Durga Puja

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The goddess is worshipped as a representative of shakti(power or energy)or Adi Shakti(the primordial power or energy) in the Indian subcontinent and parts of South Asia. Shakti worship has taken the form of Durga Puja, a ten-day festival celebrated in Sharad (autumn months of September and October) in the eastern parts of India, primarily West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha as well as in Bangladesh. In India, Durga Puja coincides with Navratri, primarily celebrated in the northern parts of the country. The final day of Durga Puja known as Dashami which marks the victory of good over evil happens on the same day as Dusshera (celebrated across India as the day Rama killed Ravana and is a marker of the fact that good will always destroy evil) or Dashain (celebrated in North Bengal and Nepal). Primarily, Durga Puja celebrates the victory of goddess Durga after a ten-day battle over Mahishasurawho after a boon from Brahma that no man can ever kill him, had started to torment the gods and other natives of Swarga (heaven). It also celebrates goddess Parvati’s (an avatar of goddess Durga) annual visit to her paternal home and “serves as a thanksgiving for a good harvest” (Malakar 2021). Modern-day Durga Puja marks a shift from the time it was first introduced by King Suratha. The Markandeya Purana states that King Suratha worshipped the goddess, Durga or Chandi in the spring season(also referred to as Basanta Kaal) as she was considered the goddess of fertility. However, according to the Ramayana, it was Rama who in order to get Devi Durga’s blessings fought Ravana worshipped goddess Durga for the first time in Autumn or what is known as the Ashwin month. This worship referred to as AkaalBodhonor ‘untimely worship’ is regarded as the precursor of the present-day Durga Puja. While Navaratri is a ten-day festival with the last day culminating in Dusshera, the main Durga Puja events happen for five days, starting with the fifth day of Navaratri which Bengalis refer to as Panchami. Panchami is followed by Shasti(sixth day), Saptami (seventh day), Ashtami (eighth day), Navami (ninth day), and Dashami.“Durga Puja was first organized in 1610 CE by the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family at their ancestral home at Barisha” (Malakar 2021), now in Kolkata. Other records show that the first-ever Durga Puja was “celebrated in Krishnanagar by its royal family and dates back to 1606” (Sen 2019). Since the past century, Durga Puja celebrations are categorized into bonedibaripuja-s (house/family pujas, known for their traditions, rituals, and grandeur) or barowaripuja-s (community/public pujas, also referred to as sarbojaninwhich means ‘for all men and women, marked by their innovative pandals, idols, decor, and lighting). Mahalayafalls on a new moon day a week prior to Durga Puja and marks the end of Pitripakshaand the beginning of Devipakshaor the day on which Goddess Parvati starts her journey from her husband Shiva’s home in Kailash to her parents’ home. She is usually accompanied by her vahana (lion) and her four children, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesh, and Kartik along with their vahanas (swan, owl, mouse, and peacock respectively). Durga Puja is incomplete without Mahalayaas this is the day that officially sets the mood for the days that follow.Mahalayais are marked by many important rituals as it is only on this day that the eyes of the goddess are drawn (referred to as ChakshuDaanor the giving of eyes) as the final step in the creation of the idol. People also come to take a dip in the Ganges on Mahalaya to pray for the departed souls of their ancestors (referred to as Tarpan). Even though Durga Puja officially begins with Panchami, this day does not witness any major rituals. However, the idol is brought from the idol maker’s or potter’s place to the respective homes or pandals on this day. The worship of goddess Durga officially begins on Shasti which is marked by the Kalparambharites and the Mahasnan (great bath) ritual which is performed before the start of the puja. The commencement rituals are performed under a bael(wood apple tree) and Mahashakti who is worshipped on this day is summoned to the bael tree. Other rituals that are performed on this day include a special Shasti puja along with rituals that are done in order to welcome goddess Durgasuch asAmantran, Adhibas, Bodhan, and Baran. On Saptami, the idol of goddess Durga is given life through a ritual referred to as Prana Dana. This day also witnesses the worship of a banana stalk(referred to as Kola Bou)along with the Navapatrika (eight other sacred crops)to thank the goddess of fertility. Together, these nine plants represent the nine forms of the goddess Durga. Ashtamicelebrates the Mahishasurmardiniavatar(the destroyer of Mahishasura)of the goddess. Devotees normally fast until the Pushpanjali ritual during which mantras are chanted and flowers are offered to the goddess. The juncture between Ashtami and the second last day, Navami is marked by a ritual referred to as Sadhipuja which celebrates and worships the Chamunda or Chamundiniavatar of the goddess (the form that killed the two asuras named Chanda and Manda).Navamirecalls Rama’s worship of goddess Durga as a result of which 108 lamps are lit and 108 lotuses are offered to Devi Durga along with clothes, jewelry, hibiscus garlands, and baelleaves. The day also witnesses a lot of important rituals including Hom, Kumari Puja, Balidan, and Maha Aarti. On the final day, Dashami goddess Durga is sent back to her husband, Lord Shiva in Kailash with pomp and glory. A symbolic ritual referred to as Visarjana(immersion) marks her farewell. Before Visarjana, SindoorKhela(playing with vermillion), a ritual observed by married women takes place. After Visarjana, people wish each other and elders bijoya(‘The Auspicious Victory’). This bijoyais considered subhoor auspicious and is believed to bring one good health and prosperity.