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Durga Puja Festival

Lord Rama, the hero of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. When Ravana (the 10-headed demon king of Lanka, now Ceylon) abducted Lord Rama’s wife Sita, and held her hostage in Lanka, a fierce battle ensued. Although there were huge casualties on both sides, Ravana could not be defeated. So Rama decided to seek the blessings of Shakti or Goddess Durga in order to defeat the 10-headed demon.

Goddess would be pleased only if she was worshipped with 108 Blue Lotuses. After travelling and searching the whole world, Lord 'Rama' gathered only 107 Blue Lotuses. So he finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled Blue Lotuses. Durga, being pleased with the devotion of 'Rama', appeared and blessed him for the battle.

Celebrated on:

Durga Puja is celebrated twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra (April-May) and then in Ashwin (September-October). On both occasions nine different forms of Goddess Durga is worshipped threfore called Durga Navratri (nine nights). According to the Hindu Calendar Durga Puja festival starts on the first day and ends on tenth day of bright half (Shukla Paksha) of Ashwin month.

Legends of the Festival:

According to a mythological legend attached to this day, demon Mahishasur vanquished the gods and their king, Indra, who approached the Holy Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They in turn sought the help of the divine mother Durga who, equipped with lethal weapons, riding a ferocious lion, in all her awesome majesty, killed Mahishasur. This day, thus, also celebrates the magnificence and omnipotence of Goddess Durga.

The festival of Durga Puja has its link with Pandavas. According to the great Indian epic the Mahabharat, the Pandavas had to spend 12 years wandering in the forest and one year in camouflaged form. The Pandavas spent their last year in the court of Virat. On the end of one year Pandavas regained their arms from the shammi tree and declared their true identification. It was the day of Vijay Dashmi. Since that day the exchange of Shami leaves has become the symbol glory and triumph.

Another legend about Durga, she was a manifestation of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. It seems that while Parvati existed only for Shiva, Durga was the form of Parvati’s shakti (power) that was created solely for destroying demoniac forces.Close to the heart of almost every Bengali is the image of Durga as the daughter who visits her parents annually. Her children Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth), Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge), Ganesha (God of Prosperity) and Kartikeya accompany her on this visit. Each year, there is great rejoicing at the time of her homecoming, but the air is tinged with sadness on the day one bids adieu to the deity. Perhaps people identify more intimately with the human face of the omnipotent Goddess.

Attractions of the Festival:

The onset of autumn signifies the homecoming of the Mother Goddess and brings with it the aura of festivity and celebration. There is a Bengali saying that there are 13 festivals in the Bengali calendar of 12 months. Durga Puja is undoubtedly the biggest of them all. To say that it is being celebrated with fanfare and gaiety in this part of the country is an understatement.

Huge idols of the ten-armed Goddess Durga destroying the ‘Buffalo Demon’ accompanied by her two sons, Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya, and two daughters Goddess Laxmi and Saraswati painstakingly created by artisans, mainly at Kumartuli area of north Kolkata, are placed at the puja pandals (makeshift temples) erected for the purpose.

The much acclaimed pandals reflect the engineering skills of the craftsmen. Innovative illumination of these pandals by the famed electricians of Chandannagar, a suburban town, is another attraction of the Durga Puja.
Altogether, being in the midst of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata is an unforgettable experience. And why not, the four days of festivity (though it’s a ten-day festival, the last four days are celebrated in grandeur), is an experience which one treasures.

The rituals start with ‘Bodhan’ (the invocation of the Mother Goddess on the first day) on Sasthi and ‘Naba Patrika Sthapan’ (the important ritual of setting up a giant banana tree clad in a saree beside Lord Ganesha and worshipping her as his ‘wife’) on Saptami. Then there is the ‘Pushpanjali’ (floral offerings to the Goddess) in the morning and the ‘Sandhya Arati’ in the evening of Ashtami, the most important day of the festival. And then the animal sacrifice on Nabami (the third day of the festival and the ninth according to the Bengali almanac) and the ‘Sindoor Khela’ (the ritual of putting vermilion on the forehead of the Goddess by the married womenfolk). Finally, the tearful immersion of these huge images on Dashami (the tenth or the last day of the festival) in the Ganges.

On Ashtami, the devotees have to follow a vegetarian diet but on Nabami, the Goddess is offered non-vegetarian items which are later distributed among the devotees as ‘bhog’.

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