Begin typing your search above and press return to search.

The essence of Durga Puja

The essence of Durga Puja

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  9 Oct 2019 9:49 AM GMT

The most awaited annual event, of our times, is here. The cities have got a temporary makeover and even the darkest of the streets have been lit up with glittering lights. Majestic pandals, unrelenting beating of ‘dhaaks’, lingering vendors and obnoxious traffic jams, awaits us. But the spirits are high. This is Durga Puja, a time when people go into a state of spiritual slumber. Most of us will have, at least a week away from work; a time to be well spent with family and friends. And why not? Our beloved Mother has descended from her heavenly abode, only to stay with us, in our realm, just for ten days. Here I would like to address to some FAQs related to this massive phenomenon.

Who is Goddess Durga?

She is the mother of all, the Mother Goddess, known by many names such as Durga, Bhavani, Amba, Chandika, Gauri, Parvati, Mahishasuramardini along with her other manifestations. The name “Durga” means “inaccessible”, and she is the personification of the active side of the divine “shakti” energy of Lord Shiva. She is a multi-dimensional Goddess, with many names, many personas, and many facets. As Mahishasuramardini or Shakti, she is the destroyer of evil - with her ten mighty arms carrying lethal weapons she triumphantly slays the demon Mahishasura. As Sati, beloved daughter of King Daksha and Queen Menaka she gives up a kingdom and earns her father's wrath. As Kali, she turns black as the night and omnipotent, terrible in rage and fury, with just a string of skulls as her garland and her only garb. As Parvati, she is serene, the pretty consort of Lord Shiva by his side in the snowy peaks of the Kailash mountain. She is Bhawani, symbol of life. She is Sati, the object of death. She is Basanti, the heralder of springtime. She is also Amba, Jagadhatri, Tara, Ambika and Annapurna. Durga, through all her forms, encompasses the essence of salvation and sacrifice. She is the mother of bounty and wealth, as also of beauty and knowledge, for her daughters are Lakshmi and Saraswati (Hindu goddesses of wealth and knowledge, respectively).

Why is Durga Puja celebrated?

Durga Puja, a ceremonial worship of the Mother Goddess, is one of the most important festivals of India, especially in the eastern part. Apart from being a religious festival for the Hindus, it is also an occasion for reunion and rejuvenation, and a celebration of traditional culture and customs. Durga Puja is celebrated every year in the Hindu month of Ashwin (September-October) and commemorates Prince Rama's invocation of the goddess before going to war with the demon king Ravana. This autumnal ritual was different from the conventional Durga Puja, which is usually celebrated in the springtime. So, this Puja is also known as 'akal-bodhan' or out-of-season ('akal') worship ('bodhan').

Thus goes the story of Lord Rama, who first worshipped the 'MahishasuraMardini' or the slayer of the buffalo-demon, by offering 108 blue lotuses and lighting 108 lamps, at this time of the year. In the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana there are various references to goddess Durga. When the Pandavas entered the capital of Virata for their period of one year in disguise they propitiated Durga who appeared before them and granted them boons. Again, at the commencement of the great war of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna advised Arjuna to worship Goddess Durga to ensure victory in battle.

What are the features of Mother Durga’s Idol?

The most important form of Maa Durga is as Mahishasuramardini or the slayer of Mahishasura (the demon king). The image is of the Goddess cutting off the head of the buffalo-demon. This image usually most commonly is shown with eight or ten arms, and the hands hold a trident, an axe, a discus, an arrow, a sword, a mace, a spike, a bow, a bell and a snake. Mahishasura, the demon, may be shown half emerging in his human form from the carcass of his former buffalo form.She has an extra divine eye in the middle of the forehead. Her hair is in Karandamukuta, a crown style of hairdo. She wears gorgeous red clothes and several ornaments, and stands on a lotus or the head of a buffalo or rides a lion. There are endless aspects of Durga described in the Puranas and Agamas (ancient Hindu texts) and the iconography is consequently varied.

How are these idols made?

The idols, worshipped during the festive season, are crafted from a special clay procured from the River Ganga. These idols are crafted by skilful idol makers using a wide array of alternative materials, the range limited only by imaginative creativity. The most common of these of course is clay. However, other innovative media like shola pith, coconut husk, cloth, and flowers, amongst others are popularly used. Legend has it that the idol of the goddess is incomplete without a pinch of clay from a prostitute's courtyard. This probably was society's attempt to include and accord status to its most alienated beings.

Who accompanies Mother Durga in her descent to earth?

Inside the puja mandaps, the mother Goddess is shown with four other deities, usually smaller in size than that of goddess Durga. Two deities are placed on each side of the main idol of goddess Durga. These deities are Kartikeya, Ganesha, Saraswati, and Lakshmi, who are commonly identified as her children. They accompany Mother Durga in her homecoming. The deities are presented with offerings throughout the festivities.

For how long is Durga Puja celebrated?

