(Last Updated on : 27/09/2013)
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 Goddess Durga
, as `Devi` as the female principle has an old folklore 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
. 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 it is known 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
Mythology of Durga Puja
This festival is celebrated as the victory of good over evil and the celebration of the power of a woman. In the ancient ages, 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 then usurped the throne of heaven and started torturing the Gods
of the kingdom of heaven.
The energy of all the fires combined to form a young woman, who was known as Goddess Durga. Her face was formed by the divine light of Lord Shiva, while her hands were obtained 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. Therefore, he wounded many soldiers of Goddess Durga. Mahishasura reverted to his own form, a buffalo. With the aide of magical spells, he kept metamorphosing into various avatars and this puzzled the Goddess Durga. 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.
Evolution 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, Murshidabad
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 Roy 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 Kolkata 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 Durga 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` Pujas with `Ekchala protima` while the contemporary Pujas 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, Lord Shiva.
Durga Puja in Rural West Bengal
Durga Puja is celebrated with great pomp and glory, even outside the city of Kolkata. Many portions of North Bengal also engage themselves in worshipping Goddess Durga. Some of the most ancient Durga Pujas are held in the regions of Coochbehar, Chanduli near Katwa, Lataguri in Jalpaiguri
, Berhampore and Jalpaiguri.
Durga Puja outside West Bengal
Apart from West Bengal, many other Indian states observe the grand festival of Durga Puja. Durga Puja Pandals are built and adorned with electric lights and themes, to commemorate this festive occasion in the states of Bihar
, New Delhi
, Andhra Pradesh
, Tamil Nadu
. In states of Gujarat
, Madhya Pradesh
, Durga Puja is celebrated in the form of `Navratri` for 10 days. On the tenth day, `Dussehra` is observed, which is the day of `Vijayadashami` according to the Bengali culture of Durga Puja. However, as per Bengali traditions, Vijayadashami falls on the fifth day of Durga Puja.
Durga Puja outside India
Durga Puja is also celebrated with gaiety in the regions of China, Middle East, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, Australia, Nepal, Europe and South East Asia. The Bengalis residing in these areas make merry during this occasion by donning stylish garments, just like their counterparts in India. In China, every year, `purohit` or priest is flown from India, who conducts the rites and rituals associated with this Puja, since the year 2004. In Nepal, `Dashain` is the local name for Dussehra. The king of Nepal plays a significant role in all these festivities. Cultural programs are organised during the Durga Puja celebrations in all these countries, along with `Dhunishi` dances and elaborate music played by `dhaakis`.
Special Durga Puja journals and weekly magazines are published in the Eastern Indian state of West Bengal, popularly termed as `Pujabarshiki` or `Sharadiya Sankha`. These contain works of several blooming poets, writers and artists. The festival of Durga Puja has been portrayed in numerous Hindi and Bengali movies. Hindi movies like `Kahaani` and `Devdas` have utilized it abundantly, as well as Bengali films like `Antarmahal`, `Hirer Angti` by Rituparno Ghosh
and Satyajit Ray
`s film `Joi Baba Felunath`. 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.