Durga Puja also known as Durgotsava or Sharodotsav, is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess Durga, and is also celebrated because of Durga’s victory over Mahishasura.

Durga Puja also known as Durgotsava or Sharodotsav, is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess Durga, and is also celebrated because of Durga’s victory over Mahishasura. It is celebrated all over the world by the Hindu community, but it is particularly popular and traditionally celebrated in the Indian state of West Bengal, and other states like Bihar, Assam, Tripura, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh (eastern parts) and some other countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The festival is observed in the Indian calendar in the month of Ashvin, which corresponds to September–October in the Gregorian calendar. Durga Puja is a ten-day festival, of which the last five are of the most significance. The puja is performed in homes and public, the latter featuring a temporary stage and structural decorations (known as pandals). The festival is also marked by scripture recitations, performance arts, revelry, gift-giving, family visits, feasting, and public processions called a melā. Durga Puja is an important festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. Durga Puja in Kolkata has been inscribed on the intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO in December 2021.

As per Hindu scriptures, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting asura, Mahishasura. Thus, the festival epitomizes the victory of good over evil, though it is also in part a harvest festival celebrating the goddess as the motherly power behind all of life and creation. Durga Puja coincides with Navaratri and Dussehra celebrations observed by other traditions of Hinduism.

The primary goddess revered during Durga Puja is Durga, but celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity), Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (the god of good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war). In Bengali traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga’s children, and Durga Puja is believed to commemorate Durga’s visit to her natal home with her beloved children. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga’s journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shasthi), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya Dashami), when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash. Regional and community variations in celebration of the festival and rituals observed exist.

Durga Puja is an old tradition of Hinduism, though its exact origins are unclear. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th—century provide guidelines for Durga Puja, while historical records suggest that royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga Puja festivities since at least the 16th-century.
[self-published source? The prominence of Durga Puja increased during the British Raj in the provinces of Bengal, Odisha and Assam. However, in modern times, the importance of Durga Puja is more as a social and cultural festival than a religious one, wherever it is observed.

Over the years, Durga Puja has morphed into an inseparable part of Indian culture with a diverse group of people celebrating this festival in their unique way while on tradition.

Names:-
In West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Jharkhand and Tripura, Durga Puja is also called Akalbodhan (literally, “untimely awakening of Durga”), Sharadiya pujo (“autumnal worship”), Sharodotsab (“festival of autumn”), Maha pujo (“grand puja”), Maayer pujo (“worship of the Mother”), Durga pujo or merely Puja or Pujo. In Bangladesh, Durga Puja has historically been celebrated as Bhagabati puja. Maa Durga is known as the Goddess of Power (feminine) which represents triumph of Goodness over evil.

Durga Puja is also referred to by the names of related Shakta Hindu festivals such as Navaratri, celebrated on the same days elsewhere in India; such as in Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, and Maharashtra, Kullu dussehra, celebrated in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh; Mysore dussehra celebrated in Mysore, Karnataka;Bommai golu, celebrated in Tamil Nadu; Bommala koluvu, celebrated in Andhra Pradesh; and Bathukamma, celebrated in Telangana.

History and origins:-
Goddess Durga is an ancient deity of Hinduism according to available archeological and textual evidence. However, the origins of Durga Puja are unclear and undocumented. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th-century provide guidelines for Durga Puja, while historical records suggest the royalty and wealthy families to be sponsoring major Durga Puja public festivities, since at least the 16th-century. The 11th or 12th-century Jain text Yasatilaka by Somadeva mentions an annual festival dedicated to a warrior goddess, celebrated by the king and his armed forces, and the description mirrors attributes of Durga Puja.

The name Durga, and related terms, appear in Vedic literature, such as in the Rigveda hymns 4.28, 5.34, 8.27, 8.47, 8.93 and 10.127, and in sections 10.1 and 12.4 of the Atharvaveda, A deity named Durgi appears in section 10.1.7 of the Taittiriya Aranyaka. While the Vedic literature uses the word Durga, the description therein lacks legendary details about her or about Durga Puja that is found in later Hindu literature.

