Durga Puja is the favorite festival of eastern India and especially of the people of West Bengal. This festival honors the victory of the goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura and is celebrated through a series of rituals such as scripture recitations, mantras, and chants along with parades, folk art performances, spending time with family, and large meals.
To celebrate, a puja or ritual is performed in many public spaces throughout West Bengal featuring temporary stages, known as pandals where idols of Durga are displayed. Travelers who visit at this time will see streets decorated with festival lights and cultural programs held out in the open. Many shops and restaurants stay open all night to accommodate hungry celebrators.
In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about Durga Puja, including its origins, the rituals involved, and where and how to celebrate.
- Durga Puja celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura.
- Durga Puja is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hindu calendar, which typically falls between September and October.
- This festival is widely celebrated in West Bengal and other eastern Indian states like Assam, Tripura, and Odisha.
- The first day of Durga Puja is Mahalaya which marks the arrival of the goddess Durga on earth.
- The last day of Durga Puja is Dashami which is said to be the day when Durga achieved her victory over Mahishasura and returned to her husband.
Durga Puja is a 10-day Hindu holiday that is widely celebrated in West Bengal and commemorates the victory of the Hindu goddess Durga over evil.
The festival also honors the powerful female energy behind all life in the universe known as shakti. Because of this, Durga Puja is a major festival of the Shaktism tradition which is a Hindu denomination focusing on the worship of Divine Mother.
Though Durga is the primary goddess worshipped during Durga Puja, other Hindu deities such as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty), Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and art), Ganesha (the god of removing obstacles), and Kartikeya (the god of war) are also worshipped in the celebrations.
Though Durga is the primary goddess worshipped during Durga Puja, other Hindu deities are also worshipped in the celebrations
When is Durga Puja?
Durga Puja Festival coincides with Navaratri and Dussehra which are observed in northern and western India and are 10 days of celebrations that honor many different Hindu gods and goddesses. The goddess Durga is also celebrated on Dussehra, the 10th day.
In West Bengal, Dussehra marks the last day of Durga Puja when the idols of the goddess are paraded through the streets and then taken to the rivers and submerged symbolizing the end of the festival.
The Indian holidays of Durga Puja and Navatri and Dussehra overlap but Durga Puja takes place during the last five days of the ten-days of celebrations and is only celebrated in West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam.
Upcoming Durga Puja dates:
- 2020: October 22nd to 26th
- 2021: October 11th to 15th
- 2022: October 1st to 5th
How is Durga Puja Celebrated?
Durga Puja is celebrated through many different events. If you visit India at this time, you will see people gathering together to talk and eat some delicious Bengali treats. You will also see statues of Durga that are contained in large buildings decorated in many different themes.
The Pandals or displays of the goddess Durga have always been the center attraction of this festival. Every year, based on chosen themes, many structures are designed and erected throughout the city to hold statues of Durga. Each neighborhood competes against another to make the best pandal.
The displays of the goddess Durga have always been the center attraction
Food is also a major feature of Durga Puja. From street food to special Bengali dishes and local cuisines, this festival is foodie heaven. Famous Bengali desserts like Misti Doi, Sondesh, and Rashgulla are some must-tries.
The festival is also often celebrated with large gatherings of family and friends. Bengalis will spend time with their loved ones engaging in long adda sessions which is a meeting full of discussions and intellectual exchanges. These sessions allow them to take a break from their hectic schedules and enjoy the company of their loved ones.
Day 1: Mahalaya
The celebrations of Durga Puja begin on Mahalaya. During this day, people prepare for the arrival of the goddess along with her family members including Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Saraswati, and Lord Kartikeya.
On Mahalaya, an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan is performed. This is when the eyes are painted on the statues of Durga. It is believed the goddess descends to earth during the ritual.
This is when the eyes are painted on the statues of Durga.
Day 2-5 : Days of honoring
People honor the memory of the Divine goddess and her manifestations by performing traditional rituals for gods such as Kumari (the goddess of fertility), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), Mai (mother), and Ajima (grandmother). Traditional mantras, chants, and offerings can be observed during these days.
Day 6: Shasti
The sixth day is when the celebrations really get started. On this day, Durga is worshipped and adorned with weapons that were gifted to her by different gods to kill for the purpose of killing Mahishasura
The idols of Durga are brought home or placed in magnificently decorated public pandals then decorated with flowers, clothes, jewelry, red vermillion, and various kinds of sweets.
Day 7: Saptami
On Saptami, a ritual called Pran Pratisthan is performed to invoke the Goddess' holy presence into the idols. It involves a small banana plant called a Kola Bou which is bathed in a nearby river, dressed in a sari, and used to transport the goddess's energy.
Day 8: Ashtami
Ashtami is considered to be the most important day of the festival. Pujas or prayers are offered on this day to prepare the goddess for her battle against Mahishasura.
The offerings on this day are as grand as the occasion itself. They include 108 lotus flowers, 108 earthen oil lamps, fruit, hibiscus flowers, saris, uncooked grains, jewelry, and a crown of 108 bel leaves
Oil lamps are lit during the day
Day 9 : Navami
Navami marks the final day of the long-drawn battle between Durga and Mahishasura. To celebrate this day, people offer prayers to the goddess and worship her as Mahishasuramardini or the slayer of the buffalo demon.
