.
LEGEND OF MAA DURGA AND MAHISHASURA
Maa Durga slayed the demon Mahishasur, who was the king of asuras and had a head of buffalo. Even though he was an asura, he worshipped Lord Brahma and performed years of penance for him.
Finally, Lord Brahma was impressed by his devotion and was willing to grant him a wish. Mahishasura, drunk with power and aspiring to dominate the entire earth, demanded immortality. He desired that he should not die at the hands of either man or 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 considered himself was too powerful to be killed by a woman. After this wish, he attacked Trilok (earth, heaven, and hell), he didn’t spare Indralok, which is the abode of Lord Indra.
Even though the Gods declared war against him, they were unable to subdue him because he was blessed by Lord Brahma. After feeling helpless and seeking Lord Vishnu’s aid, they chose to create a female form, and thus created Goddess Durga, an avatar of ultimate shakti.
According to the legend, Mahishasura and Maa Durga were engaged in fifteen days war and after that Maa Durga finally stabbed Mahishasura in the chest, while her lion dug its claws deep into his flesh, freeing Trilok of the evil.
Though the exact origins of Durga Puja are unclear and undocumented. but such ostentatious celebration of Durga Puja in Kolkata can be traced back to the early 1700s when Bengal’s zamindars outdid each other in displaying their influence, power, and wealth by spending large sums of money in festivities.
Though the Pujo preparation starts months before, it is a ten-day Puja of which the latter five days - Shashti (6th day), Saptami(7th day), Ashtami(8th day), Nabami(9th day), Dashami(10th day), are of significance as it involves certain rituals and practices.
The festival prominently begins with Mahalaya or Mahalaya Amavasya. This year Mahalaya is on October 6th. The day signifies the beginning of the Devi Paksha (Arrival of Durga Maa) - the end of Pitru Paksha or Shraadh, a 16–lunar day period in the Hindu Calendar when Hindus pay allegiance to their ancestors (Pitrs) especially through food offering (Tarpan) and pray for the peace of their souls.
Bengalis celebrate the happy occasion of Mahalaya by listening to ‘Mahisasuramardini’ in the morning, audio of Chandipath recitation from the scriptural verses of Sri Sri Chandi along with devotional songs.
This day signifies the advent of Goddess Durga’s journey from Mount Kailash, where she resides with her husband Lord Shiva and children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya, to her maternal home on Earth - ‘Maa Durga Agomoni’.
Maayer Agomoni - Arrival of Durga Maa
Her mode of transportation changes every year, from the elephant, horse, palanquin, or a boat which are considered to be signs of prosperity or omens.
For example, if the Goddess arrives at the mortal realm on an elephant (Gaja), it means that there will be a period of peace and prosperity to follow. It is said that whenever the mother comes seated on a horse, it is not auspicious for the country. With this effect, there is a possibility of power upheaval, and chances of a change of power also remain.
The next significant day of the festival is the sixth day (Sashthi), on which devotees welcome the goddess and festive celebrations are inaugurated.
Devotees believe that Goddess Durga enters the mortal world on Maha Shashthi after she completes her journey in Kailash. It is said that she comes to earth to visit her father and arrives with her children – Ganesha, Kartika, Laxmi, and Saraswati.
On Maha Sashthi, devotees unveil the face of Durga which has been covered for many days.
On this day, the four major rituals of the festival; Kalparamvo (the starting of the Pujas), Bodhan (consecration of the idol of goddess Durga), Amantran (inviting the goddess), and Adhibas (sanctifying the stay of the deity in the Puja area or pandals) are performed.
Saptami is celebrated on the 7th day and it is marked by bathing of the goddess, reciting aartis.
On this day, a group of nine plants called Nabapatrika is tied together to present it to nine manifestations of Goddess Durga.
During the early hours of the morning before sunrise, these plants are immersed in the waters of River Ganga.
The eighth day begins with elaborate Pushpanjali rituals and the puja offered on this day is meant to prepare the Goddess for the battle against Mahishasura.
The famous Sandhi Puja, which is offered on this day, is performed when Ashtami ends and Navami begins.
Interestingly, the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami, are regarded as Sandhikhan and this is the moment when Maa Durga also annihilatedChanda and Munda, the two allies of Mahishasura who attacked her from behind. It is a forty-eight-minute-long ritual commemorating the climax of the battle.
Offerings on this day are just grand - 108 lotuses, 108 earthen oil lamps, single whole fruit, hibiscus flowers, saree, uncooked grains, jewellery, bel leaves, and a garland of 108 bel leaves.
Maha Navami or Durga Navami is celebrated as the victory of good over evil. It is the last day of battle between goddess Durga and demon Mahishasura. Maha Navami begins with Mahasnan (holy bath), followed by prayers to goddess Durga or Maa Durga. It is believed that on Maha Navami Goddess Durga is worshipped as Mahisasuramardhini (slayer of the buffalo demon of Mahishasura).
On Maha Navami, Durga Maa made her final assault on demon Mahishasura,
The ninth day of the Durga Puja Festival is also distinguished by the Kumari Puja, where little girls are adorned in jewellery and are considered to be avatars of the goddess.
It is the last day of the festival.
Popularly known as Vijay Dashmi, on this day, women smear each other with Sindur which is known as Sindur Khela- symbolising the power of womanhood
As part of this ritual, married Bengali Hindu women apply Sindur on the forehead and feet of the goddess and offer sweets to her (Devi Baran). Then they put Sindur on each other's faces and offer sweets to each other.
Vijayadashami celebrations include processions to a river or ocean front that involve carrying clay statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya, accompanied by music and chants, after which the idols are immersed in the water ( Bishorjon ) for dissolution and farewell.
In the northern, central, and western states, the festival is synonymously called Dussehra. In these regions, it marks the end of Ramlila and remembers God Rama's victory over the Ravan. On the very same occasion, Arjuna alone decimated more than a lakh soldiers and defeated all Kuru warriors thus marking a significant example of the victory of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma).