(Last Updated on : 19/10/2012)
Durga Puja celebrations unfurl with Devipaksha setting the stage. Bengali fun fiesta finds its culminating point in this grand gala festivity. The five days observed as Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Dashami. Devi Paksha comes before Mahalaya
. In the first quarter of the 20th century, the tradition of Barowari or Community Puja was common. Durga Puja also includes the worship of Lord Shiva
, Goddess Lakshmi
, Goddess Saraswati
, Lord Ganesha
and Lord Kartikeya who visit earth with their mother Durga.
Origin of Durga Puja
Worship of the Devi as the female principle has an old folklorean tradition in Bengali culture. There are accounts of Devi worship going back to the sixteenth century. Most of the twelve chieftains of Bengal known as Baro Bhuinyas were worshippers of Shakti. In the seventeenth century there are celebratory poems extolling the devi, derived mostly from `Seven hundred Durgas` (Durgasaptashati) or Chandi derived from the Markandeya Purana
. Among the famous mangalkavyas written in the eighteenth century Chandimangalkavya is one of the most famous. However, the worship of mother goddesses showed resilience in Bengali culture that was quite remarkable. In the great tradition Shakti worship helped to bring together different schools of philosophy and worship, such as Samkhya, Vedanta, Vaishnavism
. However, the local village level deities were mostly female and looked after the everyday problems of disease, epidemics, etc.
In the first quarter of the 20th century, the tradition of `Barowari` or Community Puja came into existence; an interesting anecdote regarding 12 `yaar` or friends arranging for the same. Sarbojanin Durgotsab, as we know it today, started off much later in Kolkata, in the 1920s, with Shimla Byayam Samiti and Baghbazar being the earliest. The worship of Goddess Durga
can be traced to the early freedom movement in Bengal. The burgeoning nationalism in colonial Bengal of the last quarter in the nineteenth century caught hold of the image of mother to represent nationalist inspiration. Ideology of motherhood was given an enormous importance in the cultural life of Bengal. Bankim Chandra Chottyopadhay amalgamated the concept of Goddess Durga with Mother India and created his ingenious creation: Vande Mataram
. The traditional image of Bengali durga follows the iconographic injunctions of the shastras similar to Mahabalipuram
History of Durga Puja
The history of Durga Puja in Bengal dates back to the Mughal era the first Puja being organised by Raja Kangshanarayan of Teherpur, Nadia and then Raja Jagatnarayan of Bhaduria followed soon after. Other Hindu kings too came forward and the puja spread far and wide to Gour, Raj Mahal, Murshibad and Krishnagar. By the mid of 18th Century, this festival had become the occasion for the nouveaux rich Babus of Kolkata to flaunt their wealth. Puja of Saborno Chowdhury is the example of another heritage festivity in the city that started in 1610 AD near Behala Sakher Bazaar area. The second oldest Durga Puja was the Puja of Govindaram Mitra of Kumartuli in the earlier 1800 AD.Afterwards, Raja Nabakrishna Deb of the Shobhabazar Rajbari of Calcutta as Clive wished to pay gratitude for his conquest in the Battle of Plassey
. Pujas were earlier conducted by the landed zamindars and Jagirdars only and in most cases these aristocratic hegemony worshipped goddess in an elaborate manner so as to earn the title of Raibahadur after being massively won over by the British colonial lords who were dazed staggeringly and completely awed looking at the pomp and grandeur. These were the `Sabeki` pujos with Ekchala protima while the contemporary pujos are stuffed with themes.
Features of Durga Puja
Durga Puja is a complex synthesis of culture, religion, holiday and religion for an outsider: to each his own! It almost deifies the description. Pandals and the idols are the major attractions of Durgotsav displaying explicit themes often bringing to the fore the ingenious faculties of the bongs. Elaborate artistic grandeur brings out the themes that range from history to current affairs. On the stage Goddess Durga is seated upon her throne- the lion, dashavuja embellished with ten weapons in her ten hands. Basically this festival commemorates the annual visit of the Goddess along with her children to her parents` home symbolising the goddess being an icon of the quintessential Bengali bride eager to retreat but only to bid good bye which is symbolized by the immersion of the idols on Dashami. It is believed that she journeys back to kailash to join her better half, shiva.
This festival is celebrated as good`s victory over evil and the celebration of women power. In the ancient times, a demon called `Mahishasura` earned the favour of `Lord Brahma
` through penance. He was granted a boon that no man or Deity would be able to kill him. Mahishasura started his reign of terror. He usurped the throne of heaven also.
The energy of all the fires combined to form a young woman. Lord Shiva`s light prepared her face and the ten arms were from Lord Vishnu. The legs were from Lord Brahma. She received her weapons like trident, rotating disc, conch, missile, arrows, thunder-bolt, rod, and a noose from different Gods. She fought with the demons and killed its two chief commanders. Mahishasura arranged and equipped his personal army. He was enraged by the devastating events on the battlefield. He wounded many soldiers of Goddess Durga. Mahishasura reverted to his own form, a buffalo. Through magical spell he kept changing his shape and this puzzled the Devi. Finally she beheaded the buffalo and from it emerged his original form. She pierced his chest with the trident. Therefore, Goddess Durga then continued to be worshipped in this form.
Far more than just an annual religious festival, durga puja envelops the city as a carnival of life spirit of cultural paraphernalia, customs and tradition signifying a juxtaposed time for return of the native as well as for coming together and the modus operandi or the process of the puja highlights the same.