A key text associated with Durga Puja is Devi Mahatmya, which is recited during the festival. Durga was likely well established by the time this Hindu text was composed, which scholars variously estimate Durgato date between 400 and 600 CE. The Devi Mahatmya scripture describes the nature of evil forces symbolised by Mahishasura as shape-shifting, deceptive, and adapting in nature, in form and in strategy to create difficulties and thus achieve their evil ends. Durga calmly understands and counters the evil in order to achieve her solemn goals. Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity in the Indian texts. Both Yudhisthira and Arjuna characters of the Mahabharata invoke hymns to Durga. She appears in Harivamsa in the form of Vishnu’s eulogy and in Pradyumna’s prayer. The prominent mention of Durga in such epics may have led to her worship.

The Indian texts with mentions of Durga Puja are inconsistent. A legend found in some versions of the Puranas mentions it to be a spring festival, while the Devi-Bhagavata Purana and two other Shakta Puranas mentions it to be an autumn festival. The Ramayana manuscripts are also inconsistent. Versions of Ramayana found in the north, west, and south of the Indian subcontinent describe Rama to be remembering Surya (the Hindu sun god) before his battle against Ravana, but the Bengali manuscripts of Ramayana, such as the 15th-century manuscript by Krttivasa, mention Rama to be worshipping Durga. As per the legend, Lord Rama worshipped Durga in the autumn to have her blessings before defeating Ravana. While he was preparing for the worship of the goddess, the goddess Durga hid one of the 108 flowers of lotus, very essential for her worship. Having found only 107 of 108 lotuses at the time of the worship, Lord Rama decided to offer one of his eyes in place of that lost flower. When he was about to offer his eye, Goddess Durga appeared and told him that she had only hidden the flower in order to testify his devotion and she was satisfied with it. She blessed Lord Rama and Lord Rama continued with her worship, which is better known by Akaal Bodhan in the context. According to some scholars, the worship of the fierce warrior goddess Durga, and her darker and more violent manifestation Kali, became popular in the Bengal region during and after the medieval era, marked by Muslim invasions and conquests.

The significance of Durga and other goddesses in Hindu culture is stated to have increased after Islamicate armies conquered regions of the Indian subcontinent. According to yet other scholars, the marginalization of Bengali Hindus during the medieval era led to a reassertion of Hindu identity and an emphasis on Durga Puja as a social festival, publicly celebrating the warrior goddess. From the medieval era up to present-day, Durga Puja has been celebrated as a socio-cultural event, while maintaining the roots of religious worship.

Rituals and practices:-
Durga Puja is a ten-day event, of which the last five days involve certain rituals and practices. The festival begins with Mahalaya, a day on which Hindus perform tarpaṇa by offering water and food to their dead ancestors. The day also marks the advent of Durga from her mythological marital home in Kailash. The next significant day of the festival is the sixth day (Sashthi), on which devotees welcomes the goddess and festive celebrations are inaugurated. On the seventh day (Saptami), eighth (Ashtami) and ninth (Navami) days, the goddess along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya are revered and these days mark the main days of worship with recitation of scriptures, puja, legends of Durga in Devi Mahatmya, social visits to elaborately decorated and illuminated pandals (temporary structures meant for hosting the puja), among others.

Durga Puja is, in part, a post-monsoon harvest festival observed on the same days in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism as those in its other traditions. The practice of including a bundle of nine different plants, called navapatrika, as a symbolism of Durga, is a testament practice to its agricultural importance. The typically selected plants include not only representative important crops, but also non-crops. This probably signifies the Hindu belief that the goddess is “not merely the power inherent in the growth of crops but the power inherent in all vegetation”. The festival is a social and public event in the eastern and northeastern states of India, where it dominates religious and socio-cultural life, with temporary pandals built at community squares, roadside shrines, and temples. The festival is also observed by some Shakta Hindus as a private home-based festival.The festival starts at twilight with prayers to Saraswati. She is believed to be another aspect of goddess Durga, and who is the external and internal activity of all existence, in everything and everywhere. This is typically also the day on which the eyes of the deities on the representative clay sculpture-idols are painted, bringing them to a lifelike appearance. The day also marks prayers to Ganesha and visit to pandals temples. Day two to five mark the remembrance of the goddess and her manifestations, such as Kumari (goddess of fertility), Mai (mother), Ajima (grandmother), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and in some regions as the Saptamatrikas (seven mothers) or Navadurga (nine aspects of Durga). On the sixth day major festivities and social celebrations start. The first nine days overlap with Navaratri festivities in other traditions of Hinduism. The puja rituals involve mantras (words manifesting spiritual transformation), shlokas (holy verses), chants and arati, and offerings. These also include Vedic chants and recitations of the Devi Mahatmya text in Sanskrit. The shlokas and mantras praise the divinity of the goddess; according to the shlokas Durga is omnipresent as the embodiment of power, nourishment, memory, forbearance, faith, forgiveness, intellect, wealth, emotions, desires, beauty, satisfaction, righteousness, fulfillment and peace. The specific practices vary by region.

