Durga puja as the name suggests is the festival of worshipping Goddess Durga. Durga symbolizes feminine dynamism and is a form of Shakti(strength) with infinite power. Durga has 3 eyes and is generally depicted with 8 or 10 handed goddess astriding a lion. Durga is known to assassinate the asura(demon) Mahishasura .He was an asura with a boon that he could only be killed by a women. So the Tridev came together to form a special shakti called as Durga to end the torture and cruelty spread by Mahishasura. During the fight, Mahishasura changed his human body into different animal forms and eventually into a buffalo when Durga killed the asura by a trishul(trident) given to her by Lord Shiva.
It is celebrated for six days. The auspicious period means Goddess Durga returning to her father,Himalaya. Although famous all over India, It is widely celebrated in the eastern parts.There is no specific date of the festival but it is celebrated from….to….Mahalaya is celebrated seven days before the Durga puja and marks the beginning of auspicious days ahead. The coming days is celebrated as worshipping Goddess Durga. Shashthi, Saptami and Ashtami are Bengali words for the sixth,seventh and eighth days of puja that are the most important days. Different rituals are perfomed on all three days throughout the day.
The true spirit of Durga puja can be seen in Bengal especially in Kolkata. It’s the most awaited festival for the Bengali people who go ‘pandal-hopping’ with their friends or relatives . Huge and decorated pandals are built on the streets of Kolkata in which the Durga idols are kept and worshipped. The making of pandals start well before a month before Mahalaya. The idols are built in Kumartulia, a well known place in north Kolkata were idols are made out of clay, beads and other different things that may range from bamboos to chocolate. 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. Sometimes the pandals are based on a theme of a random event that had occurred recently in the world .
Dashmi marks the end of puja with the Durga idols are taken into sea or river for visarjan (immerse) 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.
Durga puja is also celebrated in Bangladesh. Communities in US, Europe and Australia also observe the puja in a small way.
- Devi Mahatmyam, page 120 http://www.ambaa.org/pdf/devii_mahatmyam_2.pdf