The Durga Puja is a religious festival celebrated by Bengalis throughout the world with ardor and conviction. The merriment and the grandiose celebration of the festival is indeed awe-inspiring, however tourists seldom notice the spiritual aspect of the festival which is shown through the devoted and sincere fasting of the Bengalis. Aside from dedicating this act to the Goddess Durga, they believe that the practice fasting improves their sufferance. Fasting does not necessarily mean one does not eat throughout the day; instead their meals are reduced to small meals that allow them just enough energy to concentrate on the festivities without collapsing. If you are curious of how Bengalis fast and why they do it, then run through the following sections to find out.
Why Bengalis Fast during Durga Puja
The Hindus hold Ma Durga in high regard as she is the celestial Goddess of power, strength, and courage. Followers of Hinduism state that fasting is an integral part of the worship of any deity as it promotes the harmony of one’s body and soul. They believe that by denying the physical wants of the mortal body one attains spiritual advancement. Aside from receiving the blessings of the Goddess during the festival, they are convinced that it develops their concentration and increases their tolerance. The practical reason for fasting during the celebration is to cleanse toxic elements from the body. Additionally, fasting is “the calm before the storm” for their digestive organs.
Durga Puja Fasting Throughout India
The practice of fasting is varied throughout the different regions of India.For example, in the northern districts, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, it is alocal tradition to practice fasting for the entire duration of the festival. They practice a strict vegetarian diet for Durga Puja and they only break fast on MahaAshtami or MahaNavami by either offering food to the less fortunate or participate in the worship of young girls. Devotees who have hosted a feast and have worshipped young girls are regarded as the Kanya Avatar of Ma Durga.
On the other hand, the practice of fasting on DurgaPooja in the eastern and western regions of India is somewhat different in terms of tradition from that of their northern counterparts. In eastern India, they follow the custom of sowing barley seeds into a low bed of mud within a small container. They do this at the beginning of the fast, placing the container within the puja room. As the days pass, the barley seeds sprout and at the termination of the Puja, the sprouts are offered to devotees who consider them the Goddess’ blessing.
Through the passing of the time the practice of fasting has seen a lot of changes in the manner it is conducted. Very few practice the orthodox fast that calls devotees to starve throughout the day. Today, people refuse to go weak from hunger during the celebrations and tend to snack every now and then. Examples of local snacks are vratkenamkeen, and vratkichaat, food that are prepared with sendhanamak, or rock salt. People have also begun the practice of drinking fruit juices, milk and tea during the fast. Today, restaurants in urbanized localities have begun to offer Durga Puja specials on their menu during the days of the fast.