Religion

Durga Puja (Navratri)- Greatest Festival in Bengal

Durga Puja is the greatest festival in Bengal. Durga Puja (Worship of Durga) also referred as Dugotsab (Festival of Durga) is an annual Bengali festival that that celebrates the worship of Hindu Goddess Durga. The exact dates are settled according to Bengali Calendar. The fortnight corresponding to Puja is known as Debipokho (Fortnight of the Goddess). The Debipokho is preceded by Mahalaya the last day of the previous fortnight of Pitripokho. The Debipokho continues till the end of “Kojagori Lakhi Puja” (Worship of Goddess Lakhshmi). The celebration starts from Mahalaya and continues till Vijaya Dashami (Victory 10th Day).

Durga Puja is widely celebrated in all over India. But it takes the greatest form in West-Bengal and Tripura where a five day Holiday is observed. In north India Durga Puja is referred as Navratri. Navratri is the celebration of 9 nights dedicated to nine forms of Durga. Each night is dedicated to each form.

The nine forms of Devi Durga are as follows:

1. Shailaputri
2. Brahmacharini
3. Chandraghanta
4. Kushmanda
5. Skandamaata
6. Kaatyayani
7. Kaalratri
8. Mahagauri
9. Siddhidaatri

Navratri is widely celebrated in Punjab, Jammu-Kashmir, Himachal, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and some states in South India.

In Bengal and Tripura Navratri is not celebrated widely but in place of Navratri Durga Puja is celebrated. Durga Puja starts from Mahalaya (Devi’r Agomon). The First day is known as Prothoma, Second day is known as Dwitiya, Third day is known as Tritiya, Fourth day is known as Chaturthi, Fifth day is known as Maha Panchami, Sixth day is known as Maha Soshthi, Seventh day is known as Maha Saptami, Eight day is known Maha Ashthami, Ninth day is known as Maha Navmi. The Tenth day marks the end of the festival and is known as Vijya Dashami. The Eleventh day is celebrated by Fasting usually kept by married women with Children and is known as Ekadoshi.

Durga Puja is not only the greatest festival of Bengalis but also it marks the culture of Bengal. Durga Puja apart from India is celebrated widely in Nepal and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh according to 2007 census there were 27000 Puja held over. Alone in Dhaka there is 470 Puja Pandals. The prominence of Durga Puja increased gradually during the British Raj in Bengal. After the Hindu reformists resemble Durga with India, she had become an icon for the Indian independence movement. On the first quarter of 20th Century, the tradition of Baroyari or Community Puja was popularized due to this. After independence, Durga Puja became one of the largest celebrated festivals in the whole world.

Durga Puja includes the worships of Shiva, Lakhshmi, Ganesha, Saraswati, Kartikeya and Mahishasura also. Modern tradition have come to include the display of decorated Pandals and artistically depicted idols of Durga, exchange of Bijoya Greetings and publication of Puja Annuals.

Durga Puja is known by various names in Bengal like Akal Bodhon (Untimely Awakening of Durga), Sharodiya Puja (autumnal worship), Sharodotsab (festival of autumn), Baro Puja (Grand Puja), Maayer Puja (Mother’s Puja) or just by Puja or Pujo. In East Bengal (Bangladesh) it is known as Bhagabati Pujo.

Durga Puja:
Durga Puja is the largest festival celebrated by not only the Hindus but also by Muslims and Christians. The word Puja means Worship and Durga Puja means worship of Devi Durga. It is generally celebrated in the month of Ashwin which is the sixth month according to the Bengali calendar. However due to Lunatic systems it may be celebrated in the month of Kartik. According to the Gregorian calendar it is celebrated in the month of September or October. Since it is celebrated in the Kaal (Time) of Shorot (autumn) it is also known as Sharodiya. The main Puja starts from Maha Saptami and continues till Maha Dashami. The Puja starts with bathing of Kola Bou (Banana tree) in the dawn of Maha Saptami. Kola Bou is considered as wife of Lord Ganesha. In Maha Saptami people use to give Tilaks or Photas in there important places like main door and almirahs.The traditional dhunuchi Naach is observed in Maha Ashthami.

