Durga, a Hindu Goddess also known as Shakti or Devi, is one the most important deities worshipped in India. She stands for protection, power, strength and morality.
Durga Puja is a festival celebrating Goddess Durga in the Indian subcontinent. It refers to all six days venerated as Mahalaya, Shashti, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Mahanavami and ending in Vijayadashami. The festival is celebrated from sixth to tenth day in the lunar fortnight.
There are two myths surrounding the festival. First, Durga puja marks the victory of Goddess Durga in conquering evil buffalo demon,Mahishasura. A second version is that the festivalmarks the victory of Lord Ram over evil Asura king, Ravana after invoking goddess Durga or Shakti. This day is also called as Dusshera.
Thus Durga Puja festival basically venerates the victory of good over evil. Durga is venerated in Bengal as Durgotinashini- the protector of devotees and destroyer of evil.
Durga Puja is most famous as a festival of BengaliHindus. In places like Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Bangalore etc. where there is a sizeable Bengali population, this festival is very popular. So also, in Nepal and Bangladesh.
During Durga Puja, devotees also worship Lord Siva, the consort of Durga and her children, Ganesha, Karthikeya, Laxmi and Saraswati. Nine types of plants are venerated, representing the nine divine forms of Durga.
Durga Puja has come to be associated with certain rituals and traditions. These include setting up of highly decorated Pandals and aesthetically rendered statues of Goddess Durga. There is also immersion of statues in Ganga, exchange of Vijaya greetings and special publications.
Durga Puja is called as Navaratri in Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Kulu valley, Himachal Pradesh it is called as KuluDusshera and in Mysore as Mysore Dusshera. In Andhra Pradesh, it is called as BommalaKoluvu and BommaiGolu in Tamil Nadu.
Nowadays, Durga Puja is not restricted to any religion. The huge amount of Pandals bear witness to the greatest outdoor festival in the world. The art, dance and songs associated with the festival extend form Bengal to rest of India to the international Indian Diaspora.
Song and dance is vital to Durga Puja celebrations. Dhakis or ritual drummers, using large leather covered drums or Dhaks, exhibit their skills during dance worships. On the tenth and final day of Durga Puja, the goddess returns to Lord Siva, symbolized by the immersion of Durga idols in sacred waters like Ganga. On this day, celebrated as Vijayadashami, families visit each other and exchange sweets.
In the beginning, Pujas were organized by wealthy Bengali families. Today, they are organized by committees representing neighbourhoods or localities. They collect donations called as Chandas via concerts, lotteries, door-to door collections etc. Such funds are used to erect Pandals and sculptures. Left over money is devoted to charitable causes.
In Bengal, Durga Puja is like a giant carnival celebrated by people of all religions and back grounds. In Kolkata alone, nearly 4000 Pandalsare erected, attracting millions of revellers. The whole city is ablaze with fairy lights. Traditional music like RabindraSangeeth as well as movie songs are played loudly for people to enjoy.
In recent times, because of proliferation of I.T. jobs, Bengali population in Bangalore has surged fast. Around 4 lakh Bengalis live in Bangalore. Durga puja in Bangalore is thus a grand affair. The festival is open to all, regardless of cast and creed. Celebrations include Pujas, worship, cultural programs and food fests.