Durga Puja – Of Power, Devotion and Celebrations

The atmosphere of this city has already taken up a festive spirit as Dhaka prepares to celebrate one of the country’s major holidays, Durga Puja. Bangladesh is a melting pot of numerous different cultures and religions. This is one of the most beautiful things about Bengali culture. No matter which background one is from, there is always a festivity or holiday to celebrate all year round.

Thus, as the season of fall comes around, so does Devi Durga’s time to come home, and for Hindus to celebrate Durga Puja. 

Each year the festivities seem to get bigger and brighter, as Hindus prepare to welcome Devi Durga to her home. The streets surrounding the temples and other places where Devi Durga will be worshipped are decorated with colourful lights and elaborate gates are constructed with bamboo and pandals. All these decorations put not only the Hindus, but people from all religious backgrounds, in a joyous and festive spirit. 

I grew up in a Muslim household, but each year I would look forward to Durga Puja. My grandmother’s house was beside one of the major temples in Dhaka, the Ramakrishna Mission Temple. My uncle, mama, would take my siblings and I to the temple to see Devi Durga’s statue, how she was worshipped, and the fairs surrounding the temple. As it was such an important temple in Dhaka, it was always packed with Devi Durga’s worshippers asking for blessings. 

We could only catch a small glimpse of the beauty of Devi Durga’s statue from afar, but that was more than enough to make me want to come back every year. The first time I was able to see Devi Durga’s statue up close, I was more than awe-struck. I could not take my eyes off of her, and even now, whenever I get the chance to see Devi Durga’s statue in front of me, I stare at her, dumbfounded, at the sheer beauty of her, and all the work that went into creating such a work of art. 

The imagery surrounding Devi Durga’s statue always made me curious about her story. Sharothi bhaiya was kind enough to enlighten me on her origin and how Hindus came to celebrate Durga Puja. It started with Mahishasura gaining immortality from the Devas and becoming indestructible. He could only be killed in the hands of a woman, thus the Devas combined their divine energies to manifest Devi Durga. 

Mahishasura and Devi Durga waged war against each other for ten days, during which Mahishasura would take different forms to escape Devi Durga’s attacks. But, ultimately, his powers were incomparable to that of Devi Durga’s, and she stabbed him with her trident while Mahishasura was in her buffalo form. This is the scene that is depicted in Devi Durga’s statues. 

Durga Puja

Devi Durga is also known to have ten arms to further establish how mighty and powerful she is. Each arm holds a weapon, each of which symbolizes an important part of Hinduism. The weapons Devi Durga holds in her hands are a conch, a discuss, a lotus, a sword, bow with arrow, trishul, mace, thunderbolt, a snake and flame.

This is only a short version of the story of Devi Durga, but I would encourage everyone to read or ask a friend about her full story. Each year, during Durga Puja, I can’t help but ask someone to give me a detailed retelling of Devi Durga’s story. 

Mahalaya marks the beginning of Durga Puja, which is held on Ashvina, the seventh month in the Hindu calendar. On this day Devi Durga begins her journey to her paternal house, where she ascends atop a lion, and along with her four children, Ganesh, Kartikey, Saraswati and Lakshmi. The celebrations of Durga Puja begin on Sashthi, the sixth day. 

It takes an abundance of skill and craftsmanship to construct Devi Durga’s statue, along with the statues of her children. The face and the eyes must give off the aura of her divine power, along with her stance and garments. Sculptors all over Bangladesh start construction on the statues weeks prior to Durga Puja. However, the eyes are painted on the day of Mahalaya during a ritual known as Chokkhu Daan. They are painted in such a way that one feels Devi Durga’s gaze no matter from which direction they look at her. 

I always feel small, yet inspired, at the sight of her powerful expression and stance. After the face is drawn, Devi Durga is then adorned with saree, jewelleries and garlands. When her statue is complete, she is brought to the temples and other places where Puja will take place, for Hindus to gather and begin their worship and celebrations. 

Shashthi is the sixth day of Durga Puja, where Devi Durga arrives at her paternal home.

On this day, Devi Durga’s statue is brought to her stage with a huge procession, accompanied with sounds of dhaks. The dhak is a drum-like instrument, the sounds of which awaken the festive spirits. The Hindus dress up in their new garments to welcome Devi Durga and proceed to her stage to receive her blessings. 

From the seventh day, Shaptami, Anjoli is performed. During this ritual, Devi Durga’s worshippers are given bel leaves and flower petals. Mantras are recited holding these, after which they are offered at the feet of Devi Durga. Hindus pray for the good of the Earth and use the leaves and petals to attain Devi Durga’s powers. They also take part in fasting to appease Devi Durga, where they do not consume meat and fish, and only eat fruits and vegetables. 

Dashami of Durga PujaThe tenth and last day of Durga Puja is the Dashami.

Sharothi bhaiya mentions how emotional this day is, as Devi Durga is said to leave her paternal home, and return once more to her husband, Shiva. Her statue is brought down from the stage so that Hindu women can come into contact with her and feel her energy. They also leave notes with prayers written on them in her hands, so Devi Durga can grant her devotees’ wishes. 

Afterwards, a procession is held, where Devi Durga is taken to the nearest river or water body to be immersed. This is called Durga Bisharjan, and it marks the end of Durga Puja. This is, of course, an extremely emotional sight as Hindus must say farewell to their Devi, after spending nine joyous days in her presence.

Durga Puja is one of the biggest festivities celebrated in Bangladesh. The fairs and nagordolas set up around the places of Puja, and watching the Puja itself is something Bengalis from all religions take part in each year. However, it is also important to be respectful of the Puja, as it is one of the most sacred times of the year for Hindus. Thus, I hope everyone has the most merry time and have their blessings fulfilled during Durga Puja.

By Tasnia Naureen

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