So, returning to ‘A weaver at work’ after almost a month now. That too, from the most awaited break of the year, which we Bengalis enjoy so much. Yes, didn’t publish any of my writings in between, though haven’t really been taking a break from it all this while. But, this time of the year calls for celebrations. So today I will introduce our festival Durga puja to you all. It’s a very relevant festival in the states like West Bengal and also in other parts of the country where Bengalis and other communities who worship the goddess, reside. Bangladesh and other continents all across the world, also celebrate Durga Puja besides India .
Now, throwing some light on one of the busy metropolitan cities of India ….Welcome to the city of joy, KOLKATA.
It is the time of the year, when the entire city of Kolkata , lights up like a congregation of stars settled down on Earth. The city is decorated heavily and beautifully, like an Indian bride-to-be. It is Durga puja…. Several localities around the city sets up their individual puja committees, who decide on the themes, budget and other matters related to the puja.
Nowadays several pujas across Kolkata are big budget themed projects, where crores of rupees are invested on the pandals and the idols . This year Kolkata flaunted it’s big budget pujas like jewels in the crown of an emperor.
Take a look at the slideshows of the star-studded exhibition , the stars being the Durga Puja pandals, below (these pujas are hand picked from the best pujas around Kolkata, this year)—
The puja lasts for a period of five days. And they are the brightest days in every Bengali household. It’s like a feast, when no diet is maintained and there’s no room for any restriction during this time period. It’s the biggest festival of the hindus, when everyone wears new clothes, adorns themselves with new accessories and walks out on the streets with their family and friends , to see the different pandals and a variety of idols of Maa Durga. At any time of the day then, you would see people pandal hopping. Even through the nights.
This is the perfect time too, when people meet their long lost or forgotten friends and other acquaintances in the crowd. Though that’s pretty coincidental. Around the puja area there would be food and game stalls , sometimes little book and accessory stalls also open up to make some business during this time. I remember going pandal hopping and stopping by at an ice cream stall or gather around the crowd surrounding a puchka stand to have puchkas (it is similar to panipuris in Mumbai and golgappas of Delhi). The pink fluffy candy floss was also a major attraction. Sometimes we did also play games , while continuing to munch on a variety of food—-constantly refueling ourselves with the enthusiasm, to gear up for a fun-filled tour, around the city of joy.
So that’s how it is- you eat, entertain yourself and keep moving with the crowd from pandal to pandal . And there are several prizes too, to honor the hard work behind the creativity in executing the puja theme.
Please note : Now the celebration is longer than just 5 days. This year people did flood the Kolkata streets to see the puja pandals since Mahalaya.
Mahalaya is the day when Goddess Durga descends to her paternal home on Earth, in accordance with hindu mythology. It’s a no moon day or amavasya which is the last day of pitru paksha. Now what is pitrupaksha? It is a 16 lunar day period in the hindu calendar when homage is offered by the hindus to their ancestors, through food offerings. This period ends with the no moon day or Mahalaya and it marks the beginning of Devi paksha. On this day , it is a tradition for many families to wake up early in the morning and recite hymns from the Devi Mahatmya scriptures (Chandi path). Since childhood days we have been waking up at 4:30 AM in the morning to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s recitation of Mahishasur mardini.
Maa Durga is the goddess with ten hands, each hand carrying a weapon. According to hindu mythology, she is the supreme power who came into being due to the culmination of powers from all Gods. The reason behind her creation was to destroy the evil Mahisasura, the buffalo demon, who was spreading terror and destruction everywhere. It was followed by the great battle between good and evil, where Maa Durga defeats and slays Mahisasura. Hence becoming an example for generations and worshipped as the Goddess, who resembles positivity and strength and whose presence is believed to ward off anything that’s evil. So this victory is celebrated in a grand way and hence begins the final preparations for the festival . Everybody seeks strength and blessings from Maa Durga, her husband – Lord Shiva and her children during this occasion.
Being far away in another continent now, since the last few years, I miss being part of Kolkata’s Durga puja. I still remember those days. The last minute purchases, the final hunt down for the best matching pair of ear rings or shoes or bags with each of the dresses chosen for the puja. Everyone just wants to be at their best thenl . The shopping starts months before Durga puja commences. Gariahat and New market in Kolkata are two of the main shopping locations that experiences flooding of the streets by a huge crowd. And then , in between shopping, snacking is absolutely necessary. Hence, entering the lime light —> the famous street foods of Kolkata. They line these areas as stalls , providing people with more energy and joy, relaxing them in between their last minute shopping . Kolkata has a wide variety of restaurants too, in and around these prime locations. These restaurants experience significant rush during this period. Hence they have longer working hours and a special menu, to attract more customers. So gradually , we proceed towards the five significant days of Durga Puja :
Maha Shashthi – On this day, the idol of Maa Durga is brought to life by invoking her holy presence into the idol . This is also known as ‘pran pratishtha’ . The priest puts kajal (Kohl) on the Goddess’s eyes, and with the sounds of the drums (dhaaker awaaz), conch shells and bells the Goddess is worshipped and one by one her ten hands are given ten weapons to hold, each of which is a gift from a distinct God. In each of her ten hands she holds a conch, a discus, lotus, sword, bow and arrow, trishul, mace, thunderbolt, snake and flame.
