Durga Puja is the festival of worshiping Goddess Durga. Although famous all over India, it is celebrated with great pomp and gaiety in the eastern parts, especially West Bengal. It is also celebrated in Bangladesh and communities in US, Europe and Australia also observe the puja in a small way. It is celebrated during the first nine days of Shukla Paksha of the Ashwin month (according to the Gregorian calendar this date generally lies in the months of September-October). The sixth, seventh and eighth days (of the Shukla Paksha of the Ashwin month), known as Shashthi , Saptami , and Ashtami in Bengali (language),of puja are the most important days. It is a five day celebration. ‘Mahalaya’ is celebrated seven days before the Durga Puja and marks the beginning of auspicious days ahead. The coming days are celebrated as worshiping Goddess Durga.
It signifies ‘Victory of good over evil’. Goddess Durga is known to have triumphantly slew the asura (demon) Mahishasura .He was an asura, with a boon that he could only be killed by a woman. So Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva came together to form a special shakti called as Durga to end the anguish and cruelty spread by Mahishasura. During the fight, Mahishasura changed his human body into different animal forms and eventually into a buffalo. Durga killed the asura (demon) in that form by a trishul (trident) given to her by Lord Shiva. Goddess Durga symbolizes feminine dynamism and is a form of Shakti (strength) with infinite power. She has 3 eyes and is generally depicted with 8 or 10 handed goddess, astriding a lion.
Significant Days and Rituals
Each of the following days of Durga Puja as below commemorates its own significance and different rituals are performed on all days of the Puja.
Shashthi: The main puja starts from the sixth day or Shashthi. This day marks the welcoming of Durga into our world. Kalparambho is the ritual performed before the commencement of the puja.
Saptami: It is the day following the sixth day. With the first rays of the sun, a tree is dressed as the Goddess Durga herself in yellow silk cloth with a red border. The tree deemed to be the Goddess then becomes the spotlight attraction for the rest of the festival. The pandit carries the tree in a grand procession to the Durga Puja pandal accompanied by the drummers. The Kola Bow or Nabapatrika receives a pre-dawn bath. In this ritual, nine types of plants are worshipped as nine different forms of Goddess Durga. Kalparambho and Mahasnan are preceded.
Ashtami: Also called as Durgashtami or Veerashtami marks the day when Durga killed Mahishasura. The day starts with the recital of Sanskrit slokas and the devotees offer ‘Pushpanjali’ to the Goddess. The main attraction of the day is the ‘Kumari Pujan’ which involves the worshipping of nine young girls as nine forms of Durga. In the evening,’ Sandhi puja’ is conducted which marks the inter-linking of Ashtami and Navami .
Navami: It is the concluding day of the puja and begins with the end of the ‘Sandhi puja’. ‘Maha aarti’ is performed that is considered as a formal end of any religious custom. The Navami bhog, special recipes made for the Goddess, are offered to Durga. This is then distributed among the devotees as ‘Prasad’.
Dashmi: After the three days of the puja comes Dashmi also called Vijaya Dashmi. This is the day when devotees bid adieu to the Goddess in the form of Visarjan. A grand send-off is arranged for the Durga idol to reach the nearest lake or river from the pandal and then immersed into the water with the belief of eternal cosmic law i.e. one who comes has to go sometime. Some people also say that if you don’t immerse the idol then one has to perform all the rituals to the deity as in a temple. That becomes tough for a person to do daily and therefore he immerses the idol and then come back again next year.
Essentials for the Rituals
Items needed for Kalparambho
Food Offerings : Panchashasha (grains of five types - rice, mung or whole green gram, til or sesame, mashkalai or any variety of whole black leguminous seed, job or millet), panchagobbo (five items obtained from the cow - milk, ghee or clarified butter, curd, cow dung and gomutra ), curd, honey, sugar, three big noibiddos , one small noibiddo, three bowls of madhupakka (a mixture of honey, curd, ghee and sugar for oblation), bhoger drobbadi (items for the feast), aaratir drobbadi mahasnan oil, dantokashtho, sugar cane juice, an earthen bowl of atop (a type of rice), til oil.
Water Offerings: Ushnodok (lukewarm water), coconut water, sarbooushodhi , mahaoushodhi, water from oceans, rain water, spring water, water containing lotus pollen.
Puja Items: Sindur (vermillion), panchabarner guri (powders of five different colours - turmeric, rice, kusum flowers or red aabir, rice chaff or coconut fibre burnt for the dark colour, bel patra or powdered wood apple leaves), panchapallab (leaves of five trees - mango, pakur or a species of fig, banyan, betal and Joggodumur or fig), pancha ratna (five types of gems - gold, diamond, sapphire, ruby and pearl), panchakoshay (bark of five trees - jaam, shimul, berela, kool, bokul powdered in equal portions and mixed with water), green coconut with stalk, three aashonanguriuk (finger ring made of kusha).
Cloth Offerings: Gamcha or a piece of cloth to cover the pot, a dhoti for Vishnu, a sari each for bodhon and Chandi.
Decorative Items : Ghat or a pot, kundohari , a mirror, four arrows, tekatha or a triangular frame of wood, horitoki flowers (myrobalan), chandmala (garland with circular decorations), aashon (a mattress of jute or hay).
Other Items : Water camphor and perfumed sandal wood paste. soil - extracted from elephant tusks, from the teeth of the pig, from the horns of the ox, from the bank of rivers Ganga and Saraswati, from both the banks of a river, from a place where four roads intersect, from palaces, from the ant hill, from the mountains, Vishnu toilo. The main ritual on this day is the unveiling of the face of Durga idol known as ‘Bodhon’. Next comes ‘Amontron’ which means invoking Durga into the idol. ‘Adibas’ follows to complete the the rituals for the day.
Items Needed For Saptami Puja
Food Offerings: Sesame seeds, myrobalan, flowers, two earthen bowls full of atop, green coconut with stalk, wood apple leaves, white mustard, madhupakka (40 or 22 bowls), honey, sugar, noibiddos (40 or 22), one main noibiddo, fruits, items for bhog.
Puja Items: Jute ropes, red thread, alta, four finger rings, four yadnyopaveet, a pot, a mirror, a tekatha, sandalwood, mashkolai, hibiscus flower, small noibiddo, one big earthen lamp, panchapallab, pancha ratna, panchashasha, panchaguri, vermillion, items for aarti, items for the yadnya - sand, wood, dry khorke grass, cowdung, kusha grass, ghee, 108 bel leaves and a bowl.
Cloth Offerings: Clothes for the Pundit, a piece of cloth, gamcha for aarti, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, sari for nabapatrika, one sari for the main puja, saris for Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, dhoti for Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, clothes for nine planets, clothes for peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, chandmala, a nosering, iron, conch shell.
Plants and flowers offerings: Flower garland, belpatra garland, Banana plant, turmeric plant, colacassia plant, wood apple stem, pomegranate stem, a stem of Jayanti plant, arum plant, rice plant, ashoka stem, twigs of white aparajita plant, two banana stems.
Items needed for Ashtami Puja
Food Offerings : Fruits, items for bhog, items for aarti, 40 or 22 bowls of madhupakka, honey, sugar, curd, ghee, 40 or 22 noibiddos, four small noibiddos.
Cloth Offerings : One sari for Durga, new clothes for Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, nine planets, the peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, Jaya, Bijoya and Ram.
Puja Items : One dantakashto, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, one nosering, iron, two conch shells, a box of vermillion, flowers, a garland, belpatra garland, one chandmala, one ghoti.
For Sandhi Puja - Flowers, gold ring, a bronze bowl for madhupakka, a small sari, main noibiddo, one small noibiddo, one plate, one pitcher, iron, one nosering, one pillow, a mat, a chandmala, 108 earthen lamps, items for bhog, and items for the aarti.
Items needed for Navami Puja:
Food Offerings : Betel leaves, pan masala, 40 or 22 bowls of madhupakka, honey, sugar, curd, ghee, 40 or 22 noibiddos, four small noibiddos.
Cloth Offerings : Clothes for Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, the nine planets, the peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, Jaya, Bijoya and Ram, one dantakashto , one sari for the main puja.
Puja Items: Flowers, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, one ghoti , one nosering, iron, two conch shells, a box of vermillion, flower garland, belpatra garland, a chandmala, one plate, items needed for the yadnya (fire sacrifice), bel leaves, gift for the Pandit.
Others - Perfume, flowers, durba grass, basil leaves, bel leaves, incense sticks, an earthen lamp, noibiddo, curd, murki, sweets and items needed for aarti.
Durga Puja as celebrated in Kolkata
Durga Puja is considered the main festival of Bengalis. Huge and magnificent pandals are erected on the streets of Kolkata (Capital city of West Bengal) in which the Durga idols are kept and worshiped. The making of pandals starts well before a month before Mahalaya. Bengali people enjoy ‘pandal-hopping’ with their friends or relatives and rejoice to their heart's content. The idols are built in Kumartoli, a well known place in north Kolkata, where idols are made out of clay, beads and other different things that may range from bamboos to chocolates.Sometimes the pandals are based on a theme of a random event that had occurred recently in the world. The ambience of festivity can be felt with the pandals beautifully lit up and the sound of dhaks being played all day inside the pandals.