Hindus in eastern India and in pockets of Bangladesh irrupt in excitement and merriment during the autumnal Durga Puja festival. This is the largest festival in these parts, running to 4 days. People buy new clothes and shoes, eat, roam around, meet friends and relatives, visit innumerable Pandals (highly stylised, ornamented & illuminated temporary structures), where the Goddess Durga is worshipped in great grandeur. Theoretically, it is a religious festival, but socially it has become quite universal across all sects and sections of the society. It probably started long back, when only a single rice crop per year was harvested in autumn. The schedule varies year to year, falling between September and November, depending on solar and lunar calendars.
It depicts victory of goodness over evil. Goddess Durga represents the combined will power of all the gods, while Mahishasur (= Buffalo Demon) represents the evil. The Buffalo Demon uses powerful magic and changes appearance frequently from buffalo to elephant to wild boar to lion and back to human form. In some traditional images he is painted green Eventually, after a vicious war, the Goddess beheads the buffalo and spears the demon, now immerging in human form. The Goddess has ten arms to protect the universe from 10 directions.
One of the oldest references is in a large bus relief at Ankor Wat in Cambodia or at Kailash, Ellora Caves, India. Another is in carved stone at Halebidu, India. One of her newest incarnation in September 2006 will be in a London's British Museum, where her image is slowly being built in the traditional way by clay over a wooden frame packed in hay. The festival is also enjoyed with pomp and vigour in many major cities in Asia, Europe, North America, Australia and parts of Africa, wherever there live a large group of Bengali speaking people.
In years past, when journey around the country was difficult, the harvesting season was the time when a woman along with her children could depart from her in-laws house to make a once a year visit to her parents. The Goddess’ 2 daughters and 2 sons accompany her to her parent’s house on earth. After about 4 days she had to return. So, the arrival of Durga is still greeted with the eager welcome of an annual visit of a married daughter. She also depicts the traditional Indian housewife, controlling her household efficiently, as if with 10 arms. “Do I have 10 arms like the Goddess Durga?” is an irritated retort, if you ask someone to do too many chores simultaneously.
This year the festival has started on 29.9.06. So, if you are lucky to be near a festival ground, enjoy yourselves with vigour for 4 days. You can even join in a quintessentially unique Bengali "adda", a spirit & mind enhancing, but decidedly time consuming enjoyment.
Durga Puja at this time of the year is also called the "untimely invocation of the Goddess". The "timely" invovation is a minor festival and will come much later. Rama, the hero of the first Indian epic Ramayana is said to have started this "untimely invocation", just before going to war with the evil king Ravana, who abducted his wife. The best & oldest pictures and stone carvings of Ramayana are found not in India, but in Thailand (called Shyam those days) and Cambodia (Kamboj).
The image of the Goddess is built every year anew by clay. It is then gorgeously painted and clad in finery. Sometimes she is decked in real gold jewellery. Loud drum beats, ringing of bells and cries of “Come again! Come again!” accompany her departure. Everything good must come to an end. The festival is explosively joyous as it is so short lived. After the festival, the images of all are immersed in a nearby river to depict their return to their abode in heaven. Earthlings grieve and wait for the next year.
For pictures, visit DURGAPUJA or search for “Durga” in Flickr. To experience the fun, visit eastern India for these 4 days. If time and / or money is short, contact your nearest Bengali Association to find out your nearest Durga Puja. Chances are, thereafter you will start saving money and time to make a visit to one of the most reviled cities on earth – Calcutta, India, next year and next and next, like the Goddess herself.
Originally posted at 4:26AM, 20 September 2006 PDT
lokenrc edited this topic 44 months ago.