Durga Pooja

Festivals are the heritage of India that are so proudly preserved and admired by people for centuries. They help in preaching the essence of communal harmony and infusing a sense of pride of being an Indian. There are so many festivals in the country due to its diversity. All of them are important and bear some significance to a particular ethnicity, region, or belief. The Durga Pooja festival is one such iconic occasion that has no boundaries in terms of celebrations. Not only Hindus, but also other neighborhood societies observe it as well.

Durga Puja Festival

Durga Pooja is the popular annual festival of Hindus from ancient times. This is a nine-day festival to commemorate the victory of goddess Durga over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura. People pray these nine days to the goddess of Shakti who is symbolic of the feminine power. All the states of India celebrate it but the celebration is something special in West Bengal and Tripura. It is one of the biggest social and cultural events in India. Hindus in Nepal and Bangladesh also observe it. Owing to the popularity among masses, it has become a national festival and the government declares it a holiday.

Legend of Durga Pooja

Maa Durga is the warrior goddess carrying weapons in each of her ten arms and riding on a lion. Her picture and statue is shown her killing Mahishasura. According to the Devi Purana, Mahishasura impresses Lord Brahma with years of meditation and penance to receive a boon that he should not be defeated either by men, spirits and other creatures of the nature. Being invincible, he goes on a killing spree destroying all men and women on the earth. He even terrorizes the gods and takes over the heaven from them.

The gods then seek the help of Lord Shiva. As the demon had not asked the boon to remain undefeated by a woman due to his excessive pride and ignorance of a woman's strength and determination, the only option that left was to combine all the power of the Trinity and transform it into a woman. Hence, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu combined their power, created a beautiful woman, and named her Durga. She also received special weapons from other gods to hold it in each arm. Hence, the goddess is seen with a trident, fire dart, thunderbolt, conch shell, discus, bow, iron rod, sword, shield and a snake. To ride on, a lion becomes her vehicle.

The news of Maa Durga's beauty reaches to Mahishasura and he sends a marriage proposal. In reply to the proposal, the goddess says that she will marry him only if he is able to defeat her in a battle. This makes the demons angry and accepts the challenge. A deadly battle ensues between the goddess and him that go on for nine days. The demon tries every weapon in his arsenal to be failed by the goddess. Finally, she uses the discus presented by Lord Vishnu and severs the demon's head. All gods express their gratitude from the heaven by pouring flowers on her. For the victory and end of the demon, Shiva declares that in the month of Ashwin, the ninth day, that saw the end of the battle, will be celebrated as the great triumph of good over evil.

According to the Hindu belief, Maa Durga stays on earth during this period. The sixth day of the Ashwin month is considered as her arrival day on earth. She stays on earth for four days and returns to heaven on the 10th day. Hence, to welcome her and treat her like parents would to their daughters, people honour these nine days with prayers and devotion.

Durga Pooja Celebration

The celebration of the festival begins few months before. Artists get busy in designing and manufacturing Durga's statues with clay. Shops stock all the decorative materials, and traditional dresses for sale. Houses are swept cleaned and painted. Groups in a neighboring locality erect Pandals for community gatherings.

The idol of the goddess is adorned like a newly Hindu married woman. Traditional red saree and ornaments are draped around the idol. People dress in new clothes and congregate in pandals for the pooja. All the devotees sing aarti in praise of Maa Durga. Folk dance and rangoli competition are organized during the festival.

In Bengal, playing with sindhur (vermilion) is an important part of this festival. All the Bengali married women dressed in traditional attire gather in pandals and apply sindhur to Maa Durga with aarti. They then apply sindhur to each other face and forehead as symbolic of remaining suhagan (being married) for lifetime. They form a circle and do the folk dance in front of the goddess to express their thanks for relieving the people of earth from the demon.

Durga Pooja festival ends on the tenth day when the idol is taken to the river with all fanfare for immersion. The procession is followed by beats of drums, folk dance, religious songs, and chanting of mantras.