While the rituals entails ten days of fasting, feasting and worship, the last four days - Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur in India and abroad, especially in Bengal, Odhisa, Assam and Tripura. The four days (beginning with the sixth day after the last new moon before the festival) of the festival is actually representative of the home-coming of goddess Durga along with Kartik, Ganesha, Saraswati and Lakshmi. These four days are marked by celebration and merry-making. The deities are presented with offerings throughout the festivities. On Vijayadasami, the “Victorious Tenth Day,” the idols are taken in a parade to a river or tank and immersed as a representation of bidding a tearful goodbye to the deities. This is usually a very emotional time for devout Hindus who accompany the idols to the immersion spot.

What is the importance of the vehicle/ ‘Vahana’ used by the mother Goddess in her descent and departure?

Just as the arrival of MaaDurga is important, so is her mode of transport for arrival as well as departure (on the day of Vijayadasami). Her arrival and departure are considered very significant as her mode of transport on both days indicates the fate of the days ahead. Her vahans or modes of transport are considered to be indications or omens. Maa Durga arrives on – an Elephant, a Horse, a Palanquin or a Boat. Which mode will be used for arrival and departure is decided based on the day of the week or on the day of Ghatsthapna and Vijayadasami, i.e. the first day and the last day. Elephant indicates peace and prosperity and so Maa Durga arriving or departing on this Vahana, means she’ll be filling your life with good deeds, blessings, results of your hard work and happiness. Boat is a sign of water transport, which represents both flood and good harvest. Maa Durga arriving on this or leaving would mean she would bless you with everything that you need to reach your ultimate desire. Palanquin is represented by four men carrying a person on a haulier; here it means outbreak of an epidemic. MaaDurga arriving or departing on this Vahana interprets that unless, humans help each other and stand united, the upcoming epidemic would be their toughest journey ever. For this year, Goddess Durga chose a Horse to be her Vahana and as per sacred texts of Hinduism, this signals an alarm of danger for humankind.

In what other forms is Durga Puja celebrated in different regions of India?

All Hindus celebrate this festival at the same time in different ways in different parts of India as well as around the world. In the northern part of the country, the first nine days of this festival, called Navaratri, is commonly observed as a time for rigorous fast, followed by celebrations on the tenth day. In western India, throughout the nine days, both men and women participate in a special kind of dance around an object of worship. In the south, Dusshera or the tenth day is celebrated with a lot of fanfare. This day sees millions of Hindus celebrate the festival which marks the end of evil, as depicted by the burning of huge effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad, the three demon brothers, Ravana being the king of demons. All three were defeated by Lord Rama on this day.Although, the universal nature of the festival is often found to transcend regional influences and local culture, the Garba Dance of Gujarat, Ramlila of Varanasi, Dusshera of Mysore, and Durga Puja of Bengal need special mention.

When was the first Durga Puja celebrated and where?

The first grand worship of Goddess Durga in recorded history is said to have been celebrated in the late 1500s. Folklores say the landlords or zamindar of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Puja in Bengal. According to another source, Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur or Bhabananda Mazumdar of Nadiya organized the first Sharadiya or Autumn Durga Puja in Bengal in 1606. The origin of the community puja can be credited to the twelve friends of Guptipara in Hoogly, West Bengal, who collaborated and collected contributions from local residents to conduct the first community puja called the ‘baro-yaari’ puja or the ‘twelve-pal’ puja in 1790. The baro-yaari puja was brought to Kolkata in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar, who performed the Durga Puja at his ancestral home in Murshidabad from 1824 to 1831.The baro-yaari puja gave way to the sarbajanin or community puja in 1910, when the SanatanDharmotsahini Sabha organized the first truly community puja in Baghbazar in Kolkata with full public contribution, public control and public participation. Now the dominant mode of Durga Puja is the ‘public’ version.

Durga represents the Divine Mother. She is the energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Shiva has no expression and without Shiva, Durga has no existence. Shiva is the soul of Durga; Durga is identical with Shiva. Lord Shiva is only the silent witness. He is motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. It is Durga who does everything. A child is more familiar with the mother than with the father, because the mother is very kind, loving, tender and affectionate and looks after the needs of the child. In the spiritual field also, the aspirant or the devotee, the spiritual child, has an intimate relationship with Mother Durga, more than with Father Shiva. Therefore, it directs the aspirant to approach the Mother first, who then introduces her spiritual child to the Father. The Mother’s Grace is boundless. Her mercy is illimitable; her knowledge infinite; her power immeasurable; her glory ineffable; and her splendor indescribable. She gives you material prosperity as well as spiritual freedom. Approach her with an open heart. Be as simple as a child. Kill the enemies of egoism, cunningness, selfishness and crookedness. Make a total, unreserved, and ungrudging self-surrender to her. Sing her praises. Ask her for mercy for your sins. These ten days are very sacred to the Divine Mother. Plunge yourself in her worship. And our Mother will bless us all!

Next Story