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Durga Puja(দুর্গা পূজা) (pronounced [dʊrɡaː puːdʒaː]), also called Durgotsava(দুর্গোৎসব) (pronounced [dʊrɡoːtsəʋə]), is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess, Durga.[2][3] It is particularly popular and traditionally celebrated in the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Tripura and the country of Bangladesh, and the diaspora from this region, and also in Mithilanchal regions of Bihar and Nepal. The festival is observed in the Indian calendar month of Ashwin, which corresponds to the months of September–October in the Gregorian calendar,[4][5] and is a ten-day festival,[6][2] of which the last five are of significance.[7][5] The puja is performed in homes and in the public, the latter featuring temporary stage and structural decorations (known as pandals). The festival is also marked by scripture recitations, performance arts, revelry, gift giving, family visits, feasting, and public processions. [2][8][9] Durga puja is an important festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism.[10][11][12]

As per Hindu scriptures, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting asura, Mahishasura.[13][14][A] Thus, the festival epitomises the victory of good over evil, though it is also in part a harvest festival celebrating the goddess as the motherly power behind all of life and creation.[16][17] Durga puja coincides with Navaratri and Dussehra celebrations observed by other traditions of Hinduism,[18] in which the Ram lila dance-drama is enacted, celebrating the victory of Rama against Ravana, and effigies of Ravana are burnt.[19][20]

The primary goddess revered during Durga puja are Parvati Durga (a form of Parvati) and Lakshmi Durga (a form of Lakshmi),[21][22] but celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (the god of good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war). In Bengali and Odia traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga's children and Durga puja is believed to commemorate Durga's visit to her natal home with her beloved and nice children. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga's journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shasthi), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya dashami), when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash. Regional and community variations in celebration of the festival and rituals observed exist.

Durga puja is an old tradition of Hinduism,[23] though its exact origins are unclear. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th—century provide guidelines for Durga puja, while historical records suggest that the royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga puja festivities since at least the 16th-century.[10] The prominence of Durga puja increased during the British Raj in the provinces of Bengal, Odisha and Assam.[24][3] In today's time, the importance of Durga puja is as much as a social and cultural festival as a religious one, wherever it is observed.

Over the years, Durga puja has become an inseparable part of Indian culture with innumerable people celebrating this festival in their own unique way while pertaining to tradition.[3]

Names

In West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Tripura, Durga puja is also called Akalbodhan (literally, "untimely awakening of Durga"), Sharadiya pujo ("autumnal worship"), Sharodotsab ("festival of autumn"), Maha pujo ("grand puja"), Maayer pujo ("worship of the Mother"), Durga pujo, or merely Puja or Pujo. In Bangladesh, Durga puja has historically been celebrated as Bhagabati puja.[25]

Durga puja is also referred to by the names of related Shakta Hindu festivals such as Navaratri, celebrated on the same days elsewhere in India;[3] such as in Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, and Maharashtra,[B] Kullu dussehra, celebrated in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh;[C] Mysore dussehra celebrated in Mysore, Karnataka;[D] Bommai golu, celebrated in Tamil Nadu; Bommala koluvu, celebrated in Andhra Pradesh;[E] and Bathukamma, celebrated in Telangana.

History and origins

Durga is an ancient deity of Hinduism according to available archeological and textual evidence. However, the origins of Durga puja are unclear and undocumented. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th-century provide guidelines for Durga puja, while historical records suggest the royalty and wealthy families to be sponsoring major Durga Puja public festivities, since at least the 16th-century.[10] The 11th or 12th-century Jain text Yasatilaka by Somadeva mentions an annual festival dedicated to a warrior goddess, celebrated by the king and his armed forces, and the description mirrors attributes of Durga puja.[4][26]

The Dadhimati Mata Temple of Rajasthan preserves a Durga-related inscription from chapter 10 of Devi Mahatmya. The temple inscription has been dated by modern methods to 608 CE.[27][28]

