This is this time of the year, when the Adi shakti , the feminine force of the entire universe unites to end the evil & signifies the triumph of the righteousness in every sphere of life. This is the time of the famous Hindu Festival known as Durga Puja which is celebrated with great pomp & joy mostly in the eastern part of India . States like Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Bihar celebrate this festival. It is celebrated in the Indian month of Ashwin that coincides with the September -October month of the Gregorian Calendar. Durga puja coincides with Navratri and Dusshera celebrations observed by other traditions of Hinduism, in which the Ram Lila dance-drama is enacted, celebrating the victory of Rama against Ravana, and effigies of Ravana are burnt. Like all the festivals it is an annual event as we in our culture consider time to be cyclic in nature . This is also called as Sharadiya Puja ( meaning the festival of the Autumn season). This is an auspicious time marked by reaffirmation of faith where we believe that goodness will win at the end, no matter what !
Mythological aspect of the festival.
The Durga Puja or the Dusshera is the festival that marks the victory of Maa Durga when she beheaded the evil demon named Mahisasur. As per mythology. Mahisasur had received a boon from Lord Brahma after years of penance ( tapasya) that he would not be killed by any God or a Man. Elated after receiving this boon, the demon king Mahisasur, along with his troop of Asuras started a war to conquer the Earth. He even defeated Lord Indra with hius might. After this humiliating defeat, the devas met the Tridev i,e Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu , Lord Shiv and sought help. The tridevas suggested that to nullify the boon, Mahisasur has to be killed only at the hands of a woman. The Tridevas put all their energies and Maa Durga took form which represented the Adi Shakti , the one who could kill the ferocious demon , because she was a feminine force. All the Devas contributed their weapons and hence it is believed that Goddess Durga is Dasabhuja ( one having ten hands and each equipped with a different kind of weapon) She mounts on a Lion and has Lord Ganesh, Lord Kartikeya, Godess Laksmi & Goddess Saraswati are beside her.
When Mahisasur heard of his opponent being a woman, he laughed at the very thought of fighting a woman . He ( like many) assumed that a woman is powerless and can never be considered as an opponent. His assumption was crumbled the moment the war started between him & Goddess Durga. Mahisasur, within a few moments realized that he was no match to the skill & power being exhibited by this divine lady in front of him. So, he started changing forms in order to confuse the Devi. But the Devi finally beheaded the demon king and freed the earth from all the miseries . The battle took many days and the Goddess killed many other demons including Chanda Munda where she is Known as Chamunda. Infact after the killing of the demon king Mahisasur, the Devi danced the victory dance i.e. Tandava just like Lord Shiva and went on a killing spree.
She turned black due to the emission of very high energy and came to be known as Goddess Kali ( represented as a female having dark skin, four hands and long open, flowing hair .The top left hand holds a kharga, or sword, while the bottom left hand holds the head of a demon she has slayed. The right hands show the Abhaya Mudra, signifying protection, and Varada Mudra for granting boons. She adorns herself with a garland of severed necks . )The entire Devlok combined together, could not stop her and requested her husband Lord Shiv to help in stopping his wife. As per their request, Lord Shiva laid himself at the feet of the Devi & she unknowingly stepped on his chest. Realising her mistake( as stepping on one’s husband is banned as per Hindu rituals), she immidiately stops and protrudes her long tongue in embarrasment. She completely freezes and this is the momment when the war that was on for such a long time, comes to an end. The Devi is worshippped as Goddess Kali in this avatar . This day coincides with Diwali. While the rest of India worships Goddess Lakshmi on Amavasya Tithi during Diwali, eastern India, including West Bengal, Odisha and Assam worship Goddess Kali on the new moon in the month of Kartik. Kali Puja is also called Shyama Puja and is the second most celebrated festival after Durga Puja in Eastern India.
Durga Puja in Odisha
Every year , the state of Odisha welcomes Goddess Durga with a lot of enthusiam & happiness. In Odisha the special feature of Durga Puja is that in the temples it is observed for over sixteen days known as Shodasa Upachara unlike in other parts of the country where it lasts for three to nine days at most.The autumnal or Sharadiya ceremony is known as various names in Orissa i.e. Dussehra,Durgapuja,Akal Badan,Shodasa Upachara,Durgastava,Sharadiya Utasava etc.The Durga Puja is celebrated in two different ways in Orissa. In Shakti peethas (temples of goddess) the Durga Puja is observed with proper rituals for 10 to 16 days known as Shodasa Upachara which starts seven days earlier to Mahalaya called as Mulastami & ends on Vijayadasami .Goddess Durga is also worshiped by devotees in different pandals in form deities across the state. A pandal is called as ‘Medha ‘ in Odiya and is very elaborate in decoration.
The present form of worship of Durga with earthen idol in Odisha was started during the reign of Ganga King Chodaganga Dev in the 11th century at Puri. The earthen idol of Mahishamardini Durga is known as Gosani and the Dussehra fesival is known as Gosani Yatra.
It is said that in the year 1512 to 1517 Chaitanya Deva had come to Cuttack,the capital of Gajapati empire of Orissa and the then emperor of Orissa Gajapati Pratap Rudra Dev received him at Gadagadia Ghata situated near the river bank of Mahanadi very close to the kings Palace popularly known as Barabati fort. In that year Sri Chatanya Deva started Durga puja at Binod Bihari temple presently known as Balu Bazar. Further it is also believed that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, whose birth placed is Cuttack had organized Durga puja with great Pump and show to organize youngsters in British India.
