It signifies the triumph of good over evil. The day Shri Ram returned to Ayodhya (along with his consort Sita and brother Lakshman) after vanquishing and slaying Ravana (the Rakshasa [Asura] monarch of Lanka), and also the day when Goddess Durga along with her daughters (Lakshmi and Saraswati) and sons (Sri Ganesha and Karthikeya)... leaves for her marital home... in the Kailash, which is also the abode of her consort, Lord Shiva. But not before slaying the terrible demon "Mahisasura", who terrorized the earth... and took on several disguises including that of a brutal buffalo... to fight the goddess.
Kolkata (Calcutta) celebrates Durga Puja with overwhelming and unbelievable energy and dynamism. Every Bengali away from home, no matter which part of the world he/she might be in, long 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 gentle autumn breeze, grass blades heavily laden with the morning dew, the mild fragrance of the 'Shiuli phool', the sound of the 'Dhak' (YouTube link), the 'Dhaker ladai' (YouTube link), the 'Dhunuchi naach'. A 'dhunuchi' is an earthen pot with a funnel base and an open top. Burning coal, charcoal and dried coconut shell is kept inside this pot... then powdered incense, known as 'dhuno'... is poured over it. A sweet smelling thick white smoke emanates from this... spreads and engulfs your senses. Then with the 'dhakis' (drummers, people who beat the 'dhak') going on a frenzy with their drum beats, the 'dhunuchi dancers' balance the earthen pots, with the base delicately placed on their foreheads. Then they gyrate their bodies to the beat of the 'dhak' keeping the 'dhunuchis' on their foreheads, burning coal and all. Some of them hold an additional couple of 'dhunuchis' with their hands too... while a few even try to manoeuvre one with their leg! It has to be seen to be believed... !!! (YouTube link). The feverish preparations for the Pujas, gifts, good food, and plans for the long 'adda' sessions with friends and family... bring joy to the hearts of all Bengalis as the promise of another auspicious period draws near. This is the time when Bengalis start counting the days for 'Devi Bandana'. Then comes the 'Agamani' - 'Mahalaya'. The 'dhak' is truly the art of Bengal's heart. Just the sound of the beating of the 'dhak'... during the pujas... would make most of us ('probashi bangali') want to run all the way to Bengal and/or Kolkata. Sample this: Link. Simply awesome!!
Durga Puja, the festival of the Bengalis/Assamese/Oriyas/Tripuraites/Nepalis... is the worship of 'Shakti' or the 'divine power'. Most of the religious celebrations in the world have legends surrounding them. The fables are generally of the 'fight between the good and the evil', the dark forces eventually succumbing to the divine. The worship of Goddess Durga is based on mythology too... where Durga symbolizes the divine power (I intend to narrate this story in my next post). Seven days before Her arrival starts the 'Devipaksha' (Debi Pokkho). The day is observed as 'Mahalaya' - the day of invocation. In the dark night of 'amabasya' (new moon), people pray to Goddess Durga to descend on earth to ward off all evils. On the dawn of 'Mahalaya', homes in Bengal resonate with the immortal verses of the 'Chandipath' (chanting of the hymns of 'Chandi'). You can read my 100th post which contains the links to an abridged audio/visual presentation of an All India Radio Recording - "Mahalaya -Mahisasuramardini" (Annihilation of the Demon Mahisasura): HERE. The legendary Birendra Krishna Bhadra has long passed away, but his recorded voice still forms the core of the "Mahalaya" program.
We worship 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 people of Bengal/Assam/Tripura/Orissa embrace her in their hearts and make her an inseparable member of the family. Goddess Durga is welcomed on the earth as our daughter who visits her parents' home annually.
For these 10 days... she descends on earth... (and stays for four days - on Shashti, Saptami, Ashtami and Nabami) visiting her maternal home in the Himalayas (she being the daughter of Himalaya)... along with her children and her two 'sakhis' - Jaya and Vijaya, during the season of 'Sharatkal' (Ashvin) or 'autumn' when Durga-Puja is celebrated. Thus the other name of 'Durga-puja' is 'Sharodotshob'. Durga as the consort of Lord Shiva represents two forms of female energy - one mild and protective and the other fierce and destructive. Though the sojourn of Goddess Durga on earth starts from the first day of Navaratri... for others, the Bengali community celebrates the arrival from Maha Panchami evening, the fifth day after the new-moon, when the idol of the Goddess along with Ganesh, Kartikeya, Saraswati and Lakshmi are brought to the puja pandal.
