Durga Puja is a
time for people to show their gratitude to Mother Nature or the Goddess
Durga. It is the apt period to revive oneself after the agonizing period
of rains followed by deadly epics.
The religious ceremony is observed on
the seventh, eighth and ninth day of the moon and the immersion of the image
are on the tenth day, usually in the month of Ashwin (September-October).
Durga Puja is followed by the worship of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of
Grace and Prosperity on the evening of the full moon.
Durga is depicted as a powerful
and beauteous Goddess, riding a raging lion, holding aloft ten weapons in her
ten hands. Above the head of the Goddess broods the small figure of Shiva, her
Lord, the essence of Goodness. On either side are seated her four children:
Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, Ganesh,
the God of fulfillment and Karthikeya, the God of war and purity.
Once an Asura took
the form of a buffalo and harassed the gods. He drove them out of the heavens
and occupied the place of Indra. The gods went to Shiva and Vishnu for help
and when both of them heard about this, a strange brightness emerged form
them, which spread throughout the earth and the heavens and later condensed
into a glorious Goddess and she was named Durga. She immediately destroyed
the strange asura after a hectic fight.
Durga Puja has now become
a national festival with most non-Bengalis and non-Hindus participating in it.
Calcutta is hardly recognizable during the Puja week, with the blazing lights,
blaring music, beautifully decorated Puja pandals, where crowds gather in their
best attire to greet, pray and meet their friends and relatives. The ladies
are also busy these days, making tasty, dry, economical, traditional sweets
that everybody likes. These sweets are made of sugar, flour, honey, molasses,
and coconut and flavored with nutmeg and cardamoms.
When the three days of Puja
are over, the image is taken down from the pedestal and stared on its final
journey with the blowing of conch shells and chanting of the Goddess' name.
Trucks, cars and tempos or sturdy shoulders then carry the image to the nearby
rivers, lakes or ponds and plunged into the water.
means that which takes away ten sins. It is the time, before which, after
the rainy season, most of the diseases afflict the people. When they have
successfully fought against these, the people look forward to some festivities
with eagerness and the first to come is the Dussehra. As like many festivals,
Dussehra symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
The festival lasts
for ten days and nights, the first nine nights of which are the Navaratri
dedicated to the worship of different aspects of Durga on some areas and
also of Lakshmi and Saraswathi in others. In the north, the ten days of
dussehra are publicly dominated by the Ramlila, vivid enactments of episodes
from the Ramayana that culminate with the burning of Ravana and the triumph
of Rama. In the villages, each evening of the ten days have the story
of the Ramayan enacted and on the final day paper effigies of Ravan, Meghnath
and Kumbhakarnan, stuffed with fire crackers are set alight. They blaze
and crackle in fiery splendor, till finally the huge figures fall down.
The finest Ramlila is held
near Varanasi across the Ganges at Ramnagar. It is more than just a play
with thousands of people participating in the event. The Lila play lasts
for thirty days.
dussehra is known as Navaratri or the nine nights. Three nights are dedicated
to Goddess Lakshmi, three to shakthi or Parvathi, and three to Saraswathi.
Every home has a kolu; a decorated stepped platform filled with toys and
clay figurines, representing gods, Goddesses and animals. On the ninth day
of Navaratri, Ayutha Puja is performed when books, professional implements
are kept in the puja. The tenth day is the Vijayadasami Day when people
rededicate themselves to their profession. Vijayadasami is also the day
of Vidyaramba or beginning of study when children usually begin to learn
In Karnataka, Dussehra
is the most important festival of the year. Devotees assemble in thousands
at the grand temple of Chamundeswari on the Chamundi hills where Chamundeaswari
is the presiding deity. The city of Mysore would be festively decorated.
In Kerala, on the other hand, it is a quiet festival where the Hindus celebrate
it in their own houses with less pomp.
It is a Jain festival,
and is celebrated by both the Svetambar and the Digambar sects in the month
of Bhadra (August- September). The Svetambar Jains start observing it in the
dark half of the month from the 13th day up to the fifth day of the bright half
for eight days. But the Digambar or the sky-clad Jains observe it from the fifth
day of the bright half of Bhadra and terminate it after eight days on the 13th
lunar day. This festival signifies a man's emergence into the new world of spiritual
and moral refinement from that of gross and depraved world.
The ten cardinal virtues
cultivated during this festival are: forgiveness, charity, simplicity, contentment,
truthfulness, self-restraint, fasting, detachment, humility and continence.
During the days of the celebration, the devout Jains keep fast, eat only once
in a day, worship the tirthankaras, and try to imbibe the qualities and virtues
of great Jain saints and preachers.