The vivacious festival of Durga Puja resonates with the devotional fervor of the devotees of the Mother Goddess as it celebrates the “Shakti” (cosmic energy) in its various divine forms. Although it is indeed a significant Hindu religious festival, but it also marks a wonderful opportunity for people of various cultures to intermingle with each other. One can see the rich culture and tradition of India, especially West Bengal, blossom in the ten-day long celebrations of Durga Puja. The major extravagant and ostentatious festivities begin on the last six days of the ten-day long celebrations. The ten-armed divine goddess, riding a lion, is worshiped with great fervor and zeal by Hindus, especially by Bengalis, across the globe.
Mythological Origins of Durga Puja
As per the Hindu mythological legends, it is believed that the first ever Durga Puja was performed by Lord Rama in the Hindu month of Ashwin (September-October). It is said that Lord Rama invoked the blessing of the Goddess before declaring war on the mighty demon, King Ravana. This Durga Puja was quite different from the traditional worship of the mother goddess; therefore, this puja ceremony is also known as 'akal-bodhan', which stands for out-of-season worship. As per the legend, before going into the battle against the mighty Ravana, who had acquired many boons from the Gods, Lord Rama worshipped the 'Mahishasura Mardini' or the slayer of the buffalo-demon for the first time during this time of the year. It is said he made an offering of 108 blue lotuses and lit 108 lamps to seek the blessings of the Goddess. Since then, the tradition of Durga Puja began.
Historic Origins of Durga Puja
As per the factual history, it is believed that large scale and lavish worship of Goddess Durga began in the late 1500s by wealthy landlords or zamindars of Dinajpur and Mandla in the region of Bengal. During 18th century, Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Shobhabajar, under the patronage of British, organized an elaborate puja in his household. These grand celebrations were open for the royalty as well as peasantry and thus, brought Durgostavs into the public domain. However, by 19th century, the pujas started to be more about community gathering rather than show of money and power by the zamindars.
The major step towards the beginning of community puja can be traced to twelve friends of Guptipara in Hoogly, West Bengal, who were the first to collect money from the local residents and organize the first small-scale community puja in 1970, which came to be known as 'baro-yaari' puja (twelve-pal puja). This concept of baro-yaari puja was replicated in Kolkata by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar, who performed such puja at his ancestral home, Murshidabad from 1824 to 1831.
The small-scale baro-yaari puja gradually transformed into a large-scale sarbajanin, or community puja, by 1910. The first such puja, which was organized by full public contribution, public control and public participation, was established in Baghbazar in Kolkata by the Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha. The rise of such community Durga Puja in the 18th and the 19th century is greatly credited for the development of the Hindu Bengali culture.
In contemporary times, it can be safely said that Durga Puja has transcended the boundaries of religion and has become a magnificent cultural event that promotes social harmony and well being. The festival is heralded as one of the largest outdoor art festivals around the globe. It provides the Bengali community an opportunity to showcase its art and culture throughout the world. Since 1990s, the pandals (makeshift tents) were no longer seen like a place to keep the idols, but as an extension of the Durga Puja itself. Thus, stylistic elements began to be added to its exteriors as well as interiors. Today, the pandals are made with painstaking craftsmanship and detailed work that are absolutely thrilling.
The tableaus and idols used for worship have also gone through dynamic changes over the period of time, though the basics are the same as in the early times. Even now, Durga is worshipped along with her four children and some attending deities. However, in earlier times, these all were part of a single tableau; nowadays, they are all depicted individually. Durga Puja has immensely evolved since the medieval times. Today, modern aspects as well as technology has become its integral part but the essence of religious devotion for the Mother Goddess remains the same.
The historic origins of Durga puja are as interesting and charming as the festival itself.