India is a land of festivals. Being a secular country, there’s no dearth of things to celebrate in this land of wonders. From Christmas to Eid ul Zuha, Independence Day to the Cricket World Cup, there’s hardly anything that Indians don’t like celebrating. Simply point us towards an event and that we are all for it. But hidden amongst this long list of celebrations may be a gem within the sort of Durga Puja, something celebrated in its full glory within the Bengali community.
So, What Exactly is the Durga Puja?
Well, for the sake of clarity, Durga Puja refers to a spiritual festival. However, for Bengalis, Durga Puja is a smaller amount of a ‘Puja’ and more of the embodiment of the spirit of festiveness. What exactly does that mean? Well, allow us to return a couple of millenniums to answer that question.
The tradition of invoking the goddess Durga (or the mother, referred to as ‘Maa’) is first considered to possess been done by Lord Ram before he went forth to battle Ravana, as documented within the epic Ramayana. However, the tradition lay dormant till about the late 1500s, when the landlords in Bengal took it up. It had been finally given its final form within the 18th century as Baroyaari (or 12 friends’) puja, a term which finally came to ask community sponsored Durga Pujas held in Kolkata.
Essentially, all parts of India celebrate this era, within the sort of Navratri. It constitutes of 9 days’ worth of fasting, which ends with Dussehra, the day where an effigy of Ravana is burned as how to point out that evils are always championed by good as Lord Ram had championed above Ravana.
Durga Puja In Bengal
In Bengal, however, the meaning of those 10 days is quite different. My earliest memories of Durga Puja are that of awakening within the middle of the night to concentrate on Mahalaya on the radio. It’s a program that has been airing on the primary day of the Bengali month Ashwin for quite 7 decades and 4 generations of Bengalis, forcing them to awaken at 4 am, something I still do religiously per annum thereon particular day. Although the magic of the scent, the half awoke self and knowing Ma is coming has somewhat diminished with the years, the thought of something so collectively powerful that it makes an entire community anticipate thereto still holds an excellent deal of charm nonetheless.
We treat Maa Durga as something quite just the goddess. While it’s true that she embodies the raw power (or Shakti) that overcame evil by slaying the evil demon Mahisasur (hence the term Mahisasur-Mardini), she is far more than simply that. The ten days that start with Mahalaya signify her annual visit to her paternal range in Bengal with 4 of her children. Intrinsically Ma is, at an equivalent time, a mother, a wife, a goddess, and most significantly, a member of our family. We pamper her, we respect her, we love her and we adore her. She is quite just a divinity.
To us Bengalis, she embodies our truest nature. Regardless of where a Bengali could be, in times of Durga Puja, they feel a connection to their family. This is what it means to celebrate Pujo (a colloquial term for Durga Puja).
Frankly, it can’t be compared to anything within the world. But, remember the togetherness one gets when visiting the family, or the heat during Christmas, or the sensation you get once you visit your family after a year away? that’s what Pujo means to a Bengali. It’s quite celebrating a spiritual festival. The thought of Pujo is bringing everyone together. And what better way can there be than a mother facilitating all that? We eat, we cry, we talk, be happy and celebrate something that’s practically unprecedented anywhere else within the world. It doesn’t matter what your religion is. Whether a Muslim, a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain or anything in between (including atheists), if you’re a Bengali at the bottom, Durga Puja is for you. From visiting the tens of thousands of makeshift podiums (or pandals) for hoisting Maa Durga to having a cup of tea within the middle of the night (under a tree within the local shop because it seems to inevitably rain during Puja nights lately, especially if you’re out at 2 am) to dancing during the idol immersion ceremony (called Bhashan), Durga Puja are some things that you simply need to experience a minimum of once in your life.
Oh, and did I mention scrumptious luchi and khichudi as lunch during Ashtami and therefore the gorgeous ladies who grace the pandals? Pujo is worthwhile, believe me!
And It All Ends
And once Pujo is completed, while we are all sad, we pray for Ma to return safely to her heavenly abode atop the Himalayas. Thus begins the await subsequent Puja. Another year to spend before our dear mother comes back. Because Pujo never ends, it simply gets shifted by another year. After all, Ma is just like the mother who wants you to be happy even when she is gone. Come, be a neighborhood of this excellent festival of togetherness.