Durga Puja or Sharadotsav is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami and Vijayadashami. The dates of Durga Puja celebrations are set according to the traditional Hindu calendar and the fortnight corresponding to the festival is called Devi Paksha, “Fortnight of the Goddess”). Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya, the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Paksha, “Fortnight of the Forefathers”), and is ended on Kojagori Lokkhi Puja (“Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night”).
Durga Puja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. Thus, Durga Puja festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil.
Durga Puja is widely celebrated in the Indian states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal, where it is a five-day annual holiday. In West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, which has a majority of Bengali Hindus and Assamese Hindus, it is the biggest festival of the year. Not only is it the biggest Hindu festival celebrated throughout the state, it is also the most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali Hindu society. Apart from eastern India, Durga Puja is also celebrated in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir ,Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. Durga Puja is also celebrated as a major festival in Nepal where 91% is Hindu, and in Bangladesh where the 8% population is Hindu. Nowadays, many diaspora Assamese and Bengali cultural organisations arrange for Durgotsab in countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Singapore and Kuwait, among others. In 2006, a grand Durga Puja ceremony was held in the Great Court of the British Museum.
Durga Puja also includes the worship of Shiva, who is Durga’s consort (Durga is an aspect of Goddess Parvati), in addition to Lakshmi, Saraswati with Ganesha and Kartikeya, who are considered to be Durga’s children.Worship of mother nature is done, through nine types of plant (called “Kala Bou”), including a plantain (banana) tree, which represent nine divine forms of Goddess Durga. Modern traditions have come to include the display of decorated pandals and artistically depicted sculptures (murti) of Durga, exchange of Vijaya greetings and publication of Puja Annuals.
Origin of the autumnal ceremony “Sharadiya”
The actual worship of the Goddess Durga as stipulated by the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Chaitra, which roughly overlaps with March or April and is called Basanti Durga Puja. This ceremony is not observed by many and is restricted to a handful in the state of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura. The more popular form, which is also known as Sharadiya (Autumnal) Durga Puja, is celebrated later in the year with the dates falling either in September or October. Since the Goddess is invoked at the wrong time, it is called “Akaal Bodhon” in Bengali.
The Durga puja has been celebrated since the medieval period, and has evolved and adapted to the world as time passed. A considerable literature exists around Durga in the Bengali language and its early forms, including avnirnaya(11th century), Durgabhaktitarangini by Vidyapati (a famous Maithili poet of the 14th century), but the goddess Durga was not fully integrated into the Hindu pantheon, primarily in Bengal, in the 16th century. Early forms of Durgotsavs (Durga festivals) were primarily private worship in personal residences with the use of musical instruments such as the mridanga, mandira, and smakhya.
During the 18th century, the worship of Durga became popular among the land aristocrats of Bengal, the Zamindars. Prominent Pujas were conducted by the zamindars and jagirdars, being enriched by emerging British rule, including Raja Nabakrishna Deb, of Shobhabajar, who initiated an elaborate Puja at his residence. These celebrations brought the Durgostavs out of individual homes and into the public sphere. Festivities were celebrated as a community, where royalty and peasantry were welcomed into the home of the zamindar or bania (merchant) to feast together. The festivities became heavily centred on entertainment — music and female dancers — as well as lavish feasts that continued for the entire month. In the 19th century, the Pujas celebrated placed less emphasis on elaborate celebration and feasting, and more on including all of the community. They moved from being a show of wealth and authority by royalty and merchants back to a festival of worship and community. Many of these old puja exist today. The oldest such Puja to be conducted at the same venue is in Rameswarpur, Odisha, where it has been continued since the last four centuries, starting from the time when the Ghosh Mahashays from Kotarang migrated there as a part of Todarmal’s contingent during Akbar’s rule. Today, the culture of Durga Puja has shifted from the princely houses to Sarbojanin (literally, “involving all”) forms. The first such puja was held at Guptipara — it was called barowari (baro meaning twelve and yaar meaning friends)
Devi’s Aagman & Gaman
It is a popular belief that Devi arrives and departs in some form of transportation which predicts the lives of people for the coming year. There are various forms like Palki, Nouka (Boat), Ashwa(Horse), Gaj (Elephant),etc. each having its own significance. For eample the departure by horse signifies devastation as was the case in early day’s after any war. Coming by boat signifies natural gifts like a good harvest.
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 orpushpanjali on the mornings, of the sixth to ninth days of the waxing moon fortnight known as Devi Paksha (lit. Devi = goddess; Paksha = period; Devi Paksha 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, ritualised through her immersion into the waters–– Bishorjon also known as Bhaashan and Niranjan
At the end of six days, the sculpture 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 visit each other and sweetmeats are offered to visitors (Dashami is literally “tenth day” and Vijay is “victory”).
Durga Puja commemorates the annual visit of the Goddess with Her children to Her parents’ home, leaving finally on the Dashami to be re-united with Shiva. This leaving ceremony is symbolised by the immersion of the sculptures on Dashami.
Durga Puja is also a festivity of Good (Ma Durga) winning over the evil (Mahishasur the demon). It is a worship of power of Good which always wins over the bad.