“Pujo maney ki?” 

“Pujo maney neel aakash,
 Sheetol hawaaye shiulir shubash.
 Pujo maney poth chawa...
Kono aponke phire pawa...
Bhorer belai shishir chhoya.
Pujo maney paagol mon...
Abujh kichhu, chonmon.
Notun kaporer korkorani...
aar mohaloya-i Maa ke boron.
Pujo maney hashir chhota,
kol-kol kotha aar shaja-goja.
Mayer kachhe abdar
Aar garam pujor baajaar.
Pujo maney aakasher gaye
penja tulor moto bhasha
Notun bochhorer jonno prane bhore neya asha...
Dhunor gondhe dhaker baddi aar ashtamir anjoli.
Prarthona aar parai parai agomoni ,
Pujo maney , bondhu amar, bangalir pran.
Pujo maney aamader jiboner shommilito gaan.”

Well; this poem about sums up what Durga Puja is. But then, there’s more to the story.

 Durga Puja, the most important festival of Bengalis is the worship of ‘Shakti’ or the divine power. Goddess Durga symbolises the divine power. The Goddess is worshipped in the season of Sharat, and hence the occasion is also known as ‘Sharadotsab’. Every Bengali away from home, no matter which part of the world he or she might be in, longs to hear the familiar sound of the Dhak, be with his/her family and feel the festive spirit of Durga Puja.

Sharat’s clear blue skies with their fleecy white clouds, the golden sunshine, the swiveling of the white ‘Kash phool’ in the autumn breeze, grass blades heavily laden with morning dew, the overpowering and earthly fragrance of the ‘Dhunuchi’, the piquant scent of ‘Shiuli phool’, the sound of ‘Dhak’, feverish preparations for the Pujas, gifts, good food, and plans for long ‘adda’ sessions with friends gives a familiar tug at every ‘Bangali’ heart. This is the time when Bengalees start counting for ‘Devi Bandana’. Then comes the ‘Agamani’ - Mahalaya. It’s ‘Sharodiya’, yes! Our very own Durga Pujo.
An old Bengali saying goes that if the ‘kaash’ has started flowering, you know the rains are over and autumn has begun. The hour of the Goddess is at hand and everybody awaits them expectantly. Once a year, in the autumnal month of Ashwin, she comes home to her parents, together with her four children, Ganesh, Laxmi, Karttik and Saraswati, and enjoys all the love and attention lavished on her. Durga - Goddess of deliverance - comes to earth on the seventh day after the autumn new moon.
Seven days before Her arrival starts the Devipaksha. The day is observed as ‘Mahalaya’, the day of invocation. In the dark night of amavasya (new moon), people pray to Goddess Durga to arrive in the earth to ward off all evils. On the dawn of ‘Mahalaya’, homes of every Bengali resonates with the immortal verses of the ‘Chandipath’ (chanting of the hymns of ‘Chandi’), and preperations for the Puja reaches a fever pitch.
Unfortunately, this visit lasts only three days, and on the fourth day she starts on her journey back to her husband's abode in the mountain kingdom of Kailash.

As the story goes, it is said that eons ago, Mahishasura, the king of demons, through years of austerities, was granted a boon by Lord Shiva, that no man or deity would be able to kill him. The immense power filled in him the urge to rule over the world. He started to terrorize heaven and it’s inhabitants. He pervaded the world with his battalion of Asuras (demons) and plundered and ruthlessly killed the people. Chaos and anarchy reigned everywhere. Gods were driven from heaven and Mahishasura usurped the throne. The Gods were scared and unable to combat him, requested Lord Shiva, Lord Bramha, and Lord Vishnu to stop Mahishasura’s tyranny. Angered by the atrocities committed by Mahishasur, the Trinity unleashed their rage in the form of luminous energy. Great flames issued forth in all directions, the fires illuminating all three worlds: heaven, earth and the nether-world in penetrating light. The energy of their fires coalesced at a single point to take the form of a young woman. Her face was from the light of Shiva. Her ten arms were from Lord Vishnu. Her feet were from Lord Brahma. All the Gods present contributed their share of energy to this Goddess, and thus Durga, the eternal mother, was born.

Despite her grace she bore a menacing expression, for Durga was born to kill. Fully grown and beautiful, Durga was immediately armed by the gods and sent forth against Mahishasura, bearing in each of her ten hands, symbols of their divine power. Vishnu’s discus; Shiva’s trident; Varuna’s conch shell; Agni’s flaming dart; Vayu’s bow; Surya’s quiver and arrow; Yama’s iron rod; Indra’s thunderbolt; Kubera’s club and a garland of snakes from Shesha; Viswakarma’s axe and a lion as a charger from Himalaya. The demons had little time to admire the radiant visage of Durga before she engaged them on the battlefield. She first met the army of Chikasura and then that of Chamara, Mahishasura’s chief commanders, destroying both in great battles. At first, confident of his overwhelming power, Mahishasura held in reserve his personal demon-army. However, it soon became obvious to him that even his personal guard must be completely committed or he would surely be cast out of heaven. A fierce battle took place.