She is supposed to have arrived on a palanquin this year (2009)... and is going back riding on an elephant. There are symbolisms involved here. Durga's mode of journey to the earth is detailed in the scriptures. The modes: an elephant, a horse, palanquin and boat... all signify luck or omen which influence the life on earth. The elephant signifies prosperity and good harvest while journey on a horse back indicates drought, a palanquin spells wide spread epidemic and the boat suggests flood and misery.
For the bengali, oriya, assamese, tripurite and the nepali community... amidst festivity and huge enthusiasm the five-day Durga Puja... ended today here and elsewhere in the country with the observance of 'Bijoya Dashami' and the immersion of the idols of Goddess Durga. For these five days the entire area/locality wore a festive look and today, the fifth and the last day of the puja, specially in the evening... hundreds or maybe thousands of devotees marched in a procession towards the various lakes, ponds and rivers... to immerse the deities. Dancing to the beat of the drums/dhaks, blowing of the 'shankha' (conch shells) and burning of 'dhup' (incense), thousands of devotees, mostly the youth, irrespective of gender, leave (in the evening) in a procession of several trucks carrying the images of Durga (and her children) for the immersion rituals. Girls/women are not allowed to board the trucks though. Ironic... isn't it... ?!!
The last day of the 'Sharodiya Durga Puja' is known as 'Bijoya Dashami'. After the last ritual 'Aparajita Puja' is offered to the Goddess, a pall of gloom descends upon one and all... as people bid a tearful farewell (to devi Durga). In Orissa, the women offer Dahi-Pakhal (cooked rice soaked in water and curd), Pitha (pan cake), Mitha (sweets) and Fish fry to the devi. Most of the community pujas postpone the farewell as long as possible and arrange a grand send-off. People are sad... as they have to bid farewell to the divine mother. For most people, the immersion at the end of the Durga Puja festival is like parting with a member of the family after five days of praying, feasting and merry-making at the marquees/pandals/mandops across the city that housed the idols.
Married women engage in 'Sindoor Khela' (literally, Vermilion game)... by applying vermilion on each other's foreheads. After/before the 'bisorjon', married women take part in the 'sindoor khela'... by doing the 'arati' and saluting the goddess with vermilion (on her head and forehead), betel leaf and sweets (to her lips). They then wipe the devi's eyes... as one wipes off one's tears when leaving the place of a loved one. This event is called the "Durga Baran". The women then smear each other with vermilion. It is (or used to be) a Bengali custom for married women to apply sindoor on each other when one of them was leaving; the Devi is bid farewell the same way. So, before "Ma" leaves, married women of all age groups visit the nearby pandal to take part in this emotional ritual where vermilion (sindoor), is applied on the parting-line of each other's hair (also called 'mang'). The 'loha' (the metal and gold bracelet given to the bride by the mother-in-law) and 'pala'/'sannbha' (the red and white bangles worn by many married Bengali women) are also touched with the sindoor (this is called 'touching the loha'). Then sindoor is applied by the women and the priest on the forehead of the goddess. As per bengali custom, a mother-in-law gives an iron bangle interlaced with gold or silver to a new bride as the first gift, a token of 'suhag', which the daughter-in-law wears all her life. The ritual of applying sindoor can also take place at home when Bijoya Dashami is celebrated with family members.
Thereafter, the idols are carried in a procession known as 'Bhashan Jatra' or 'Bisorjon Jatra' around the 'para' or 'locality'... amid hollering crowds and the frenzied beating of drums/dhaks... and is finally immersed in a nearby river, pond or lake. Emotionally-charged chants (in Bengali) of "Hail the mother goddess! She'll return next year!" reverberate across the place of immersion and indeed across entire localities. In Orissa, after the immersion of the idols, people across the state celebrate "Ravan Podi" (burning of a huge effigy of the rakshasa king Ravana). Here is a YouTube video of 'Durga Puja Sindoor Khela and Bisarjon': Link.
