DURGA PUJADurga 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.
Dussehra literally 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.
In Tamilnadu, 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 the alphabet.
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.