Durga Puja: Chronicles of The Demon Slayer

by admin on October 11, 2012

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durga puja
In the early 1930’s, All India Radio started an early morning dramatic recitation called Mahisasura Mardini (Annihilation of the Demon) which struck a chord with Bengalis. Ever since then, most Bengalis living in Bengal and elsewhere get up exactly at 4 am and listen to the devotional songs, interspersed with recitals of the scriptural verses from the Chandi Kavya (Chandipath); on occasion of Mahalaya(October 15 this year) . Most devout Bengalis have a dip in the Holy River Ganges and do a prayer called Tarpan so that departed souls of their forefathers enjoy peace. It is believed that their ancestor’s souls lie in a limbo, between earth and heaven, if this ritual is not performed, Lord Yama (The God of death) would not accept their souls.

According to the Hindu scriptures, Heaven was once ruled by tyrannical demon King Mahisasura.  All Gods pleaded with the holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar to get rid of this menace. Soon the Trinity created Ma Durga or Mahamaya, Goddess of the Universe with ten arms bearing fearsome weapons, like the Trident from Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu the Discuss (Chakra), Lord Yama gave her a  Iron Baton, Agni a flaming dart, Surya a bow and arrow, while Lord Indra gave her his thunderbolt, Lord Varuna a  conch shell  and the Himalayas gave her the Lion as a Vahan(vehicle).To fight this fearsome King, Ma Durga was an incarnation of many Shaktis ( divine power) like Ma Kali, Bhavani,  Ambika, Kandalini, Lalita, Gauri and so on; to have the combined strength of all these divine beings to slay the mighty Mahisasura, with her divine trident.

Each year, she comes down on her journey from heaven on many modes of transport. This year, she will come down on an Elephant signifying great luck and bumper harvests, while returning she will go back on palanquin suggestive of   an outbreak. Her world famous clay idols come from a place in Kolkata called Kumartuli (a potter colony) where about 180 families reside. Her ten hands holistically depict the 10 directions of Hinduism. Her left eye is symbolic of the moon; the right depicts the sun (or salvation) and Her central third eye the power of knowledge.durga puja

As the Hindu calendar is based on lunar cycle, dates do vary with the English Calendar, thus after 6 days of waiting, Durga Puja begins.  The biggest Puja is usually Kolkata, followed by Silchar in Assam and Agartala, the capital of Tripura in the north east part of India. Thus, millions of people not just congregate in various parts of India to offer their prayers and seek Her blessings, but it is celebrated world over like London in the UK, Manhattan New York (since 1969!) and wherever there are lots of Bengalis; according to their own Tithi (date and timings based on the Lunar calendar).The Puranas quote her worship in spring, but as Lord Rama, went off to battle Ravana, wherein He sought Her blessings in Autumn and thus the Durga Puja is held Autumn; which is why Durga Puja is also sometimes called ‘Akal Bondhon’ (untimely worship) or Vasanthi Puja.


This day is dedicated for worship of Lalita Panchami, one the incarnations of Ma Durga. She is known as the power behind the five basic elements, air, water, fire and space. She is also known as the Red Goddess and slayer of the demon called Bhadrasura.


On this day, Ma Durga’s face, is unveiled, amidst much fanfare and announcements by the drum beats of ‘Dhaks and Dhols” (erstwhile Dholaks), and celebrations. She comes seated on a fearsome lion, with her trident striking the heart of Mahisasura, trying to emerge from his buffalo like form.  By Her side are her daughters Saraswati and Lakshmi and sons Kartikya and Ganesha.  Panchami and Shahsti are precursors to the main Puja.
This is the first day of Durga Puja, wherein a pre-dawn bath called Nabapatrika is given to Her and worshipped through a ancient ritual using nine types of plants, as a holistic representation of the Goddess Ma Durga.


The day begins with recitals of devotional Sanskrit Slokhas in community puja pandals, while thousands of devotees offer Anjali (Puspanjali), flowers to the Goddess. It is also a day for little girls to be bedecked like the Goddess, especially in household Pujas. Towards the evening, Sandhi Puja is observed, which forms the interlink between Maha Ashtami and Maha Navami.


Being the last day of Durga Puja, food and sweets are offered (called Navami Bhog) to Ma Durga, which are later consumed by the devotees as Prasad.Vijay Dashmi


The grand finale is the sending of Durga Mata, back to her abode in Mount Kailash where her spouse, Lord Shiva resides. Most devotees don’t want Her to leave as she visits earth only once a year, espousing peace and the final triumph of good over evil. In Kolkata, a long line of trucks slowly crawl through the roads amidst chanting of Ma Durga ki Joy! Her Idols are finally immersed in the nearest lake or if possible, the Ganges.

Dashami is celebrated all over India, but Durga Puja is one the biggest festival in the eastern regions of India, but in the capital of Delhi, it takes a slightly different aspect with burning of Ravana, rather than immersion of Ma Durga. The latter is more followed in the predominantly Bengali region (Chittaranjan Park) where big Durga pandals are set up. Many people from all over Delhi and other states come to watch these celebrations, just before the major religious celebration of northern regions- Dewali or Deepavali, which we will discuss in our next series. Wishing our readers a very happy Dussehera!


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