Durga Puja is here again! And so is a lot of fun ^_^. Now, I don’t know how much exactly you know about Durga Puja, but I’m guessing that unless you are a Bengali or someone living in Chittaranjan Park since ages, you’ll not know as much as I’m going to lecture about now. Yes, this is going to get technical. You are forewarned.
The first actual signal that Puja is almost here is on Mahalaya. It is 7 days before the Puja starts. Everyone tunes their radio sets onto an AIR AM station which has been broadcasting this recording since a long time. Listening to the amazing voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra in the wee hours of the morning is an experience I can’t describe. On this day, the artisans paint on Ma Durga’s eyes. Then, the week progresses with you considerably happier as Puja keeps approaching. The story goes that Ma Durga comes from her home every year with her children, Ma Saraswati, Ma Lakshmi, Ganesh Ji & Kartik Ji. Ma Durga was actually formed to destroy the evil demon Mahishasura.
The first day of Puja is called Shashti ie the sixth day of Durga Navratra. On this day, the idols are unveiled & people flock to the pandals to see these amazing works of art. The idol consists of Ma Durga in the middle, standing on top of a majestic lion, driving a spear through the evil demon Mahishasura, who is shown with a bull’s head as it is said that he first tried to fight Ma Durga in his bull form. Sometimes, Mahishasura is shown with a smile on his face as he’s dying, as he will now attain salvation because of being killed by Ma Shakti herself. On Ma’s left are Ma Saraswati(Goddess of wisdom, learning, music, beauty) atop a swan & Ganesh Ji(the destroyer of hurdles) with his vahan, the rat. On Ma’s right are Ma Lakshmi(Goddess of wealth) with her vahan, the owl & Kartik Ji(also called Skandin, the handsome ten-headed God) with his vahan, the peacock. Another extremely important reason for reaching the pandals early on this day is to sample numerous home-cooked delicacies, which are brought in by the participants of the Ananda Mela. This is the official day of hogging for a lot of people(including me :P).
The second day of Puja is called Saptami, i.e. the seventh day of Durga Navratra. Devotees turn up in their new clothes to offer pushpanjali to the Goddess in the morning. After that, everyone starts on their idol-watching spree. It really is awe-inspiring to see the sheer genius needed to make each one of those towering idols, paint them & dress them in beautiful traditional shola work or in the more modern other fineries. This is the day when you actually feel like Puja has started with full steam.
The third day of Puja is Ashtami & it is the most important day of the whole Puja. Thousands of people bring in offerings in baskets to be given to the Goddess. The roads are without fail blocked very badly & basically this is the day you would want to just relax with a few relatives in some (comparatively) empty pandal or even someone’s house. The actual madness of the numbers of the crowd can be experienced at Chittaranjan Park. The line of people waiting to enter a pandal is huge, snaking its way to almost the next pandal(well, that isn’t difficult in C.R. Park seeing that there is a Puja in almost every open field or park). There is also the very important Sandhi Puja on this day, which is conducted at the end of the tithi of Ashtami & starting of the tithi of Navami. It is concluded by a beautiful arati done elaborately. Cars are not allowed inside the colony today. You have to just grit your teeth & start out on a brisk walk, if you at all show the craziness to go pandal-hopping this day.
The fourth day of Puja is Navami. You start feeling depressed from this day as you know that the next day is going to be the last day of the Puja. But that also makes you doubly eager to run around & do everything that should be done during Durga Puja. Like taking part in or just watching a Dhunuchi Naach(a dance done with chalices filled with smoking embers made with coconut husk & camphor), eating fish roll(well, this one might be just on my list), seeing some function by one of the many artists who come from Mumbai & Kolkata to perform here & a lot of things which are ingrained in your system by being a part of this fabulous festival ever since you were born.
the last day of Puja is called Dashami by Bengalis. Others know it more commonly as Dussehra. In the morning, married ladies go to the pandals wearing traditional red-bordered white sarees with plates of sandesh, sindoor & betel leaves with areca nuts. These are used in the ceremony of Boron(pronounced Bau-ron). Once this is over, the unmarried girls & men can go up to the idol & touch Ma Durga, Ma Saraswati, Ma Lakshmi, Ganesh Ji & Kartik Ji’s feet to take their blessings.
Then come sthe sentimental moment when the idols are loaded onto trucks to be taken away for bhashaan(immersion in the holy rivers). I sometimes let the building tears well over as I realise that I’ll have to wait another year to experience Durga Puja again. A whole year! *sniff*
In the evening everyone comes back one last time to the pandals to take the shanti jal(taken from the river where the idol was immersed). After this is done, everyone greets one another by saying Shubho Bijoya, & people touch their elders’ feet.
Another Puja is over & the unending wait for next year starts…