The essence of Puja is that all the passions of Bengal converge: emotion, culture, the love of life, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression and yes, the cult of the goddess.
Amidst the azure blue skies, gentle breeze, fluffy clouds and a feel of freshness in the air, Autumn sets in a festive spirit in the hearts, after the long dark monsoons. The white kaash (kash) flower merrily sways amidst the mild fragrance of the shiuli flowers with the footsteps of Anandamayee in the air. The melancholic chanting of divine hymns and the sound of the drums along with bells and cymbals bring ecstasy to the minds of one and all. Durga Puja is the worship of divine power in a four day enigma that sets in a euphoria and weaves a spell of magic and a charm of its own.
She is accompanied by her daughters Laxmi riding on a owl and Saraswati riding on a swan along with her sons Ganesha riding on a rat and Karthika riding on a peacock. Maa Durga symbolises invincible strength and the triumph of good over evil. The Goddess is depicted with ten hands holding ten weapons given to her by the Gods to fight the Mahishashura, while riding on a lion.Also known as Mahishasura Mardini, Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura, the demon in guise of a buffalo, who got the blessing of not being able to be defeated by any man or God.
The countdown to the celebration begins a month earlier, from the day of 'Janmastami' and the ultimate essence can be felt in the four days of the carnival. The final preparations start from the day of Mahalaya (after the end of Pitri Paksha or the Fortnight of the Forefathers) with the onset of the Debi Paksha (the time of the Goddess) which continues till the Kojagari Lakshmi Puja on the next full moon night.
The midnight chanting of hymns of 'Mahishasura Mardini' during Mahalaya by Birendra Krishna Bhadra sets in the perfect mood and a ecstatic feeling for the start of the Durga Puja.
The Pujas get into a rhythm from Saptami (the seventh day with the kola-bou snan or worshipping a banana plant draped in clothes) although the extravaganza already starts from Sasthi (the sixth day with bodhan and chakhu daan or giving life to the mud idol), continued by the Kumari Pujo, Sandhi puja and dhunichi naach on the midnight of Ashtami and Nabami (eighth and ninth day respectively when 108 lamps would be lit near the goddess along with a hypnotising dance performance by the smokes ).
It continues till Bijaya Dasami (tenth and the final day), when with a remorse heart, a grand farewell is given to the goddess in the form of thakur baran, sindur khela (married women play with vermillion), mishti mukh (offering sweets to each other) and finally embracing each other in the form of a kolakuli.
The songs, the fragrance and most importantly the exuberance in the atmosphere with millions of people in a milieu of sorts brings out the opulence and the sheer grandness of this festival. And its not just the puja but the preparations that begin since a month before is another celebration of sorts.
It is the time when every Bengali will have a new set of clothes for the festive fervor and to catch on this excitement shops would stay open till late at night and usual holidays to entertain as much customers as possible, who would come shopping with their family even after office hours. And its not just about purchasing for yourself but also for your near and dear loved ones.
The Durga Puja has all the intricacies of human nature embedded in it from unbound emotions, sheer madness, pure love and an eerie excitement. The city of Calcutta becomes a magical fairy land with tiny lights glowing all over to the rhythms of traditional music. The houses are mired with the smell of new clothes as well as Sarodiya Patrika (special magazines published during time) with the hum of the Pujor Gaan (special music releases at this time).
The goddess is housed in exquisitely decorated puja pandals (temporary structures made of cloth, bamboos, jewels and other precious items for which the budget would almost run beyond millions). The theme of the pandals are inspired from anything and everything in this entire world details much beyond religious motifs from famous landmarks to major world incidents all portrayed with minutest of details. It is similar with the lighting too with dazzling creations of illusions of national and international events.
The idols are made in a place called Kumortuli where artisans work day and night for almost half a year to craft some exquisite clay-idols, which are then placed inside these pandals and worshipped for the four days amidst the deafening sound of the dhaakis and the entire atmosphere looking effervescent in the smoke of the dhunichi with the sweet fragrance of incense sticks wafting in the air.
Durga Puja is also a time for re-union among family, friends and alike and getting lost in countless hours of fun with your loved ones. From the long informal chat sessions (addas) to pandal hopping (more than 3000 of them all vying for your attention) for the four days for the pratima darshan with friends in the latest ethinic and western wear, and an occasional stare into a beautiful girl, dressed especially for the occasion, it’s all an integral part of the pratima darshan.
Millions throng the sleepless streets and bylanes of their city almost in a un-organized procession and each pandal almost attract a million people everyday. And by the time you return with the swelling feet and blisters created from the new shoes, your mind still start planning for the next day.
There are also elaborate food preparations also during most households during the four day with breakfast serving of luchi (fried puris) and alu dam, a special potato curry and the lunch consisting of khichuri made of rice and lentils, ful kopir dalna made of cauliflower, beguny (fried bringals), papad, chutney along with, sweets and yogurt (misti doi) as dessert.
But as all good thing comes to an end so is the Durga Puja with the Bijaya Dashami on the final day. It is the time when you can spot a drop of water from the cheeks of one an all for it is the time for Maa Durga to leave. The baran takes place where women offer sweets and betel to Maa Durga along with the sindur khela or playing with vermillion among the married women.
And finally Maa Durga is immersed in the water of the holy Ganges or other rivers with chants of “Asche Bochhor Aabar hobe” (next year again) filling up the air. After the immersion people wish each other Subha Bijaya (may all good prevail) and touch the feet and takes blessings from their elders along with distribution of sweets.
Durga Puja is a festival which may have all the fervors of religion, but is beyond religion. It is about encompassing basic human values, of celebration of life, culture and love for the Goddess .The main essence here is the creativity of life which tries to go beyond our thoughts to create something which is admired and remembered by million for years to come. The vibrant atmosphere beckons you to be a part of it and be one with the feeling.
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