Usually in the evening of Shashthi, we get to see Maa Durga’s beautiful face, since this is the time when her face is unveiled. The ritual being popularly known as ‘bodhon’. But, in the present day scenario, the attractive themes and skilled artwork, as well as the theme based maa Durga’s idols allures people in large numbers to start pandal hopping since Mahalaya. Hence big budget pujas unveils the face of Maa Durga’s idol much ahead of time now.
Maha Saptami– The arrival of Kola bou, Ganesh’s wife happens on this day. So this starts with the Nabapatrika snan. Nabapatrika or the nine plants of worship depicts nine forms of goddess Durga. The banana plant represents Goddess Brahmani, the Colacassia plant represents Goddess Kalika, the Turmeric plant symbolises Devi Durga, the Jayanti plant denotes Kartiki, the Wood apple represents Goddess Shiva (another name for Durga), the Pomegranate represents Raktadantika, the Ashoka tree symbolizes Sokrahita, and the Arum plant represents Chamunda and the Rice plant Goddess Lakshmi. In the early hours of Saptami, the twigs of white “aparajita” plant along with nine bunches of yellow threads are used to tie the Nabapatrika. It is then bathed. Water from the Ganges or some nearby pond is fetched, accompanied with Dhak (the traditional drum) and Kanshi (the traditional bell) , for the bathing ceremony . After bathing, Nabapatrika is adorned in a red bordered white Bengali style saree and vermilion is smeared on its leaves. Offerings of flowers, sandalwood paste and incense sticks are made. Later Kola Bou is placed on the right side of Lord Ganesha.
Maha Ashtami– On this day the Maa Durga’s weapons are worshipped (Astrapuja), before her battle to defeat Mahisasura begins. The 64 Yoginis and Ashta Nayikas (the eight consorts of Goddess Durga) are worshiped during the puja rituals on Mahashtami. The Ashta Nayikas worshiped during Durga Puja are Brahmani, Maheswari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narasinghi, Indrani and Chamunda. They are all incarnations of Shakti.
Shandhipuja– The timing of the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami, constitutes the Shondhikhhon. According to Hindu mythology, when the battle was going on between Maa Durga and the notorious buffalo demon, Mahisasura, his allies Chanda and Munda attacked her from behind. She was enraged by this and at this time, Maa Chamunda emerged from the third eye of Maa Durga and slayed Chanda and Munda, with a falchion. So sandhipuja is performed to worship Maa Durga in her Chamunda form.
The arrangements for Sandhi Puja are usually grand. 108 lotuses and 108 earthen oil lamps are required to begin the ritual. A single whole fruit (preferably red), hibiscus flowers, saree, uncooked rice grains, jewellery if you are offering any and bel (wood apple) leaves. Every family or community has its own unique way of offering these ingredients to the Goddess but the 108 lamps and lotuses remain constant in every household.
Maha Nabami– The rites and rituals carried out on this day is similar to those performed on Saptami, except for the fact that, this is performed after Maa Durga’s victory and now Vedic style home rituals are included.
Vijaya Dasami– Vijaya Dasami marks the end of Durga puja, when the Goddess’s victory over Mahisasura is remembered. This day celebrates the victory of Good over evil. The day begins with thakur boron, performed by married women, where betel leaves are touched on Maa Durga’s cheeks and then folded and inserted between her fingers. Following which she is fed with sweets and vermillion is applied on her forehead. The same is performed with her children, Maa Lakshmi and Maa Saraswati, too. Whereas Kartik and Ganesh are usually fed with just the sweets. I still remember walking up to the podium where Maa Durga stood with her family, taking flowers from the garland that the idols wore and inserting the same flowers between pages of books. This was considered as her blessings. Then begins sindur Khela, where married women smears sindur or vermillion on the Goddess’ idol, on her forehead and feet, before smearing it on each other. Since sindur is like an ornament for married women, this ritual signifies them wishing each other a happy married life.
Visarjan– The puja ends with a great procession where the clay statues are ceremoniously walked to a river or ocean coast for a solemn goodbye to Durga. It is an emotional day for the devotees. When the procession reaches the water, Maa Durga is immersed, the clay dissolves, and she is believed to return to Mount Kailasha , her home where she lives with Lord Shiva and her five children. People distribute sweets and gifts, visit their friends and family members.
So, this festival comes to an end, after visarjan of Maa Durga and her family’s idols in the waters of the holy Ganges. Every year this festival arrives bringing with it the same level of excitement and joy . Every year the wait for Durga Puja begins from the day it comes to an end. The preparations start months ago and the puja ends in a few days time, yet, through the entire year the wait is on….,
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