Durga Puja 2020 - An Intricate Guide to the Biggest Celebration of Bengal

There are only a few things which a Bengali waits for - a nail-biting football match between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal FC, Poila Boishakh, the diverse range of mouth-watering Bengali cuisine, and the glorious and splendid Durga Puja. With the resounding echoes of the melodious 'Bajlo Tomar Alor Benu', Bengal welcomes the Goddess with the biggest smiles. Being the most awaited festival of the year, Durga Puja is nothing short of a carnival, with breathtakingly beautiful pandals peppered across cities, the reverberating sound of the dhaak, clusters of brilliant white kaash phool, people adorned in vibrant attire, and a whole gastronomic celebration!

Durga Puja 2020 Date

This year, Durga Puja shall be celebrated in the month of Karthik of the Bengali calendar, thus coinciding with the month of October in the Gregorian calendar. 
22 October 2020 - 26 October 2020

Where is Durga Puja Celebrated?

Durga Puja Aarti
Source
Durga Puja is celebrated with an unmatched enthusiasm in West Bengal. Other states of the Indian subcontinent which welcome Durga Puja with pomp and pomposity are Assam, Odisha, Bihar, and Tripura. The Indian diaspora of other countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Germany, Hong Kong, the United States of America, as well as Switzerland, Sweden, and the Netherlands also come together to unite in their respective foreign lands and celebrate Durga Puja.

The Origin of Durga Puja

 

Durga Puja - Mahishasura
Source

As the legend of the Hindu Mythology goes, the warrior goddess Durga was brought into existence by the collective effort of all the gods in heaven. When one of the asuras - the evil beings who reside in 'pataal', or below the earth - was granted a boon which stated that he cannot be killed by any man, he began to try and take over the abode of the Gods. This made the divine beings anxious, who inevitably failed in defeating the cunning asura. As a solution to this worrisome issue, all the gods came together and projected their energies and powers to create an invincible woman, named Durga, or the impenetrable.

When Mahishasura first laid eyes on the goddess, he was captivated by her fierce beauty and wished to marry her. The goddess, however, was ready to marry only the one who could defeat her in battle. Since Mahishasura was not careful enough to choose his boon wisely, he forgot to ask for immunity from women. Following a five day battle between Durga and Mahishasura, the former emerged victorious, thereby returning peace back to the gods and their homes.

Durga Puja Rituals and Traditions

Durga Puja is a ten-day festival, even though it is the latter five days that are recognized and celebrated. The steady hum of the chants coupled with the scent of incense and the echoes of the conch announces the arrival of the festival. The pandals are beautifully decorated, often in keeping with a certain theme. The streets are crowded with people who are out to see these pandals and the ethereal idols that reside within.

Shubho Mahalaya - 17 September 2020

Durga Puja Idol in the Making
Source

The day prior to the first day of Durga Puja is celebrated as Mahalaya, wherein people come together to listen to the renowned Mohishasur Mordini on the radio, and kids burst firecrackers at the break of dawn. On this day, the goddess is believed to descend from the heavens. It is also the day when a significant ritual, known as Chokkhudaan, takes place, in which an artisan paints the eyes of the deity and brings it to its completion as the sun's rays first light up the surface of the earth. Tarpan is a common practice on Mahalaya, in which people offer various food items and water to their departed ancestors. The following day marks the beginning of the Devi Paksha.

This year, Mahalaya shall not fall seven days prior to Maha Shashti as it usually does, but thirty-five days before it! This rare event takes place when there is a 'Mal maash', or, a month which witnesses two new moons.

Maha Shashti - 22 October 2020

Durga Maa (Source)
Five days pass by in a blink as people look forward to Maha Shashti, the day when the festival officially begins. The pandals are ready to receive the enthusiastic crowds, a number of stalls selling thrifty trinkets and mouth-watering junk food are positioned around the area, loudspeakers are blaring with devotional numbers, and the incessant ringing of bells along with the thick smoke of dhunuchi is filling the quietude with a joyous aura. Most people begin pandal-hopping from this day, if not earlier. The powerful goddess is worshipped along with her four children, namely Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Karthika.

Maha Shaptami - 23 October 2020

Durga Puja Pandal Interiors (Source)

The seventh day of Durga Puja, popularly referred to as the Maha Shaptami, marks the day of Pran Pratishthaan, wherein the pandit is believed to bring the idols to life by reciting the mantras from the religious scriptures. A young banana plant, popularly known as the Kola Bou, is taken to a nearby river in a small procession, where it is bathed before being draped in a saree. This plant is considered to be the wife of Lord Ganesha and is believed to carry the goddess's strength as well as her positive energy. 

Maha Ashtami - 24 October 2020

Dhunuchi Nachh
Dhanuchi Naach (Source)

Maha Ashtami, or the eighth day of Durga Puja, is marked by the ritualistic 'pushpanjali', in which people fast in the mornings and only taste food once they have recited the chants of the holy scripture along with the pandit. Even though the 'pushpanjali' takes place every day of the festival, this is the day when everyone takes part in it. Maha Ashtami is also significant since, on this day, the virgin form of the goddess Durga is worshipped. This ritual, commonly referred to as the Kumari Puja, involves the worshipping of little girls who are believed to be the embodiment of the goddess herself. Once the Kumari Puja is over, the divine goddess is said to come and reside in the girl.

The evenings of Maha Ashtami are characterized by the traditional dhunuchi naach, where people dance with an earthen vessel filled with burning camphor and husks of coconut. Accompanied by the rhythmic melody of the dhaak, this tradition is a captivating event altogether. Moreover, this evening is also devoted to Sandhi Puja, wherein the goddess is offered a hundred and eight lotuses, and a hundred and eight lamps are lit.

Maha Navami - 25 October 2020

Durga Puja Pandal Decoration (Source)
The ninth day of Durga Puja also referred to as the Maha Navami, is more or less like the other days, with an additional Maha Aarti, or a great ritual of fire, which signifies the end of the prayers and the ritualistic processes. This day coincides with Navaratri, another important festival in the Hindu community.

Bijaya Dashami - 26 October 2020

Sindoor Khela
Married Ladies smearing themselves with Sindoor (Source)
The final day of Durga Puja, Bijaya Dashami, coincides with Dussehra, and is marked by a number of traditional practices. As per the Hindu mythology, this was the day when Goddess Durga emerged victorious over the shape-shifting demon Mahishasura. On this day, women bring sweets to the pandals and offer them to the idols after touching their feet. They also smear the idols as well as themselves with sindoor, or vermillion powder, which is extremely sacred in the Hindu religion. This powder is believed to bring the power of fertility, along with good luck with regards to one's marital life.

Durga Puja Visarjan

Bisharjan
Source
The idols are then taken to a nearby water body in a ceremonious procession, complete with drums and trumpets, where they are immersed, and this final act marks the end of the festival, leaving people with a familiar nostalgia, and another year to wait for.
Durga Puja is a time of celebration and cheer. For Bengalis, the phrase 'Maa aschen', which translates to 'the Goddess is arriving', means everything! With streets decked in bright-coloured lights and people decked in bright-coloured clothes, the festival brings people together. It is a time to care and share, form new bonds while reviving the old ones, eat without regrets, and shop till you drop. It is indeed the festival of all festivals.

'Asche bochhor abar hobe!' 

This post was published by Soumita Ghosh

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