Introduction to Durga Puja
The annual Hindu festival celebrated in India, Durga puja is also called Durgotsava or Navaratri; reveres goddess Durga. It is celebrated in September or October, according to the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin. This nine-day festival involves elaborate temple and pandal (stage) decorations, scripture recitation, performance arts, revelry, and processions.
Durga puja is celebrated in the honor of goddess Durga emerging victorious in her battle against a shape-shifting, deceptive and powerful buffalo demon Mahishasura. It is for this reason that the festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Apart from that, this is also partly a harvest festival as the goddess epitomizes as mother and thus the power behind all of life and creation. The celebration of Durga Puja coincides with another popular Hindu festival, Vijayadashami or Dussehra during which the mythological tale of Ram Leela is enacted. On the final day of the festivities victory of Lord Rama is depicted by burning down the effigies of the demon Ravana.
Durga Puja Celebrations
Though the festival is a celebration for goddess Durga, the decorations and celebration also include goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, prosperity), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (god of good beginnings) and Kartikeya (god of war). The latter two are considered to be children of Durga (Parvati). Lord Shiva, the husband of Goddess Durga is also revered during the festivities. The first day is called the Mahalaya, marking the initiation of goddess Durga’s battle against evil. On the sixth day, called Sasthi; the goddess is welcomed, festive Durga worship and celebrations begin in elaborately decorated temples and pandals hosting the statues. Lakshmi and Saraswati are revered on the following days. The festival ends on the tenth day of Vijaya Dashami, when with drum beats of music and chants, Shakta Hindu communities start a procession carrying the colorful clay statues to a river or ocean and immerse them, as a form of goodbye and her return to divine cosmos and Mount Kailash.
Variation in Celebrations Across India
There is enormous variation in worship practices and rituals associated with Durga Puja. In West Bengal, the celebrations last for over five days, whereas in Odisha it is a 16-day long affair. The cities are adorned with festive lights, thousands of pandals are erected by communities all over the country, but particularly in Kolkata, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Assam and more. The states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Delhi celebrate this time as Navratras followed by Vijayadashami on the tenth day. Where Durga Puja involves feasting various regional delicacies; during Navratras, devotees observe a one day fast. Gujarat celebrates the festival with the nightly performances of Garba and Dandia Ras throughout these nine days in public squares, open grounds, streets, private venues and people’s homes and courtyards. Karnataka, on the other hand, celebrates this festival in the form of Mysore Dasara where Elephants are decked up with robes and jewelry and taken in processions through the streets of the city. In Kerala, Durga Puja signifies the beginning of formal education for every child aged 3–5 years. While puja goes on in the temple for all ten days, it is the concluding three days which are most important. Ashtami is the day of Ayudya Puja when all the tools at home are worshiped. Custom dictates that no tools be used on this day. On Navami day, Goddess Saraswati is honored by worshipping the books and records at home.