Durga puja is a festival that celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahisasura.
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.
Mahishasura was an asura with a boon that he could not be killed by any man. In order to kill Mahishasura, on the request of Indra, Lord Brahma,Lord Vishnu,Lord Shiva combined their shakti to form Durga, who subsequently born as the daughter of the Himalayas. In the ensuing fight between Durga and Mahishasura, Mahishasura changed his human body into different animal forms and eventually into a buffalo. At that time,Durga killed Mahishahsura with a trishul given to her by Lord Shiva.
Durga puja is celebrated for 9 days.A different form of Goddess Durga is worshiped on each day.
The puja is most widely celebrated in eastern India. It is celebrated from the 1st to the 10th day of Shukla Paksha of Ashwin month(according to the Gregorian calender this date generally lies in the months of September-October). Mahalaya is celebrated seven days before the Durga puja and marks the beginning of auspicious days ahead. The coming days is celebrated as worshiping 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 performed on all three days throughout the day.
The true spirit of Durga puja can be seen in Bengal, especially in Kolkata. It is 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 murti are kept and worshiped. The making of pandals start well before a month before Mahalaya. The murtis are built in Kumartulia, a well known place in north Kolkata where murtis 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 the puja. On this day, the murtis of Durga are taken into a sea or river for visarjan (immerse). Visarajn symbolizes the temporariness of life. By performing visarjan, devotees do not need to perform daily rituals to the murti as would be required if it were to reside in a temple.
Outside of India, Durga puja is celebrated in Bangladesh, US, Europe and Australia.
- Devi Mahatmyam, page 120 http://www.ambaa.org/pdf/devii_mahatmyam_2.pdf