Durga Puja Festival
Durga Puja is the favorite festival of eastern India and especially of the people of West Bengal. This holiday honors the victory of the goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura which is celebrated through a series of rituals over 6 days.
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 6-day Hindu holiday that is widely celebrated in West Bengal. This festival celebrates the victory of Durga and honors the powerful female energy or shakti in the Universe.
During Durga Puja, huge celebrations and fanfare take place all over West Bengal and other eastern states. People of all ages will wear new clothes and visit the many different displays or pandals containing large idols of Durga, each designed and decorated according to various themes and cultures.
The festivities end with Vijaya Dashami or the ‘Tenth Day of Victory’ when the idols of the goddess are carried in huge processions to local rivers and submerged.
When is Durga Puja?
The festival is held in the month of Ashvina, the seventh month of the Hindu calendar, and usually falls between September and October. It is during this time of the year when the weather in India is the most beautiful making the festivities that much more enjoyable.
The celebrations begin on the same day as Navaratri, a nine-night festival that honors the Durga in all her nine manifestations. The celebration of Durga Puja takes place during the last five days of Navaratri. On the sixth day, the idols are carried to rivers and submerged.
Upcoming Pongal 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.
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.
Day 2 – Shasti
The second 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 3 – 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 4 – 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
Day 5 – 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 6 – Dashami
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.
Durga Puja in Guwahati, Assam
Thanjavur is a city filled with ancient temples, lush green fields, and mouth-watering food. During Pongal, the entire city becomes vibrant and the houses are decorated with kolams which are patterns drawn out with rice flour. Cows are also lined up by the owners to be worshipped at the Brihadeeshwara Temple.
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.
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.