Durga Puja is the biggest festival in West Bengal, invoking Goddess Durga for knowledge, wealth, health and prosperity. This is also known as Dussehra and Navaratri in other parts of India.
Durga is the Goddess of divine power against all evils. The story goes that Mahishasura, the Buffalo Demon, through years of prayers & austerities, received a boon from God Brahma, that no power in the world can kill him making him invincible.
After gaining this power, he started ravaging the whole world and killing people. And finally he uprooted the Gods too from the heaven.
The Gods, in dismay, combined their powers to create a beautiful maiden ( Durga ), riding a lion and each placed his or her most potent weapon in one of her many hands.
Her return each year in the Bengali month of Aswin (September-October) commemorates Rama’s invocation of the goddess Durga before he went into battle with Ravana.
The traditional image of the Bengali Durga follows the iconographic injunctions of the Shastras. The tableau of Durga with her four children – Karthikeya, Ganesha, Saraswati and Lakshmi, representing respectively the Protector, the Initiator of the Puja, the bestower of knowledge and the bestower of wealth, signifies the complete manifestation of the goddess.
The festival starts with Mahalaya, the first phase of the waxing moon in the Hindu month of Aswin ( Sept – Oct ).
The festive mood builds up as Dhakis (drummers) from the countryside starts gathering near the city. They beat feathered drums to attract the attention of local Puja organizers.
The construction of images start months before the Puja. Kumartuli, a place in West Bengal, is famous as a place for expert artisans who use clay modeling to build the images of Durga, Mahisasur, Kartick, Ganesh, Saraswati and Lakshmi.
This is a wonderful form of art and part of a deep rooted culture. Another group of experts build a pandal ( a huge covered stage ) with paper, wood, bamboos, clothes and other materials.
They come up with beautiful structures , most of the times they are so beautiful and real that, it tough to believe that these are made for only couple of days or a week. Some constructions are built as replica of world famous structures.
The inauguration starts on Mahashasthi. The main puja is for three days – Mahasaptami, Mahaastami, Mahanavami. The puja rituals are long and very detailed and complicated.
The streets are lighted and the electricians display all different kind of light shows.
On Vijaya Dashami, the last day of Puja ,a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess Durga. Most of the community Pujas postpone the farewell as long as possible and arrange a grand send-off.
The images are carried in processions around the locality and finally is immersed in a nearby river or lake. Vijaya Dashami is an event celebrated all over the country.
The Durga Puja, the greatest festival of Bengalees has been preserved honourably over the centuries. Some images of this grand festival are being posted here.