Durgāpujā or Durgotsava
By Swami Harshananda
It is an ancient practice of the worship of God as Śakti and as Devī.. Gradually it has grown into a formidable cult with its own philosophy, myths and rituals. The Durgāpujā is the most important festival of this religious tradition.
The Durgotsava is both nitya (compulsory) and kāmya (optional). It may be performed for nine days or just three days. It starts from Āśvayuja śukla saptamī to navamī. Those who want to celebrate it just for a day can do it either on the astami or on the navami day.
It is the biggest festival mainly celebrated in Bengal, Bihar and Assam. However, now-a-days, it is being celebrated in the urban areas of almost all parts of the country due to spread of the Bengali population there.
Rituals on Āśvayuja śukla ṣaṣṭhī
It is believed that the various gods including Visṇu, go to sleep for a period of four months from Aṣāḍha to Kārtik. Since Mother Durgā goes to bed on Āṣāḍha śukla aṣṭamī, she is still sleeping at the time the Durgotsava. Hence for the celebration of Durgotsava, she has to be woken up first. This ritual is called ‘bodhana’. It is done on the evening of Āśvayuja śukla ṣaṣṭhī. A ghaṭa or kalaśa or a pot of water containing sandalwood paste, durvā grass, leaves of five trees like mango, clay from seven places, fruit etc. is prepared first. Then it is established under a bilva tree. Thereafter the mantras of bodhana or awakening are uttered. The bilva tree is worshiped as Mother Durgā. A second ghaṭa is also established there.
Rituals on Āśvayuja śukla saptamī
On the saptamī day, a small branch of that bilva tree is cut, placed in the second ghaṭa and ceremonially carried to the hall of worship where the clay image has already been established. Ghata is then kept at its feet. After prāṇapratiṣṭhā, a detailed worship is done to the ghaṭa, in the presence of the image, with sixteen upacāras. Then it is followed by homa.
The tale behind this ritual is that when Durgā (or Pārvatī) came to her mother’s house from her husband’s home, it was late evening. So, she decided not to disturb her parents and spent the whole night under a bilva tree near the house. The ritual described above is symbolic of this.
Rituals on Āśvayuja śukla aṣṭami
The pujās done on the aṣṭami and navami days are practically identical with the saptami pujā. On all the days, snāna or bath is given to the sword or the mirror kept in front of the image reflecting it. On each day, ceremonial recitation of the famous work Devimāhātmya is done in the worship hall. This recitation, especially on holy days, is considered to confer great benefits on the performer of the pujā.
Kumarīpujā is one of the part of the aśṭamī pujā. Worship of a girl-child of the age-group between 2 to 10 is done as it's ritual. Girl should be a healthy child unblemished in body and appearance. She is to be worshiped as the embodiment of the Devi or goddess herself.
Another important ritual is the Sandhipujā performed at the junction of the two tithis, aṣṭamī and navamī. The Devī along with the Yoginīs is to be worshiped at that time. There was a practice of bali (sacrifice) offering which is relegated as tāmasic (bad or evil) and fit for people of lower culture and evolution.
Rituals on Āśvayuja śukla daśamī
On the early morning of daśamī, tenth day, the visarjanapujā is done. Symbolically it withdraws the deity from the image into one’s own heart. In the evening, after a simple ārati the image is taken in a grand procession and immersed in a tank or a river or the sea.
Much revelry is observed during the procession and afterwards like the festivities of Sabaras. In this Sabarotsava, all people irrespective of their social status are expected to join, probably emphasizing that all are equal in the eyes of Goddess.
After the immersion of the Durgā image, people rejoice and meet their friends and relatives and warmly greet them in the evening.
- Śakti is known as Supreme Power
- Devī is known as the Divine Mother or Mother of the Universe.
- Scientific name of bilva tree is Aegle marmelos.
- Homa is a sacrifice in a duly consecrated fire.
- Devimāhātmya is also known as Śrī Candī and Durgā-saptaśati.
- Yoginīs are the various emanations of the Devī, 64 in number.
- Visarjanapujā is the worship signifying a send-off to the goddess.
- Ārati is called as the waving of light.
- Sabaras are the mountain tribes or barbarian tribes.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore