October 09, 2014

Looking Back: Durga Puja 2014

Durga Puja is by far the biggest and the only festival we Bengalis truly look forward to. Just a quick introduction if you aren't familiar with it. Durga Puja (puja means "festival") is a Hindu festival celebrated (usually in September/October) for 5 days to worship goddess Durga, or Maa Durga as we call her. It's widely celebrated in Eastern India among Bengali Hindus (that's us).  

As the story goes, every year Maa Durga comes down to the mortal world (her home) with her 4 children and lives for a week. After that, she departs to heaven (her husband's home) again.

Okay, now a little mythology: Maa Durga is depicted as killing Mahishasura (the demon) disguised as a buffalo. For this reason, she's also known as Mahishasur Mardini (slayer of the evil demon). Maa Durga has 10 arms with a weapon in each. The most important being the trisula (three-pointed spear) with which she kills Mahishasur. So basically, Maa Durga stands for invincibility and shakti (power).

The rituals: The 5 days of Puja are known in Bengali as: Maha Shashthi (Day 6), Maha Saptami (Day 7), Maha Ashtami (Day 8), Maha Nabami (Day 9) and Maha Dashami (Day 10 or the last day). On Saptami, Maa Durga is given her godly vision (also known as Chokkhu daan) through ceremonial chants. On Ashtami, we offer anjali (flowers and prayers) to Maa Durga. Finally, on Dashami, we bid adieu to her. To mark her farewell, women smear sindoor (red powder) on each others face. We call it sindoor khela. We feed Maa Durga and her children with sweetmeats (literally: we stuff their face with sweets). Blessings and sweets are shared among everyone. Later, the idols are immersed in the water. We Bengalis love sweets. We (our state) are pretty much decribed by sweets. *sweet-tooth alert*  If you'd like to learn more about the rituals, you should read this post by Pooja.

The festival: Pandals (big structures) are built which houses the idols. The general thumb rule is: the more creative the pandal, the more crowd it'll attract. So for 5 days, everyone goes pandal-hopping (again, I mean it literally!). All the venues- big, small, medium - pandals are built. The preparation starts almost a month prior to the Puja. We all buy new clothes (including shoes, bags yada-yada) to be worn during those 5 days. We call it Puja shopping. It's all lights, colours, food, happiness and freedom. Since Durga Puja is a major festival for Bengalis, holidays are declared in schools, offices, institutions on those 5 days.

The pandals: Like I had mentioned, pandals play a huge role. They are basically the crowd-magnets. So the wackier and crazier the pandals, the more it is popular. We also have various awards which are given to the most creative pandals, artwork, lighting, idols etc. All the more reason to think out-of-the-box. This one time (probably in 2007), Salt Lake FD Block recreated Hogwarts as its theme. Literally, Hogwarts! It created quite a bit of stir with J.K. Rowling being totally pissed off and Warner Bros and Penguin India filing a case against the FD Block Puja demanding £25,000 for breach of copyright. Okay. *pokerface* 

So as you can see, it's really quite amazing. It's so sad when the Puja ends. Like why? *insert heartbreak emoji* A little side note: every alternate year my birthday falls during Durga Puja. #DoubleFun As of today, my birthday is only 3 days away (October 12). Woohoo! Sorry for all the excitement. October is a festival-cum-birthday heavy month for me. *wink*

Well, I hope you enjoyed these photos. All photos are taken by me (dated: October 2014). Till we meet again, "ashche bochor abar hobe" (It will happen again next year).


** This post is a part of Blog Everyday in October (#BLOGTOBER14) Challenge hosted by Helene in Between and The Daily Tay.

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