On the first day of the festival, hymns are recited in to invoke the goddess in
the heavens. This special recital is known as the Mahalaya. The next five days
are spent preparing for the grand yearly visit of ma, or 'mother' as Durga is
affectionately called in Bengal. On the sixth day, called Mahashashti (the great
sixth day), the idol of the goddess is placed on a raised platform in a previously
erected enclosure. The goddess is also believed to arrive on the same day, accompanied
by her children Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. The priest ceremonially
establishes life in the clay image and from now on till the tenth day, the image
is treated as the goddess herself. It is obligatory for all worshippers to clean
their houses, take a cleansing bath and offer prayers to the goddess adorned in
new clothes. Many devotees also observe a fast on this day and break the fast
after the evening arati.
For the next three days, devotees in the thousands come for darshan of the goddess
and to offer prayers to her. Every morning on these four days, flowers are offered
to the goddess. Between the eighth and ninth days, sandhya Puja is performed in
which animals are sacrificed in honor of the goddess in many places in Bengal.
The ninth day is considered doubly auspicious, as the goddess is believed to have
conceived and sent to earth by the gods on this day. The tenth day or Vijayadashmi
(the victorious tenth day) is both a day of joy and sorrow. It was on this day
that the goddess slew the demon and rid the earth of his evil, but it is also
the day when she returns home. The idol of the goddess is taken to the river to
be immersed on this day.
Before the idol is lifted from its home, the priest symbolically immerses the
idol, by capturing its reflection in a bowl of water. This is known as darpan
visarjan or mirror immersion. Married women now take their last darshan of the
goddess. They use the huge amount of specially consecrated sindoora lying around
the goddess to anoint the head and the forehead of their married friends and relatives.
This is believed to grant along life to their husbands. The priest now ceremonially
extracts the 'soul' from the image, after which it is life less again.
This done, huge truck is organized
to lift the now lifeless idol of Durga and take it to be immersed on the edge
of the river. The image is accompanied by a procession of dancers, singers and
musicians. A number of people gather on both sides of the road to witness the
event. Shouts of 'Durga Mata Ki Jai' (Hail Mother Durga) and 'Aaschey bachar a
bar hawbey' (She will come again next year) resound the air. With the immersion,
the ten-day festivities come to an end.
This festival celebrates the victory of good over evil. The yearly visit of the
goddess is thought to bring well being and happiness to the people. Because of
her auspicious presence, no meat, wine or alcohol is consumed at this time. Everyone
is expected to have new clothes for the festival. The city of Calcutta almost
never sleeps during the last five days. All, irrespective of caste, creed and
religion, participate in this great festival giving rise to a brotherly spirit.
Many cultural events are also organized during this period. 'Dhunuchi nritya'
or ‘the dance with effervescent smoke' is a traditional dance form from Bengal,
which is performed in front of the idol to the beat of the dhaki, the traditional
On the tenth day people visit each other's houses, the young touching the elder's
feet as a mark of respect and then enjoying the renowned Bengali sweets. The festival
fosters a feeling of harmony, joy and peace.