During Ashthami Bhog (Khichri) is prepared in Various Pandals and whole area enjoys them. It’s a really good experience to have Bhogs with known and unknown people. It is said during this 9 days the peak time actually Devi Durga appears is in the Time which is called Sandhi Khon (Sandhi Puja). Durga Puja is also incomplete without Dhak (Dhols or Drums). The Dhakis (People who play Drums) usually comes from far villages from Bengal usually from a place called Basirhat. At the end day of celebration Vijaya Dashami is observed. Married Women plays with Sindurs and is also known as sindoor khela (Play with Sindur). After this Mother is worshipped for the last time and then the idol is immersed in the Ganga. The people can be seen crying and crying since the mother has gone and she will come only after next year.

There are many sayings regarding the Puja. According to Krittibas Ramayana, Rama invokes the goddess Durga in his battle against Ravana. Although she was traditionally worshipped in the spring, due to contingencies of battle, Rama had to invoke her in the autumn akaal bodhan. Today it is this Rama’s date for the Puja that has gained ascendancy, although the spring Puja, known as Basanti Puja [One of the oldest ‘sabeki’ Basanti Puja held every year at spring in Barddhaman Pal Bari is also present in the Hindu almanac.

According to Bengali culture sayings Mahishasura started to kill Devtas and he continued his misdeeds. Devtas began to think how to get rid of this demon. They went to Brahma who advised them to go to Shiva. When Devtas gone to Mahadeva (Shiva) he was busy in his Tapasayas (Meditations). The Devtas started shouting “Trahi Maang …Trahi Mang” (Save us…Save us). Shiva waked up and he created Devi Durga a woman who is the ultimate source of power. She was awakened untimely so this festival is also known as Akalbodhon. Durga was given Astra-Shastra (Weapons) by Devtas like Brahma, Shiva, Narayana, Vishwakarma, Barun Dev etc. With these weapons she went to the battle field and successfully killed the demon. At the time of his death Mahishasura repented and cried a lot. Mother forgives him and he is blessed by her blessings. From here started the acceptance of truth that every woman is the ultimate source of power. They are forms of Durga.

This incident took place in Mahalaya and in Mahalaya Devi Mantras is enchanted in the Dawn. It is usually enchanted by Famous artist Binoy Krishno Bhadra. It’s a great experience to listen to these Mantras that starts from 4 AM in Mahalaya. It is known as “Agomonir Aohan” (Welcoming of Mother)

Durga Puja marks the coming of Durga at her Father’s house Himalaya. It has a saying that Uma (Another Name of Durga) takes a break from her family life and with the permission of her Husband Shiva she comes to her father’s home along with her children Lakhshmi, Ganesha, Saraswati, Kartikeya. It is said that she first comes and stays for a day in the house of a Bagdi (a backward class) and have her breakfast there. The breakfast includes “Panta Bhat” (A rice preparation). After having her breakfast she moves to different places.

The Pujas are held over a ten-day period, which is traditionally viewed as the coming of the married daughter, Durga, to her father, Himalaya’s home. It is the most important festival in Bengal, and Bengalis celebrate with new clothes and other gifts, which are worn on the evenings when the family goes out to see the ‘Pandals’ (temporary structures set up to venerate the goddess). Although it is a Hindu festival, religion takes a backseat on these five days: Durga Puja in Bengal is a carnival, where people from all backgrounds, regardless of their religious beliefs, participate and enjoy themselves to the hilt.

History of Durga Puja:
According to some sayings Puja was first celebrated by the Maharaja of Taherpur in Bangladesh. Some says Raja Sool has started or other says it is started by Sasanka. Various literatures exist regarding Durga in the Bengali language and its early forms, including Avnirnaya (11th century), Durgabhaktitarangini by Vidyapati (14th century), etc. In the medieval period Durga Puja was popular in Bengal and records says that it is being held in the courts of Rajshahi (16th century) and Nadia district (18th century). In the 18th century, however, that the worship of Durga came to its peak among the elite society of Bengal, Zamindars. The most Prominent Pujas were conducted by the landed zamindars and jagirdars, enriched by British rule, including Raja Nabakrishna Deb, of Shobhabajar, who initiated an elaborate Puja at his residence. Many of these old Pujas exist to this day. Today, the culture of Durga Puja has shifted from the princely houses to Sarbojanin (literally, “involving all”) forms. The first such Puja was held Guptipara – it was called barowari (baro meaning twelve and yar meaning friends).

The mood starts off with the Mahishasuramardini’ – a famous radio programme that has been popular with the community since the 1950s. Earlier it used to be conducted live, later a recorded version began to be broadcast. Bengalis traditionally wake up at 4 in the morning on Mahalaya day to listen to the enchanting voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick on All India Radio. As they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi.

