Durga Puja is one of the most renowned religious celebrations of the Bengalis and they consider it as their most important religious tradition. Although the ten day festival is a religious event, it doesn’t stop the people of West Bengal from having as much merriment as possible. Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, is the center of the festivities and its streets are lined with pavilions known locally as Poojapandals. The final four days of Durga Puja is marked by Bengali religious rituals. Read on to learn more of these remarkable rituals.
Rituals and Customs Of Durga Puja
Hindu traditions state that the Goddess Durga left her heavenly abode and emerged into the mortal plain with her children. Therefore, her devotees celebrate the Goddess’ arrival with the beating of the dholak along with great merrymaking. Maha Sashti is distinguished by the unveiling of the face of the idol of the Goddess. Prior to the advent of Puja, other religious rituals such as Bodhon, Adibas, and Amontron are performed.
The dawn of Maha Saptami or the seventh day of the Durga Puja is marked by the performance of a religious ritual wherein a tree is clothed in a red-bordered yellow silk cloth. This tree serves as a representation of the Goddess and becomes the center of attraction for the rest of the festivities. The priest then carries the tree in an illustrious procession throughout the city. The parade is accompanied by the beat of drummers ushering the arrival of the Goddess. The holy procession terminates in the Durga Puja pandal, where an idol of Lord Ganesha, God of good fortune, has been prepared to receive her. The representation of Goddess Durga is then placed beside Lord Ganesha so it can be worshipped by the Bengalis. Throughout this ritual, devotees also worship nine plants, which are considered as symbols of the Goddess Durga. The Kola Bow known as Nabapatrika is given a sacred bath well ahead of the dawn of Maha Saptami. The Kalparambho and Mahasnan rituals occur after Maha Saptami puja.
The eighth day of Durga Puja is known as Maha Ashtami and traditionally the day was celebrated with a buffalo sacrifice, to memorialize the Buffalo-demon Mahishasura’s defeat at the hand of the Goddess Durga. At present however, the Indian government and animal rights groups discourage this practice. Buffalo sacrifice has been discontinued by most Bengalis save for remote villages that continue to follow the old ways.
Today the celebration of Maha Ashtami begins at the community puja pandals, wherein devotees of the Goddess recite Sanskrit hymns. The highlight of the eight day is the kumari puja, or the worship of little girls. The end of Maha Ashtami is marked by Sandi puja, which serves as the transition from Maha Ashtami to Maha Navami.
Maha Navami is the penultimate day and principle day of the Durga Puja. Maha Navami officially begins at the end of Sandi Puja. This day is distinguished by the Maha Arti or the formal end of religious rituals and customs. MahaNavami is considered the chief day of enjoyment throughout the festival. The city turns into one big party as merriment and dancing take over. Navamibhog, food shaped in the shape of Prasad is offered to the Goddess Durga. After the offering, the Goddess’ devotees share the offering between themselves.
Dashami is the final day of Durga Puja wherein devotees bid an emotional farewell to their deity known as Visarjan. The idol of the Goddess Durga is led through a procession to the nearest lake or river. The final ritual of Durga Puja is known as Vijaya Dashami, wherein the idol is immersed in water.