Cuttack which is known as the silver city of the state and was the capital city prior to Bhubaneswar being the capital city, is very famous for its intricate silver filigree work. This city is also famous for its elaborate decoration of various Pandals during Dusshera. The idols are adorned with silver & gold ornaments . The Medha or the decoration is made of intricate & very elaborate silver filigree work. The creativity of the artisans & the electrifying atmosphere during this phase is just something that one can experience and will carry a life time of memories. Made up of clay, the idol of the Goddess is lavishly decorated with beautiful and fragrant flowers and the atmosphere is divine & mesmerizing . There is feasting, family visits, merry making & every one wears new attire. There are functions called melody where various local singers set up stages across the city & sing songs to entertain the crowd and that goes on till very late in the night. One very distinguishing aspect of the Dussehra celebration in the state is the enthusiasm of both Hindu , Muslim & any other community member to make this grand event a success. There is a feeling of strong brotherhood and Odiyas being peace loving and quiet by nature , celebrate this function with great devotion. Apart from Cuttack the capital city of Bhubaneswar is famous for its very creative decorations of Pandals and there is generally a competitive feeling between different places to beat the other locality in their effort & do better. The other part of the state also equally participate in great vigor in the celebrations.
Durga Puja Rituals
The festival of Durga Puja starts with Mahalaya, the first phase of the waxing moon in Aswin. Thousands offer prayers to their ancestors at the city’s river banks or secred ponds, a ritual called Tarpana. The inauguration of the Goddess idol starts on Mahashasthi. The main puja is for three days – Mahasaptami, Mahaastami, Mahanavami. The puja rituals are long and very detailed and complicated. Three days of Mantras and Shlokas and Arati and offerings – needs an expert priest to do this kind of Puja. Because of these facts, the number of Pujas held in the family has reduced and Durga Puja has mostly emerged as a community festival.
Mahashashthi On this day Goddess Durga arrives to the mortal world from her heavenly abode, accompanied by her children. She is welcomed with much fanfare amidst the beats of traditional drums. Unveiling the face of the idol is the main ritual on this day. Bel Baran ,the ritual performed before the commencement of the puja precedes Chakhyu daan, Amantran and Adibas.
Mahasaptami Saptami is the first day of Durga puja. Kuli Bow or Nabapatrika is given a pre-dawn bath. This is an ancient ritual of worshiping nine types of plants. They are together worshiped as a symbol of the goddess. .
Mahaastami The day began with a recital of Sanskrit hymns in community puja pandals as thousands of devotees offered Anjali to the goddess. Kumari Puja or the worship of little girls as the mother goddess was a special part of the rituals observed in a number of traditional and household pujas. As the day wore on, it was time for the important Sandhi Puja, which marks the inter-linking of the Maha Ashtami and Maha Navami. In recent times Boiti-Kakharu (Pumkin) sacrifice replaced animal sacrifice in various parts of the state. The Oriya women of western Orissa and adjoining Chhattisgarh celebrate Bhaijiutia on the Mahastami Day of Durga Puja. It is a total fasting undertaken by women for the whole day and night to seek Goddess Durga’s blessing for the long life of their bhais (brothers).
Mahanavami This is the concluding day of Durga Puja. The main Navami puja begins after the end of Sandhi Puja. The Navami Bhog is offered to the goddess. This is later par taken as prasad by the devotees.
Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra After the three days of Puja, in Dashami, in the last day, after the last ritual Aparajita Puja offered to Goddess, a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess. Most of the community pujas postpone the farewell as long as possible and arrange a grand send-off. The images are carried in processions known as Bhasani Jatra or Bisarjan Jatra around the locality and finally is immersed in a nearby river or lake. Vijaya Dashami is an event celebrated all over the country. After the immersion of the idol people across the state celebrate “Ravan Podi”(burning the huge effigies of demon Ravana)
Durga Puja in the Pandemic:
Just like the last year, there has been total restriction on the celebration in the entire state. Currently there is night curfew and all the steps are being undertaken so that there is no fear of the third wave of the Corono Virus Pandemic. These protocols have undoutebtly hampered all the celebrations. Hence , mostly the elaborate worship is taking place in the Shakti Pithas that is in the temples. There has been a state guideline that none of the idols can be more than a mere four feet in the pandals , which normally is never the case. Hence the decorations of the pandals has taken a back seat, people are on the roads to witness the idol but under strict restrictions. Unlike adjoining states, this year too , Odisha has been very low key in its celebration owing to State level protocols. The atmosphere has an eerie silence where as in normal condition, it would be a different case where there would be a divine atmosphere with chanting of Sanskrit Slokas, sound of the drums, the sankh, the huluhuli ( mostly done by married women where they make a typical sound with their tongue). But then, nothing is above law.
Festivals are a part of life and as long as human race survives, we will continue to live through our festivals. It is not just about having faith in a Supreme power but also about celebrating life through such events and passing on our tradition & culture , generation after generation. Dussehra like every festival, is an occasion to pause, celebrate & reaffirm our faith in good ness. When the entire country worships the feminine power in various forms, there is still many atrocities against women, there is still the belief that a woman is a powerless soul and can be dominated over easily, a woman still has to beg for the respect she should easily get. However, I personally, just would like my readers to understand the inner meaning of these functions and try and bring positive changes in themselves and also help others expand their mind and try to rise above their shortcomings and never stop believing in the good Karma.