New Delhi: Durga Puja is synonymous with Bengal; It is this essence that sums up the age-old customs of the state. Every year Durga Puja is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Although theme worship is popular these days, traditional methods will never be replaced. Let’s take a look at all those age-old customs and traditions without which Durga Puja seems incomplete:
Mahalaya marks the beginning of Durga Puja celebrations. It is said that this is the day when Goddess Durga descended on the earth defeating the evil demon Mahishasura. The day marks the beginning of Devi Paksha and the end of Pitru Paksha, which is the season of sorrow. Goddess Durga is said to accompany her children – Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati – on a week-long journey on a vehicle of her choice, which could be a palanquin, a boat, an elephant or a horse.
Mahalaya is celebrated about seven days before Durga Puja. Every Bengali household wakes up early in the morning, even before the sun, to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s “Mahishasur Mardini,” a compilation of songs and chants. It is that time of the year when the well-known tune of ‘Mahishasur Mardini’ emanates from every Bengali household in India and probably around the world. It is also the day when the eyes of the goddess are fixed on the idols.
One of the important Durga Puja celebrations is Bodhan. This is an invocation of Goddess Durga. In the evening “Sashti”, the Bodhan, or deity, is invoked. As part of this ritual the face of the goddess is also revealed and she is awakened in bodhis. This ritual marks an invitation to the annual festival.
3. Nabapatrika Snan
On Saptami, the seventh day of Durga Puja, nine plants are religiously bathed in the Ganges river or any other lake. Nine leaflets are brought in a bundle for holy washing. Together, these nine leaflets represent the nine incarnations of Goddess Durga. After the holy bath, Navapatrika is dressed in a red sari and then vermilion is applied on its leaves. It is then set on a clean pedestal which is beautifully decorated. After that, the Naba Patrika is worshiped with sandal paste, flowers and incense sticks before being installed on the right side of Lord Ganesha.
4. Anjali on Ashtami
Maha Ashtami is said to be one of the most important days of this festival. During Durga Puja, wreaths are offered on all days. On the other hand, the day of Durga Ashtami is considered most auspicious and important for offering Anjali to Goddess Durga. Most Bengalis make sure that they offer Anjali at least on this day, if not every day. On puja days, many devotees observe a one-day fast and break it in the evening after offering wreaths to Maa Durga. The day’s fast is broken by offering bhog after the evening aarti and Pushpanjali.
5. Kumari Puja
Kumari Puja, also known as Kanya Puja or Kumarika Puja, is an important ceremony performed during Durga Puja. Kumari Puja is performed on Ashtami, in which young girls are worshipped, who symbolize the nine forms of Goddess Durga. The ideal girl for Kumari Puja should be healthy and free from any diseases and defects. A woman bows to a little girl who is worshiped as Goddess Durga and accepts her blessings. During Kumari Puja the little girl is made to sit on a special pedestal, and people wash her feet and recite mantras in honor of Goddess Durga.
6. Sandhi Puja
Sandhi Puja is a very essential function of Durga Puja which is conducted at very crucial times. It is performed at the exact point where Ashtami Tithi ends and Navami Tithi begins. Sandhikhan is the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami. Last prasad is given to Goddess Durga on the eve of Navami. As a result, the system of sandhi worship is usually elaborate. It is performed with 108 lotus and 108 kerosene lamps. A full fruit (ideally red), hibiscus flowers, a sari, uncooked rice grains, ornaments (if available), and bel leaves or a garland of 108 bel leaves are also needed.
7. Dance Dhunuchi
The sound of Dhak and the smell of incense sticks and fragrant smoke fill the air as one enters a Durga Puja pandal in the evening. While Durga Puja is incomplete without all these elements, one thing that undoubtedly captures the soul of the event is the legendary Dhunuchi dance. Dhunuchi dance is a devotional dance performed during the durga aarti in the evening, in which dancers dressed in colorful costumes hold earthen bowls filled with coconut husk, burning coal and incense sticks in the hands and mouth . The scene becomes mesmerizing as the dancers walk on the beats of the dhaak.
8. Sindur Khela
On the day of Vijayadashami, married Bengali Hindu women apply vermilion on the forehead and feet of the goddess and feed her with sweets. Then they applied vermilion on each other’s face and exchanged gifts. This rite symbolizes the power of a woman in protecting her husband and children from harm. Through the Sindoor Khela ritual, Bengali Hindu women pray for each other for a long and happy married life.
Durga Visarjan marks the end of the celebration of Durga Puja. The occasion marks the tradition of immersing the idol of Goddess Durga in water. According to legend, it is the day when Maa Durga returns to Mount Kailash. For the immersion of the idol, a large procession is organized in which the idol of the goddess is prepared and taken to a holy pond or river for immersion. Devotees join the Durga Puja immersion procession, sing traditional songs and dance to the beats of Dhak to bid farewell to the goddess.
After the departure of Goddess Durga, the auspicious “Bijoy” period begins. It lasts till Diwali and is a time to celebrate the victory of good over evil. After Visarjan (Idol immersion), people begin to offer hugs and sweets to celebrate Bijoy, which in Sanskrit means “victory”. After the immersion, Neelkanth (Indian roller) birds are released in some areas as a symbol of peace descending on the earth.
Traditionally, Bengalis use this occasion to meet their friends and family members at their homes and exchange the joys of “Shubho Bijoya”, while the younger generation touches the feet of elders to seek blessings.