During the Puja week, the entire state of West Bengal as well as in large societies of Bengalis everywhere, life comes to a complete standstill. In traffic circles, playgrounds, ponds, wherever space is available — elaborate structures called Pandals ‘are set up, many with nearly a year’s worth of planning behind them. The word Pandal means a temporary structure, made of bamboo and cloth, which is used as a temporary temple for the purpose of the Puja. While some of the Pandal are simple structures, others are often elaborate works of art with themes that rely heavily on history, current affairs and sometimes pure imagination.

Somewhere inside these complex edifices is a stage on which Durga reigns, standing on her lion mount, wielding ten weapons in her ten hands. This is the religious center of the festivities, and the crowds gather to offer flower worship or pushpanjali on the mornings, of the sixth to ninth days of the waxing moon fortnight known as Devi Pakshya (lit. Devi = goddess; Pakshya = period; Devi Pakshya meaning the period of the goddess). Ritual drummers – Dhakis, carrying large leather-strung Dhak –– show off their skills during ritual dance worships called aarati. On the tenth day, Durga the mother returns to her husband, Shiva, ritualized through her immersion into the waters ––

Bishorjon also known as Bhaashan and Niranjan. Today’s Puja, however, goes far beyond religion. In fact, visiting the Pandals recent years, one can only say that Durgapuja is the largest outdoor art festival on earth. In the 1990s, a preponderance of architectural models came up on the Pandal exteriors, but today the art motif extends to elaborate interiors, executed by trained artists, with consistent stylistic elements, carefully executed and bearing the name of the artist. The sculpture of the idol itself has evolved. The worship always depicts Durga with her four children, and occasionally two attendant deities and some banana-tree figures. In the olden days, all five idols would be depicted in a single frame, traditionally called pata. Since the 1980s however, the trend is to depict each idol separately. At the end of six days, the idol is taken for immersion in a procession amid loud chants of ‘Bolo Durga mai-ki jai’ (glory be to Mother Durga’) and ‘aashchhe bochhor abar hobe’ (‘it will happen again next year’) and drumbeats to the river or other water body. It is cast in the waters symbolic of the departure of the deity to her home with her husband in the Himalayas. After this, in a tradition called Vijaya Dashami, families visits each other and sweetmeats are offered to visitors (Dashami is literally “tenth day” and Vijay is “victory”). Durga Puja is also a festivity of Good (Ma Durga) winning over the evil (Mahishasura the demon). It is a worship of power of Good which always wins over the bad.

Creation of Sarbojanin Puja:
Initially the Puja was organized by rich families since they had the money to organize the festival. During the late 19th and early 20th century, a middle class, in Calcutta, wished to celebrate the Puja. They created the community or Sarbojanin Pujas.

These Pujas are organized by a committee which represents a locality or neighborhood. They collect funds called “chaanda” through door-to-door subscriptions, lotteries, concerts etc. These funds are pooled and used for the expenses of Pandal construction, idol construction, ceremonies etc. The balance of the fund is generally donated to a charitable cause, as decided by the committee. Corporate sponsorships of the Pujas have gained momentum since the late 1990s. Major Pujas in Calcutta and in major metro areas such as Delhi and Chennai now derive almost all of their funds from corporate sponsorships. Community fund drives have become a formality.

Despite the resources used to organize a Puja, entry of visitors into the Pandal is generally free. A few Puja conducted in Gurgaon by wealthy Bengalis charge a fee. Pujas in Calcutta and elsewhere experiment with innovative concepts every year. Communities have created prizes for Best Pandal, Best Puja, and other categories. When you do Puja you get blessed.

Idol Creation:
The entire process of creation of the idols from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a holy process, supervised by rites and other rituals. On the Hindu date of Akshaya Tritiya when the Ratha Yatra is held, clay for the idols is collected from the banks of a river, preferably the Ganges. After the required rites, the clay is transported from which the idols are fashioned. An important event is ‘Chakkhu Daan’, literally donation of the eyes. Starting with Devi Durga, the eyes of the idols are painted on Mahalaya or the first day of the Pujas. Before painting on the eyes, the artisans fast for a day and eat only vegetarian food.

Many Pujas in and around Calcutta buy their idols from Kumartuli (also Kumortuli), an artisans’ town in north Calcutta.