The rituals before the puja begins include the following:-
Paata Puja: The process of making an idol usually begins with ‘Paata Puja’, on the day of the Rath Yatra that usually takes place around July. ‘Paata’ is the wooden frame that forms the base for the idols.
Bodhana: Involves rites to awaken and welcome the goddess to be a guest, typically done on the sixth day of the festival. The amorphous sight of the goddess is consecrated into a ghata or noggin while the visible sight is consecrated into the murti or idol. These rituals are known as ghatasthapana and pranapratistha respectively.
Adhivasa: Anointing ritual wherein symbolic offerings are made to Durga, with each item representing a remembrance of subtle forms of her. Typically completed on the sixth day as well.
Navapatrika snan: Bathing of the navapatrika with holy water done on the seventh day of the festival.
Sandhi puja and Ashtami pushpanjali: The eighth day begins with elaborate pushpanjali rituals. The cusp of the ending of the eighth day and beginning of the ninth day is considered to be the moment when per scriptures Durga engaged in a fierce battle against Mahishasura and was attacked by the demons Chanda and Munda. Goddess Chamunda emerged from the third eye of Durga and killed Chanda and Munda at the cusp of Ashtami and Navami, the eighth and ninth days respectively. This moment is marked by the sandhi puja, involving the offering of 108 lotuses and lighting if 108 lamps. It is a forty-eight minutes long ritual commemorating the climax of battle. The rituals are performed in the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami. In some regions, devotees sacrifice an animal such as a buffalo or goat, but in many regions, there isn’t an actual animal sacrifice and a symbolic sacrifice substitutes it. The surrogate effigy is smeared in red vermilion to symbolize the blood spilled. The goddess is then offered food (bhog). Some places also engage in devotional service.

Homa and bhog: The ninth day of festival is marked with the homa (fire oblation) rituals and bhog. Some places also perform kumari puja on this day.
Sindoor khela and immersion: The tenth and last day, called Vijaya dashami is marked by sindoor khela, where women smear sindoor or vermillion on the sculpture-idols and also smear each other with it. This ritual signifies the wishing of a blissful marital life for married women. Historically the ritual has been restricted to married women. The tenth day is the day when Durga emerged victorious against Mahishasura and it ends with a procession where the clay sculpture-idols are ceremoniously taken to a river or coast for immersion rites. Following the immersion, Durga is believed to return to her mythological marital home of Kailasha to Shiva and the cosmos in general. People distribute sweets and gifts, visit their friends and family members on the tenth day. Some communities such as those near Varanasi mark the day after Vijaya dashami, called Ekadashi, by visiting a Durga temple.
Dhunuchi naach and dhuno pora: Dhunuchi naach involves a dance ritual performed with dhunuchi (incense burner). Drummers called dhakis, carrying large leather-strung Dhaks, Dhols and other traditional drums depending on the region, to create music, to which people dance either during or not during aarati. Some places, especially home pujas, also observe dhuno pora, a ritual involving married women carrying dhunuchis burning with incense and dried coconuts, on a cloth on their head and hands.

Decorations, sculptures, and stages:-
The process of the creation of clay sculpture-idols (pratima or murti) for the puja, from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a ceremonial process. Though the festival is observed post-monsoon harvest, the artisans begin making the sculpture-idols months before, during summer. The process begins with prayers to Ganesha and to the perceived divinity in materials such as bamboo frames in which the sculpture-idols are cast.

Clay, or alluvial soil, collected from different regions form the base. This choice is a tradition wherein Durga, perceived as the creative energy and material, is believed to be present everywhere and in everything in the universe. In certain traditions in Kolkata, a custom is to include soil samples in the clay mixture for Durga from areas believed to be nishiddho pallis (forbidden territories; territories inhabited by the “social outcasts” such as brothels).

The clay base is combined with straw, kneaded, and then molded into a cast made from hay and bamboo. This is layered to a fine final shape, cleaned, painted, and polished. A layer of a fiber called jute, mixed in with clay, is also attached to the top to prevent the statue from cracking in the months ahead. The heads of the statues are more complex and are usually made separately. The limbs of the statues are mostly shaped from bundles of straws. Then, starting about August, the local artisans hand-paint the sculpture-idols which are later dressed in clothing, are decorated and bejewelled, and displayed at the puja altars.

