Durga Puja, celebrated with zest and aplomb in a major part of Eastern India comprising of West Bengal, North Eastern States, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and neighbouring Nepal falls in the month of September / October according to the Gregorian calendar or more specifically in the Hindu month of Ashwin. This is a 10 day festival starting from Mahalaya when the Devi Paksh begins and ends with the immersion of Maa Durga with her off-springs on the day of tenth day of Dashmi. With an emerging Bengali diaspora across the globe, it is not unusual to find this festival being celebrated with pomp and splendour in the far-off,remote areas of U.S, U.K , Australia, , Far east and wherever else they may be based.
Legend has it that Shri Ram, in the last phase of his battle with Ravana worshipped Maa Durga during this 10 day festival to seek her blessings to vanquish his enemy and his victory is celebrated with the burning of effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhkarn on the day of Vijayadashmi.
It also commemorates Maa Durga’s victory over the intimidating, shape-shifting, assumedly unbeatable demon king Mahishasur. Ordinary folks seeks the blessings of the Goddess before the onset of the harvest season for a rich cultivation as Mother is the source of sustenance for the entire creation.
Back in West Bengal however, the homely Maa Durga is welcomed to her paternal house with her off-springs Maa Laxmi, Maa Saraswati, Lord Ganesh and Lord Kartikeya for her annual vacation from her marital home, up in the Himalayas. For 10 days, they are pampered and cared for, just as a daughter would be in her father’s home and on the 10th day, bidden farewell with tears in eyes and red vermillion in the parting of her hair for a safe journey home. Such is the epic enormity of the festival back in Bengal that days and vacations are calculated in terms of their proximity to the next Durga Puja.
The festival is heralded with the Mahalaya or the Devi Bodhon in which songs are played and radios reverberate in every Bengal home paying obeisance to the Goddess. On the 6th day of Shasthi, the actual Puja starts with the unfurling of the idol and what continues is a spectacle to behold. For 5 days, people are lost in a reverie of joy, bonhomie and revelry with food, music, adda being as important a part of the Durga Puja itinerary as are the actual rituals. The Ashtami Anjali is mandatory and that too in the very finest Indian attire.
This festival also coincides with the Navratri celebration which marks9 day of fasting, fun and dancing to the beats of Garba in Gujarat and rest of the Central India. The Navratri comes to an end on Navmi with a ceremonial fire in which all negativity is consecrated and blessings are sought for an auspicious year ahead.
Durga Puja is as much a social occasion of consequence as a religious one wherever it may be observed and no sooner does Dashami approach that people start browsing through the calendars and Google for the next year’s dates to block their holidays, in anticipation of this yearly bonanza.