A person can feel the true spirit of India, its culture, religion and history by being a part of the mesmerizing festivities of Durga Puja, which is one of the most significant festivals celebrated in Eastern India, especially in the state of West Bengal. The Bengalis, across the globe, celebrate this festival with great merriment and enthusiasm. As per the auspicious Hindu calendar, Durga Puja festivities commence from the first day of Ashwin month and continue for nine days. During the last six days, the enchanting festivities reach their zenith, with huge bedecked pandals (makeshift tents) adorned with impressive tableaus of Goddess Durga, huge community gathering, feasts etc. This article sheds light on some of the most important customs and rituals performed during the pious Durga Puja ceremonies.
It is believed that by listening to the plaintive invocations of her devotees, the divine and benevolent Mother Goddess Durga transcends on earth from her heavenly abode along with her children. On this day, devotees welcome the divine Goddess with charming dhak beats (traditional drum beats) and merrymaking. It is on this day that the idols of the Goddess are set up in the pandals and the ritualistic unveiling ceremony of the idol is performed. After the initial unveiling ceremony, other important rituals, such as Bodhon, Amontron and Adhibas, are carried out. Henceforth, the main festivities of the Durga Puja begin.
On the seventh day of festivities, known as Maha Saptami, with the break of dawn, a tree is adorned in yellow silk cloth with a red border to represent Goddess Durga. The priest, then, takes the tree to the pandal, accompanied by a grand procession, which includes many percussionists. Once at the pandal, the tree goddess is placed besides the idol of Lord Ganesha, who is believed to be the bestower of wisdom and good fortune. Together, they are worshiped. Besides this, Kola Bow or Nabapatrika receives a holy bath, a ritual performed very early in the morning which involves worshipping of nine types of plants. These nine plants are symbolic representations of the nine forms of Goddess Durga. Before the main prayer ceremony of Maha Saptami, Kalparambha and Mahasnan are performed.
Traditionally, the eighth day of Durga Puja was designated for the buffalo sacrifice that symbolized the vanquishment of the buffalo-demon, Mahishasura at the hands of the Goddess. However, in the present scenario, these sacrifices have pretty much stopped owing to animal cruelty awareness programs run by government and NGOs. The early morning prayers ceremonies of Maha Ashtami begin with the chanting of Sanskrit hymns dedicated to the praise of the Goddess. Young girls are worshipped in the ritual of kumari puja performed on this day. Further, in the evening, Sandhi Puja is conducted, since it is believed that on the evening of Ashtami, Navami begins. Therefore, this Puja interlinks the two days.
Maha Navami, or the ninth day of Durga Puja, is considered one of the most significant days of the festivities. The celebrations of Maha Navami begin with the culmination of Sandi Puja. On this day, Maha Arti is performed, which proclaims the formal end of the religious ceremonies including rituals and customs. On this day, people enjoy to the fullest and the streets of Kolkata become an ocean of people dancing and singing soaked in the festive mood. Food in the form of Navamibhog is offered to the Goddess and later distributed among the devotees as Prasad.
On the last and final day of Durga Puja, the tableaus of the Goddess, along with a grand procession soaked in the soul rendering rustic rhythms of dhak and enveloped with the thick fragrant ethereal smoke of dhuno, progress in the city streets. Married women play with vermilion and accompany the procession that ends at the nearby river or pond where, with teary eyes, devotees submerge the idols of the Goddess in water. This custom is known as visarjan and symbolizes the return of the divine mother to her holy abode with her children.
Various interesting and fascinating customs related to Durga Puja add immensely to the enthralling charm of this festival.