The procedure for and proportions of the sculpture-idols are described in arts-related Sanskrit texts of Hinduism, such as the Vishvakarma Sashtra.

Significance:-
Beyond being an art festival and a socio-religious event, Durga Puja has also been a political event with regional and national political parties having sponsored Durga Puja celebrations. In 2019, West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee announced a grant of ₹25,000 to all community-organised Durga Pujas in the state.

In 2019, Kolkata’s Durga Puja was nominated by the Indian government for the 2020 UNESCO Representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Durga Puja also stands to be politically and economically significant. The committees organising Durga Puja in Kolkata have close links to politicians. Politicians patronize the festival by making donations or helping raise money for funding of community pujas, or by marking their presence at puja events and inaugurations. The grant of ₹25,000 to puja organizing committees in West Bengal by a debt-ridden state government was reported to cost a budget a ₹70 crores. The state government also announced an additional grant of ₹5,000 to puja organizing committees fully managed by women alone, while also announcing a twenty-five percent concession on total electricity bills for puja pandal. The government had made a grant of ₹10,000 each to more than 20,000 puja organizing committees in the state in 2018.

A 2013 report by ASSOCHAM states West Bengal’s Durga Puja to be a ₹25,000 crores worth economy, expected to grow at the compound annual growth rate of about 35 per-cent. Economic slowdowns in India, such as in 2019, have hence affected corporate sponsorships and puja budgets for public celebrations. In August 2019, the Income Tax Department of India had allegedly sent notices to various Durga Puja organizing committees in West Bengal, against which the ruling party of the state, All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) protested. The Central Board of Direct Taxes denied sending any such notices, to which AITMC politician Madan Mitra is reported to have said that the intention may have been to enquire if tax deducted at source had been deducted on payments to vendors for organizing community pujas.

Economic significance:-
Durga Puja directly affects the economy. In 2022, the economy of West Bengal was estimated to get a boost of 50,000 crore rupees. The annual GDP of West Bengal was expected to be expanded by 20-30 percent that year. The factors responsible for this economic boost are mainly the increase of earning in transport, tourism, industry, business, shopping and other fields. The Kolkata Metro Railway recorded an earning of ₹6 crore in just five days of Durga Puja in 2022.

The famous puja pandals get sponsorship from renowned companies and labels. Usually, the dress and jewelries of the idols, the stuffs used to make the pandals, decorations, lightings are sponsored.

Social significance:-
Durga Puja plays a great significance in the living of certain peoples. The kumors, those who make the idols with clay and also makes other clayey products, earns lakhs of rupees by selling a single set of Durga idol of average size. Hence, it makes their annual income because idols used in other festivals are a lot more cheaper. Other professions that receive the majority of their annual income are dhaaki (plays dhaak), priest and other small homecrafts. It is assumed that these profession based small classes would become smaller in population if Durga Puja was absent.

Media attention:-
A painting by Gaganendranath Tagore depicting Durga Puja immersion.
Durga Puja has been a theme in various artistic works such as movies, paintings, and literature. Shown here is Pratima Visarjan by Gaganendranath Tagore, depicting a Durga Puja immersion procession. This painting inspired the colour scheme of the Indian film, Kahaani.
The day of Mahalaya is marked by the Bengali community with Mahishasuramardini — a two-hours long All India Radio program — that has been popular in the Bengali community since the 1950s. While in earlier days it used to be recorded live, a pre-recorded version has come to be broadcast in recent decades. Bengalis traditionally wake up at four in the morning on Mahalaya to listen to the radio show, primarily involving recitations of chants and hymns from Devi Mahatmyam (or Chandi Path) by Birendra Krishna Bhadra and Pankaj Kumar Mullick. The show also features various devotional melodies.

Dramas enacting the legend of Durga slaying Mahishasura are telecasted on the television. Radio and television channels also air other festive shows, while Bengali and Odia magazines publish special editions for the puja known as Pujabarshiki (Annual Puja Edition) or Sharadiya Sankhya (Autumnal Volume). These contain works of writers, both established and upcoming, and are more voluminous than the regular issues. Some notable examples of such magazines in Bengali are Anandamela, Shuktara, Desh, Sananda, Nabakallol, and Bartaman.

 

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