Celebration in Kolkata:
Apart from whole of the Bengal (including Bangladesh) and Tripura special incidences take place in Kolkata. This festival is the greatest festival in this city. The season the winds the water the sky says “yes mother is coming”. The whole city is decorated with lights. Crore of rupees are spent on Pandals. The Pandals are a temporary structures used for keeping the idols of Durga. People spend crore of money on this Pandals and their decorations are really worth to see. People from far apart even from US, UK, Europe etc come to Kolkata to see these decorations. During the Pujas the roads are full of Panipuri walas, Bhel Puri Walas and lots and lots of stalls are launched. Some of the famous landmark Puja include: Telengana Bagan, Irritolla Sarbojonin, Iritolla Sitola Madir, Mohammed Ali Park Pujo, Santosh Mitra Square, Sealdah Lebo Park, Forward Club, Mudiyali, are very few to name.

People wear new clothes and this Puja shopping starts before a month of Pujas. Children have real fun and Bengali Babu continues with their Addas (Gossips). Sweets are distributed. Some of the famous Puja sweets include “Rossogolla”, “Chom Chom”, “Kheer Kodom”, “Malai Chop”, “Parijat”, “Gulab Papri”, “Choclate sondesh”, etc are very few names and the list continues. Some of famous sweet makers in Kolkata are Nabin Chandra Moira, Balaram, Sen Mahasay, Nakur, Satyanarayan etc.

In traditional Bengali family women wear Red Bordered white sari (Lal Pere Sari) with lots of Jwellery and with An Arti Thali she along with her Husband and Children goes for the Pushpanjali (Worship with Flowers –Pushp). With a long red Sindur on her head and traditional Sankha Pola (A type of Bangles usually from Dhaka, married women wears) she looks beautiful. She cooks for the whole family with lots of delicious dishes.

Celebration in Dhaka and other places in Bangladesh:

In Dhaka, according to 2007 census there were 947 Pujas held in this year it has rises up to 1200. It’s a very big festival for everyone in Dhaka. People from all religions come to Goddess Durga for her blessings. One of the biggest Puja is held in Dhakeshwari Mandir Complex. Another Puja is held in Telengi para, one in Buriganga, one in Naba Krishna Halder Street to name a few.

In Chittagong (ChottoGram) Devi Chotteshwari, Chatgan Kali Bari, Raja Bhudev Sarkar Er Pujo (Raja Bhudev Sarkar’s Puja) is very important.

In Jessore Durga is worshipped as Maa Joshoreshwari. In Narayangunj there are more than 1300 Puja held. Overall in all Bangladesh it is celebrated with great zeal. Muslims and Christians even pray to Durga for her blessings. In Bangladesh there is even an official holiday in Vijaya Dashami.

Celebration outside India or Bangladesh:

Durga Puja is organized by communities comprising of Indians in the US, Europe and Australia. Although Pandals are not constructed, the idols are flown in from Kumartuli in Bengal. The desire by the Diasporas peoples to keep in touch with their cultural ties has led to a boom in religious tourism, as well as learning from priests or purohits versed in the rites. Also recently, the immersion of the Durga idol has been allowed in the Thames river for the festival which is held in London. In the United States the Puja are often hosted during weekends with very few exceptions. The Puja weekends are time for Bengal friends and family to gather together to spend the weekend savoring Bengali culture. Cultural programs are Helds; there is food; stalls selling ethnic clothes/Jwellery/books/music/dvds – there is a general atmosphere of festivity.

Environmental Impact:
There are lots of controversies regarding the immersion of Durga idols in Ganga. According to Ramapati Kumar, a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace “Commercialization of Hindu festivals like Durga Puja in the last quarter of 20th century have become a major environmental concern as devout Hindus want bigger and brighter idols and are no longer happy with the ones made from eco-friendly materials”

Environmentalists say the idols are often made from non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, cement and plaster of Paris, and are painted using toxic dyes. This can be really harmfull to drinking waters.

Some specific cultures related to Puja:
Durga Puja is one of the most important events in the Bengali society’s calendar. Many Bengali films, albums and books are released to coincide with the Puja. The West Bengal government gives a fortnight of holidays for the Pujas. This time is used in various ways. Many people travel in India or abroad. Gatherings of friends called “Aadda” in Bengali is common in many homes and restaurants. A lot of shopping is done, and retailers cash in on this opportunity with special offers.