Amidst this chaos, Durga roamed the battlefield on her mighty lion. From her divine breath, her army was constantly replenished with new warriors, each able, brave and resolute. With her bell she confused the demons. As his army and commanders perished, Mahisasur reverted once more to his own animal form, the wild buffalo. He retreated into the mountains where he hurled boulders at Durga with his horns. The Mother of the Universe drank the divine nectar, gift of Kuvera, and transformed into Devi Chandika, the most ferocious form of the Goddess. Finally when Mahishasura in the guise of a buffalo charged against Durga, the Devi leaped at Mahishasura, pushing him to the ground with her left foot, beheaded the buffalo and from it emerged Mahishasura in his original form. Durga pierced his chest with the trident and relieved the world from the evil power. That is why she is ‘Durgatinashini Durga’, our mother Goddess who destroys the evil, protects her devotees and establishes peace and prosperity on earth.

According to the Puranas (Hindu Scripture), Devi got her name ‘Durga’ after she killed a mighty demon named Durga. There are other stories and anecdotes where Devi has appeared in different times and in different names to abolish evil spirits and to reestablish peace, love and prosperity on earth. In another description, she defeated and killed ‘Raktabeeja’, a tricky demon, a single drop of whose blood could create innumerable demons.

We worship Devi Durga as the Mother Goddess, the epitome of ‘Shakti’ (divine power), to deliver us from the evil and bring peace and prosperity in our lives. But the most interesting part of Durga Puja is that, instead of placing Durga on a high alter and worshipping her from a distance the Bengalis embrace her in their hearts and make her an inseparable member of the family. We welcome Durga to the earth as our daughter who comes at her parents’ home for her annual visits. Durga stays for four days - Shashti, Saptami, Ashtami and Nabami along with her children, Ganesha, Laxmi, Kartik and Saraswati and sets for her husband’s abode on Vijaya Dashami.

Durga’s mode of journey to the earth is detailed in scriptures. The modes, an elephant, a horse, palanquin, boat all signify luck or omen which influence the life on earth. The elephant signifies prosperity and good harvest while journey on a horseback indicates drought, a palanquin spells wide spread epidemic and the boat suggests flood and misery.

The worship of Devi Durga at this time, i.e, autumn, however; owes its origin to Sri Rama. He hastily worshiped Durga, the Goddess of ‘Shakti’, just before he set for Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana. Before his final battle with Ravana, Rama seeked the blessings of Devi Durga for defeating Ravana. He was given to understand that the Goddess would be pleased only if she was worshipped with one hundred ‘Neel Kamal’ (blue lotuses). After travelling and searching the whole world, Rama could gather only ninety-nine ‘Neel Kamals’. So intense was his devotion that he finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled blue lotuses. Devi Durga, being pleased with the devotion of Rama, appeared and blessed him for the battle. The fierce and decisive battle started on the day of ‘Saptami’ and Ravana was finally defeated and killed and was cremated on Dashami. According to Puranas, King Suratha, used to worship the Goddess Durga in spring. Thus Durga Puja was also known as Basanti Puja. But Rama preponed the Puja and worships the Devi in autumn and that is why it is known as ‘Akal Bodhon’ or untimely worship. Over the years, this Akal Bodhon has become the tradition among Bengalis.

The main Puja starts from Shasthi, which is the sixth day after the new moon, when Devi Durga is welcomed with much fanfare and gusto. The face of the Durga is unveiled in the ‘Bodhon’ ritual. The image of the Goddess is infused with life . Early in the morning, the “pran” of the Devi is put inside the image after it is brought from a nearby river through the medium of a banana plant, called the ‘Kola Bou’. The Kola Bou, bathed and draped in a new yellow saree, resembles a newly wed bride. Ashtami is universally accepted as the culminating point of the four-day celebrations. It was on this day that Durga had killed Mahishasura. The ritual of ‘Sandhipuja’ marks Sandhikkhan, the juncture between Ashtami and Nabami, when Devi Durga took the role of Devi Chamunda to kill Mahishasura (the Buffalo Demon). Dashami is the day when Goddess Durga accompanied with her children sets for Kailash, her husband’s abode. With a heavy heart the image of the Devi is immersed in a river (Bisharjan), and people bid a sorrowful farewell to the Mother Goddess, and the earnest wait begins for yet another year.

‘Sindur Khela’ (vermilion game) is a major event of Dashami. Married women apply vermillion to each other and greet each other with sweets. It is in the evening when Goddess Durga is immersed. Bengalis greet each other with Bijoya greetings and men follow the customary ‘Kolakuli’ (embrace each other). Bijoya is a special ritual whereby peace and good relations are reaffirmed. Families exchange sweets and people embrace each other, vowing brotherhood. Bijoya continues till the next new moon, when Kali Puja is held.

So, now that you know what Durga Puja is all about, we hope to see you at “barwaritola”. Wish you all a very happy Durga Puja.