| Durga Puja is a nine-day festival, celebrated in
the state of West Bengal, from the first to the tenth day in the month of Ashvina.
This period is celebrated as Navaratri in most parts of India.
Durga Puja is the most important and the most eagerly awaited festival of the
state. It commemorates the victory of Durga over the demon Mahishasura. The form
under which she is adored is that of an image with ten arms and a weapon in each
hand, her right leg resting on a lion and her left on the buffalo demon.
According to the Markandeya Purana and Devi Purana, Mahishasura was a buffalo
demon. After severe penance lasting many years, he procured a boon from Brahma
granting that he would not be slain by gods, men, spirits or any aspect of nature.
Convinced that he was invincible, he tyrannized the entire world, vanquished the
gods and ruled in their place.
The gods appealed to Shiva for help. He suggested that the three great gods, Brahma,
Vishnu and himself, should combine their energies to create a woman. She would
be powerful enough to vanquish the demon, as he had foolishly forgotten to name
women while asking for the boon. The three gods then combined their energies to
create Durga, a beautiful woman with 10 arms. Her eyes shone like sunrays and
her smile was as cool as the moon. Each god presented her with his special weapon
arm. Shiva's trident, Agni's fire dart, Indra's thunderbolt, Varuna's conch shell,
Vishnu's discus, Vayu's bow, Kuber's club, Yama's iron rod, Vasuki's snake, Surya's
shield and sword invested the devi's ten arms and lion was to be her vehicle.
|When Mahishasura heard of Durga's beauty, he wished
to marry her and sent across a proposal. Durga replied that she would marry him
on condition that he defeats her in battle first. Enraged, Mahishasura accepted
the challenge and a fierce battle ensued. The demon fired a barrage of deadly
arrows at her, used a variety of weapons, and transformed him-self into various
animals to attack her. But Durga repulsed every attempt. Finally, using the discus
Vishnu had given her, She sliced off his head. Flowers rained on the goddess as
the gods rejoiced. Shiva declared that the ninth day of the bright half of the
month of Ashvina would be celebrated as the great day of victory of good over
According to local belief, Durga comes to the earth, her parental home, during
this time. She arrives on the sixth day of the month and returns to her heavenly
abode on the 10th day. For the 4 days that she is here however, she is welcomed
and honored as a family would its married daughter.
Preparations for the festival begin many months in advance. Local artisans are
involved in making beautiful clay images of the goddess. Traditionally the images
were carved out of white Indian cork, a very difficult technique. Today, cork
is only used to make her crown and ornaments. The idol is then adorned in a traditional
red sari and ornaments, as befitting a married Hindu woman. Chandmala, agar land
of white lotus-like flowers made using white cork, is an essential adornment.
Kumartuli and Krishnanagar, two small towns on the outskirts of Calcutta, are
very popular sources of Durga idols. It is mostly a community affair and almost
every colony or locality in Bengal erects tents for the grand puja. Artisans dole
out all their artistic and creative talents to create beautiful tents, which also
include replicas of local buildings. In fact the celebrations are not just restricted
to Bengal; Durga Puja is celebrated with equal enthusiasm by Bengalis living in
all parts of the country.