Visiting Pandals with friends and family, talking and sampling the food sold near them is known as Pandal Hopping. Young people embrace this activity. TV and Radio channels telecast Puja celebrations. Many Bengali channels devote whole days to the Pujas.

Bengali and Oriya weekly magazines bring out special issues for the Puja known as “Pujobaarshiki” or “Sharadiya Sankhya”. These contain the works of many writers both established and upcoming and are thus much bigger than the regular issues. Some notable examples are Anandamela and Shuktara.

Durga Puja marks the beginning of new life in every Bengalis heart. It gives us a moral that women are the form of Durga or Shakti. They are not for the desires of men. It is always to be remembered that a women has saved this world from the Demon Mahishasura.

Durga Puja is such a festival that every Bengali apart from their religion really enjoys this time with their family and friends. Muslims of Bengal also worships Maa Durga. An example of it is Kazi Nazrul Islam who is one of the greatest poets of Bengal. He has written lots of Shyama Sangeet (Songs dedicated to Durga) in Bengali. Some of his famous song dedicated to Durga are: “Bol Re Jaba Bol”,” amar Mayer paa e joba hoye oth re fute mon”,”Bol re joba bol kon sadhanae peli re tui Shyama ma er charan tol”..to name a few.

It is my request to the readers that they if possible visit any part of Bengal (Including Bangladesh and Tripura) to see how this celebration occurs. It is my challenge to all states in India “Celebrate an occasion like we celebrate”. So, whether you are Hindu or Muslim or Christian or any one even Atheist you are always welcome in Maa’s Court. Happy Durga Puja to all!!!

About the author

Ambarish Pandey

Ambarish Pandey is currently working for PricewaterhouseCoopers PVT. LTD. in India, Kolkata. He is a Senior Consultant in the Advisory Division of the firm. He holds Engineering degree from Bengal Engineering & Science University, Shibpur, India's second oldest Engineering college. Besides Developing websites and other software jobs he loves to blog on Women, Minority Issues.

His hobbies are Cooking, Collectibles and Archeology(Egyptology), Bengal's & Punjab's History... His book on cookery in Bengali under title "Hesel"(Kitchen) has been published in India.

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  • Dear All,

    Durga Puja is the greatest festival ….in All United Bengal(West-Bengal,Bangladesh,Tripura). This festival is celebrated not only by the Hindus but by all religions. Kazi Nazrul Islam, the greatest poet of Bengal and National Poet of Bangladesh was a Muslim …..but he had written lot of songs dedicated to Kali and Durga.He is best known for his Shyama Sangeet.People can have a look on his life and works @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazi_Nazrul_Islam.
    His example shows how Bengalis no matter of what religion they come from ….all of them celebrate this festival by heart. Inspite now Bengal is splitted in two parts …..but this occassion unites The Mother Bengal again.

  • Thanks Rubab……for giving life to this post by adding this pictures……Thanks for showing interest in our culture!!!

  • Durga Puja is the greatest festival in Bengal celebrated by peoples from all over the world irrespective of their religion. I am a Muslim …but still i go to puja and pay my respect to the Godess…..i give my “anjali” and we enjoy this festival by heart!!!!…i welcome people from all over the world to see how we Bengalis enjoy this festival….love from India..to all….

  • @Supriya

    Dhonnobad bhai……porar jonne…..ta e bochor aschis to pujo te?….ek sathe adda ta hoa chai kintu….aar toder Dubai er Pujor chobi pathas!!!

  • This is true bengalis are liberal. I am a hindu and i have a huge respect for Muslim religion and i actively participate in it.

  • This is a wonderful article on durga puja. The writer has described the celebration vividly. But sometimes his description crossed the limit. Yes, in Bangladesh we celebrate the puja with great zeal. People from all religions visit the mandaps to see the celebration of our hindu brothers. It’s quite natural for a free and democratic country to maintain harmony between the citizens from all the religions. Even our hindu brothers take part with us in the Iftar during the holy month of Ramadan and and celebrate Eid. But to say that-“……..Muslims and Christians even pray to Durga for her blessing…..”-is crossing the limit of truthfulness.

  • Thanks Ambarish for such a lovely article on Durga pujo and bongs in a zeal during d same… Article podhe khoob bhalo laaglo 🙂

  • Ambarish,
    good work.however i am surprised you didn’t mention Assam,which is considered an important Shakti peeth(Maa Kamakhya).in Assam,it is a very important festival.