Durga Puja is one of the age old festivals observed in India by the Hindus. The festival is celebrated with great fanfare especially in the eastern regions of India, particularly in West Bengal. However, with passage of centuries, Durga Puja celebrations have undergone certain changes. The ritual and customs remain the same and are still practiced with ardor, but the decorations and festivities have changed drastically. Artisans flaunt their exceptional skills while building pandals and making idols. Many of these receive international acclamation too. During the festival the entire nation welcomes Durga with immense fervor. The puja is celebrated with the fall of autumn either in the month of September or October. This is the period during which, according to the Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga visits earth, which calls for an ostentatious ceremony.
Rituals and Festivities
The five days of Durga Puja namely Sashti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami are observed through intricate and important rituals. The first day i.e. Saptami is spent in greeting the Goddess and her four children on earth. The second and third day is spent worshipping the Goddess and the fourth day is the one, which commemorates the victory of Durga over the buffalo-demon "Mahishasura". On the final day the devotees bid a sad farewell to the Goddess and immerse the idols in the rivers close by.
The effigies of Goddess Durga are placed in huge tents called pandals, which are like temporary temples. The idols are kept on raised platforms where they are worshipped. People offer their prayers standing in front of the altars. The pandals are built with the money collected by the clubs from the public.
Durga is a very beautiful and powerful goddess with ten arms, all of them clutching weapons. The idol of the goddess is adorned with a gorgeous sari and jewelry and is mounted on a lion, her carrier. Her tenth arm holds a spear piercing into the chest of the defeated demon Mahisasura. This is traditional form of idol found in most pandals. Over a period of time the puja organizers have gradually customized the idols. Some would have the idol resembling a fairy and some would make it look like Mother Nature. In West Bengal the idols are mostly made in the two small towns, Kumartuli and Krishnanagar, situated in the outskirts of Kolkata.
Durga Puja celebrations involve visiting the pandals and also attending the functions organized nearby. Even the smallest of pandals have a temporary amusement base for children and the big and famous ones conduct various cultural and game shows, hosted by some celebrity anchors. Many cultural programs are attended by celebrities and renowned singers and dancers. As a part of the tradition, on the last day of puja all the women disperse vermillion, apply it on each other and dance to the beats of the dhol.
Durga Puja is not just a religious festival anymore. It displays the culture and tradition of the Indians in every aspect. Though, the festival has a close association with the Bengalis, it is celebrated in all parts of India. Schools, colleges and offices declare holidays at least on Saptami, Ashtami and Navami, if not an entire week.