“ The essence of all religions is one. Only their approaches are different.” - Mahatma Gandhi


Durga Puja


Durga Puja (Bengali: দুর্গাপূজা, Bengali pronunciation: [d̪urɡa pudʒa]; listen: Durga Puja ), ‘Worship of Durga’), also referred to as Durgotsava (Bengali: দুর্গোত্সবBengali pronunciation: [d̪urɡot̪ʃɔb], listen: Durgotsava ), ‘Festival of Durga’) or Sharadotsav is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, MahaSaptami, MahaAshtami, MahaNavami and Vijayadashami. The dates of Durga Puja celebrations are set according to the traditional Hindu calendar and the fortnight corresponding to the festival is called Devi Paksha (Bengali: দেবীপক্ষ, ‘Fortnight of the Goddess’). Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya (Bengali: মহালয়া), the last day of the previous fortnight PitriPaksha, ‘Fortnight of the Forefathers’), and is ended on KojagoriLokkhi Puja (‘Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night’).

The worship of Durga in the autumn (Shôrot) is the year's largest Hindu festival of Bengal. Durga Puja is also celebrated in Nepal and Bhutan according to local traditions and variations. Puja means "worship," and Durga's Puja is celebrated from the sixth to tenth day of the waning moon in the month of Ashvin (Ashshin), which is the sixth month in the Bengali calendar. Occasionally however, due to shifts in the lunar cycle relative to the solar months, it may also be held in the following month, Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, these dates correspond to the months of September and October.

In the KrittibasRamayana, Rama invokes the goddess Durga in his battle against Ravana. Although she was traditionally worshipped in the spring, due to contingencies of battle, Rama had to invoke her in the autumn akaalbodhan. Today it is this Rama's date for the puja that has gained ascendancy, although the spring puja, known as Basanti Puja [One of the oldest 'sabeki' Basanti Puja is held every year at spring in Barddhaman Pal Bari at Raniganga Bazar, M.K.Chatterjee Rd near Karjon Gate], is also present in the Hindu almanac. Another famous portrait of Basanti Puja, can be found in TangraRakhal Chandra Das' Bari, which is more than half and a century old. Since the season of the puja is autumn, it is also known as ('Sharodia').

The pujas are held over a ten-day period, which is traditionally viewed as the coming of the married daughter, Durga, to her father, Himalaya's home. It is the most important festival in Bengal, and Bengalis celebrate with new clothes and other gifts, which are worn on the evenings when the family goes out to see the 'pandals' (temporary structures set up to venerate the goddess). Although it is a Hindu festival, religion takes a back seat on these five days: Durga Puja in Bengal is a carnival, where people from all backgrounds, regardless of their religious beliefs, participate and enjoy themselves to the hilt.


Creation of the idols


The entire process of creation of the idols (murti) from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a holy process, supervised by rites and other rituals. On the Hindu date of AkshayaTritiya when the RathaYatra is held, clay for the idols is collected from the banks of a river, preferably the Ganges. There is age-old custom of collecting a handful of soil (punyamati) from the nishiddhopallis of Calcutta, literally 'forbidden territories', where sex workers live, and adding it to the clay mixture which goes into the making of the Durga idol. After the required rites, the clay is transported from which the idols are fashioned. An important event is 'ChakkhuDaan', literally donation of the eyes. Starting with Devi Durga, the eyes of the idols are painted on Mahalaya or the first day of the Pujas. Before painting on the eyes, the artisans fast for a day and eat only vegetarian food.

Many Pujas in and around Kolkata buy their idols from Kumartuli (also Kumortuli), an artisans' town in north Calcutta.

In 1610, the first Durga puja in Kolkata was supposedly celebrated by the Roychowdhuri family of Barisha. Though this was a private affair, community or 'Baroyari' Durga puja was started in Guptipara, in Hooghly by 12 young men when they were barred from participating in a family Durga puja in 1761. They formed a committee which accepted subscriptions for organising the puja. Since then, community pujas in Bengal came to be known as ‘Baroyari – 'baro' meaning 12 and 'yar' meaning friends.In Kolkata, the first 'Baroyari' Durga Puja was organised in 1910 by the 'SanatanDharmotsahiniSabha' at BalaramBosuGhat Road, Bhawanipur. At the same time, similar Baroyari Pujas were held at RamdhanMitra Lane and SikdarBagan. The Indian freedom struggle also had an influence on Durga puja in Kolkata. In 1926, Atindranath Bose initiated the first 'Sarbojanin' Durga puja in which anybody, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, could participate in the festivities. This was consciously done to instill a feeling of unity.