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Durga Puja or the worship of Goddess Durga is the most popular festival in Bengal. It is celebrated with customary religious fervor and pomp twice a year – once during the basant period which falls in the month of March or April and again during Ashwin period in September or October. The festival spans across nine days on both the occasions, with their last day coinciding with the festivals of Ram Navmi and Dussehra respectively.
Legends associated with Durga Puja
As with most festivals in the country, Durga puja too attributes its celebrations to great mythological incidences. The occasion is to commemorate the slaying of demon Mahishasura at the hands of Goddess Durga, the incarnation of Shakti. Mahishasura had won the grant of invincibility from Lord Shiva according to which no male could defeat him. The demon was intent on misusing the divine power and even went to the extent of threatening the Gods. The novel solution found by the gods comprised of merging all of their divine powers which resulted in the birth of Shakti in the form of Goddess Durga. The deity rode a lion and wielded an assortment of weapons in her 10 hands, thereby slaying the demon and ensuring peace on earth & in heaven. The incident also resulted in goddess Durga being named as Mahishasuramardini (the slayer of Mahishasura).
Another famous legend associated with the festival of Durga puja involves Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana and the fulfillment of his wishes by Goddess Durga. According to the story, Lord Rama was unable to defeat Ravana (the 10-headed demon king of Lanka) after the latter abducted Lord Rama’s wife Sita. As a last measure, Lord Rama decided to seek the blessings of Goddess Durga by conducting a worship that required 108 black lotuses. However, Lord Rama managed to procure only 107 lotuses and in place of the last lotus needed, he decided to lay one of his lotus shaped eyes at the goddess feet. This so impressed Goddess Durga that she granted the wishes just before Rama were about to offer his eye.
History of Durga Puja
Durga puja was believed to have been first celebrated during 1606 in Nadia district. Durga puja was more of a family affair during those days and it was celebrated by rich or landlords. The family Puja of Sabarna Chaudhury of Barisha dating back to 1610 is believed to be the oldest Puja in Calcutta. The first public organization was borne more as a mark of protest after twelve men were denied taking part in a household puja. They formed a twelve man committee and held a puja which came to be known as barowari ( baro - twelve, yar- friend)-a term which was later replaced by 'sarbojonin' ( for all men and women). The year 1910 saw the organization of Calcutta’s first community puja at Balaram Bose Ghat Road.
Celebrations of Durga Puja
The Durga puja witnesses thousands of devotees offering prayers in a ritual called Tarpan to their ancestors at the city's river banks. As the festivities were about to build up, the drummers called ‘Dhakis’ locally start assembling near the city. Although the inauguration starts on Mahashasthi, the main puja spans across three days - Mahasaptami, Mahaastami, Mahanavami. Since the puja rituals were long and detailed requiring expert priest services, the number of Pujas held in the family reduced and emerged as a community festival. The whole city of Kolkata adorns a new look during the 3 day long extravaganza. Electricity and light shows liven up the streets and restaurants are packed with several temporary food stalls. To ensure easy commutation, provisions are made for special trains and buses and cities underground metro rail runs beyond regular schedule. Public holidays ensure Schools, colleges and offices remaining closed during these four days.
After the three days of celebrations and devotional Puja rituals, the last day of Dashami witnesses a tearful farewell offered to the Goddess. The grand send-off involves images of goddess durga being carried in processions around the locality before being immersed in a nearby river or lake. This concludes the eventful festival and the devotees return to their destinations waiting for the next year’s puja to arrive. Durga puja is not only the greatest show of Kolkata but an event celebrated all over the country and even in various parts of the world.