After the immersion ceremony, Bengalis visit each others homes to wish their loved ones "Shubho Bijoya". The children touch the feet of their elders (pronam) as an expression of respect towards them. Similarly, adults embrace each other with heartfelt good wishes, which in Bengali is known as 'Kolakuli'. It is a time to visit friends, neighbours, relatives and loved ones and offer sweets and other delicious eatables to each other. This is a celebration of the 'triumph of good over evil' as well as a gesture/wish that may the coming year be sweet and prosperous for everyone. It is a time for family reunions, to renew kinship with friends and relatives amid much laughter and 'adda'... to the accompaniment of delicious food, of course!
For these five days of the pujas... 'pandal hopping' is a major activity/attraction. It involves visiting as many pujas as possible along with family and friends. Plus eating the delicious food sold at the various stalls erected there. Even the 'bhog' (the prasad) is much sought after. It consistes of khichuri (khichdi) along with a curry (usually a potato curry or a mixed vegetable curry), tomato chutney or pineapple chutney and sweets (usually melt-in-the-mouth rosogollas). Ummm... I am beginning to feel hungry, already!
I too went 'pandal hopping' on 'ashtami' (the 8th day) and 'nabami' (the 9th day). This time there were 38 pandals celebrating the Durga puja throughout Bangalore. But more importantly, this is the 60th year of the Durga Puja celebrations in Bangalore. I went to the Bengali Association (Ulsoor) puja at the RBANMS grounds... on 'ashtami' (it was the 50th year of the pujas here... the golden jubilee celebrations... quite a landmark! They incidently hold the biggest puja in Bangalore...) and to the 'Jayamahal Sarbojonin Durga Puja' at Jayamahal (it is 54 years and counting... the 2nd biggest puja in Bangalore, you'd never want to miss it... here is their blog), the one at Sanjay Nagar (Antaranga Bengali Cultural Association) and finally the puja at R.T. Nagar on 'nabami'. It was a wonderful and memorable experience. I'll cherish it for a long, long time. The folks at the Sanjay Nagar puja... offered us 'prasad'... consisting of fruits and 'narkel nadu'... the super delicious, mouth watering and my all time favourite sweet/laddu made of coconut gratings and jaggery! I will surely visit that pandal again next year. Can't wait for the pujas to commence again!!! Plus a wonderful friend blogger or FB, the Indian Pundit has uploaded a lot of pics of the pujas in faraway Kolkata. It was great to view the pujas from the bengali heartland... sitting thousands of miles away. You can view the pics here and here.
Another attraction for me to visit the Ulsoor Bengali Association puja... is the 'Kolkata Book Fair' held there. This fair is actually a temporary book shop... set up exclusively for these 4-5 days of the pujas... every year. And a great source for buying books written by popular bengali authors... since bengali books are hard to come by... in Bangal-ore/Bengal-uru. In 2007, I had bought 45 books, last year the number was 35 and this year... try as I might... I could not beat the 2007 figure. I ended up buying 'only' 35 books this time too. I was intending to score a half century... ! Sigh!
With the immersions, Goddess Durga and her children depart, leaving the devotees with memories of five fun-filled days and a yearning for next year's festivities. They say, 'time flies'. Therefore... "Asche bochchor aabar hobe"... ! Meaning: "Hail the mother goddess! She'll return next year!" Goddess Durga will be back next year, of course. But Durga is just one manifestation of 'Shakti', the consort of Lord Shiva. Shakti will be back as "Ma Kali" in about 20 days' time. Kali puja occurs during Diwali (the festival of lights). I have just found out about a place/organisation called the 'Bangalore Kalibadi' and I intend to go there during the Kali puja... in barely 2 weeks' time. And kojagori Lakshmi puja - the worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night (Amavasya) - begins in barely 5 days time... therefore... it is "baro mashe tero parbon"... !!! This is a popular bengali saying/proverb, which literally translates as: In twelve months, thirteen festivals... i.e., we have 13 festivals in 12 months. Meaning: A superabundance of occasions for celebration(s)... !!!
Shubho Bijoya, everybody! May the goddess shower her choicest blessings on you and your family!
Note: Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia.
1. A painting of Goddess Durga. (Pic courtesy: http://www.kolkatabeckons.com)
2. Kash Phool (Pic Courtesy: http://www.oktatabyebye.com/picture-gallery/4506-kolkata-travel-photo.html)