A ritual called Kumari Puja is performed, where little girls wear jewelry and make-up to resemble the goddess. They also receive offerings in the form of food, clothes, and other gifts.
Day 10 : Vijayadashami
On the last day of the festival, Durga gained victory over Mahishasura and restored balance on the. She returns to her husband and the statutes of Durga are carried to the Ganges to be submerged.
Married women get together to bid farewell to Durga by giving offerings of red vermillion powder and smearing themselves with it. This symbolizes the status of being married as well as fertility.
Where Should You Celebrate Durga Puja?
Durga Puja is celebrated in West Bengal, particularly in the city of Kolkata. However, other places also get involved in the celebrations.
Here are some of the best places to experience this festival:
Durga Puja in Kolkata, West Bengal
Durga Puja is the biggest and most important occasion of the year in Kolkata. You can find thousands of displays of the Goddess Durga in this city alone, the most popular ones being located in north and south Kolkata.
Huge processions carry colorful statues of Durga through the streets to the sound of the drums and chants. Elaborate rituals are performed for the goddess and holy food, or prasad, is distributed to the worshippers after being offered to Durga.
Huge processions carry colorful statues of Durga through the streets
Traditional dishes like khichuri ( rice with roasted lentils and vegetables), luchi (a deep fried flatbread made from maida flour), and ilish bhapa (fish steamed in a delicious mustard gravy) are served in most eateries.
Durga Puja is a great event for travelers to experience in Kolkata because if allows visitors to see a variety of art such as movies, paintings, and literature. One of the most popular ways to celebrate this festival as a traveler is to visit the ornately decorated pandals. Some of the famous Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata include:
- Ekdalia Evergreen pandal is known for replicating temples in its artwork and dates back to 1943. It is located in Gariaghat, in south Kolkata.
- The College Square pandal has an amazing lights during the festival and is located beside a lake in Central Kolkata.
- Santosh Mitra Square pandal displays intricate artwork around the goddess Durga in the Bow Bazar area.
- The Kumartuli Park pandal features religious themes every year and is one of the oldest in they city. It is located in north Kolkata, near Bagbazar.
Durga Puja in Guwahati, Assam
Guwahati is also another place where travelers can enjoy Durga Puja. The Bishnupur Puja committee organizes the largest Durga Puja festival in this region. The main highlight of the festival is a 100-foot tall Durga statue made entirely out of bamboo.
Durga Puja in Mumbai, Maharashtra
The celebration of Durga Puja in Mumbai was started by Bengalis who immigrated there in search of more opportunities. All the Bengalis who cannot experience the festivities in their hometown will hold a grand Durga Puja celebration at Shivaji Park.
How Can You Celebrate Durga Puja as a Traveler?
The highlight of Durga Puja is undoubtedly visiting the many different pandals of the goddess Durga which are all impressive and uniquely decorated. This activity is commonly referred to as a "pandal hopping". The best time to pandal hop is at night when they are lit up.
The next best thing to do is to eat. There is no better time to savor Kolkata's famous Bengali cuisine than during Durga Puja. During the festival, you can find food everywhere including along the streets, at the pandals, and in specialty Bengali restaurants.
The food served at the pandals is called bhog, which was an offering made to the goddess and then later distributed to the public in order to minimize waste. Bhog commonly consists of mixed vegetable curry, a sweet dish, a fried item, and chutney.
The next best thing to do is to eat
Bengali sweets such as Misti Doi, Sondesh, and Rashgulla are also widely consumed during the festival.
Tips for Experiencing Durga Puja
Pandal hopping is the best activity to do during Durga Puja. Although the most popular time is at night when they are lit up, we recommend you go Pandal hopping in the morning to avoid the crowds and heat.
Pandal hopping involves walking long stretches of road and spending lots of time standing in queues. Make sure to wear comfortable footwear if you want to participate.
Aside from comfortable footwear, you should also wear comfortable clothing. Breathable clothes with minimum accessories are the best choice.
Legends and Stories of Durga Puja
The story of Durga has always captivated the imaginations of everyone who has heard it. According to legend, Mahishasura was the king of the asuras (demons) and had the head of a buffalo. He was blessed with an ability that no man or God would be able to kill him.
Drunk with power, Mahishasura attacked earth, heaven, and hell. His wars affected everyone and even though the gods fought against the buffalo demon, they were unable to defeat him.
Angered by this, Lord Shiva, the god of destruction, opened his third eye and concentrated the energy coming out of it to form a woman. All the gods who were present there contributed their share of energy to create goddess Durga, an avatar of the ultimate Shakti (female energy).
Mahishasura and Durga fought for about fifteen days, during which he kept changing himself into different animals and assuming different forms. Finally, when he changed himself into a buffalo, Durga stabbed him in the chest with her trident and killed him.
History of Durga Puja
The first grand worship of goddess Durga is thought to have been in the late 1500s. Folklore says that the landlords of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Puja in Bengal. Another legend states that Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur Nadiya organized the first autumn Durga Puja in Bengal in 1606.
Experience Durga Puja with Asia Highlights
Durga Puja is one of the most revered festivals in East India and is something worth experiencing. However, planning the trip and making the arrangements can be very stressful and time-consuming. At Asia Highlights, our expert travel advisors can create the perfect trip that is made to fit what you want to experience and see.