The name Durga, and related terms, appear in Vedic literature, such as in the Rigveda hymns 4.28, 5.34, 8.27, 8.47, 8.93 and 10.127, and in sections 10.1 and 12.4 of the Atharvaveda[29][30][F] A deity named Durgi appears in section 10.1.7 of the Taittiriya Aranyaka.[29] While the Vedic literature uses the word Durga, the description therein lacks legendary details about her or about Durga puja that is found in later Hindu literature.[32]A key text associated with Durga puja is Devi Mahatmya, which is recited during the festival. Durga was likely well established by the time this Hindu text was composed, which scholars variously estimate Durgato date between 400 and 600 CE.[33][34][35] The Devi Mahatmya scripture describes the nature of evil forces symbolised by Mahishasura as shape-shifting, deceptive, and adapting in nature, in form and in strategy to create difficulties and thus achieve their evil ends. Durga calmly understands and counters the evil in order to achieve her solemn goals.[13][14][G]Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity in the Indian texts.[36] Both Yudhisthira and Arjuna characters of the Mahabharata invoke hymns to Durga.[37] She appears in Harivamsa in the form of Vishnu's eulogy, and in Pradyumna's prayer. The prominent mention of Durga in such epics may have led to her worship.[38][4][39]

A display of sculpture-idols depicting Rama praying to Durga

The Indian texts with mentions of Durga puja are inconsistent. A legend found in some versions of the Puranas mention it to be a spring festival, while the Devi-Bhagavata Purana and two other Shakta Puranas mention it to be an autumn festival. The Ramayana manuscripts are also inconsistent. Versions of Ramayana found in north, west, and south of the Indian subcontinent describe Rama to be remembering Surya (the Hindu sun god) before his battle against Ravana, but the Bengali manuscripts of Ramayana, such as the 15th-century manuscript by Krttivasa, mention Rama to be worshipping Durga.[40] According to some scholars, the worship of the fierce warrior goddess Durga, and her darker and more violent manifestation Kali, became popular in the Bengal region during and after the medieval era, marked by Muslim invasions and conquests.[41]

The significance of Durga and other goddesses in Hindu culture is stated to have increased after Islamicate armies conquered regions of the Indian subcontinent.[42] According to yet other scholars, the marginalisation of Bengali Hindus during the medieval era led to a reassertion of Hindu identity and an emphasis on Durga puja as a social festival, publicly celebrating the warrior goddess.[43]From the medieval era up to present-day, Durga puja has been celebrated as a socio-cultural event, while maintaining the roots of religious worship.[44]

Rituals and practices

From top left to bottom right (a) Structure of a Durga sculpture-idol being made at Kumortuli; (b) Lady carrying offerings for the puja; (c) Sandhi puja on the day of Ashtami; (d) Immersion of the sculpture-idol on Vijaya Dashami.

Durga puja is a ten-day event, of which the last five days involve certain rituals and practices. The festival begins with Mahalaya, a day on which Hindus perform tarpaṇa by offering water and food to their dead ancestors. The day also marks the advent of Durga from her mythological marital home in Kailash.[3][5] The next significant day of the festival is the sixth day (Sashthi), on which devotees welcomes the goddess and festive celebrations are inaugurated. On the seventh day (Saptami), eighth (Ashtami) and ninth (Navami) days, the goddess along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya are revered and these days mark the main days of worship with recitation of scriptures, puja, legends of Durga in Devi Mahatmya, social visits to elaborately decorated and illuminated pandals (temporary structures meant for hosting the puja), among others.[45][46][47]

Durga Puja as a harvest festival

Om you are rice [wheat...],Om you are life,you are the life of the gods,you are our life,your are our internal life,you are long life,you give life,Om the Sun with his rays (....)

 — Hymn to start the Durga Puja,
Translator: David Kinsley[16]

Durga puja is, in part, a post-monsoon harvest festival observed on the same days in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism as those in its other traditions.[48][49] The practice of including a bundle of nine different plants, called navapatrika, as a symbolism of Durga, is a testament practice to its agricultural importance.[16] The typically selected plants include not only representative important crops, but also non-crops. This probably signifies the Hindu belief that the goddess is "not merely the power inherent in the growth of crops but the power inherent in all vegetation".[16]The festival is a social and public event in eastern and northeastern states of India, where it dominates religious and socio-cultural life, with temporary pandals built at community squares, roadside shrines, and temples. The festival is also observed by some Shakta Hindus as a private home-based festival.[50]The festival is started at twilight with prayers to Saraswati.[51] She is believed to be another aspect of goddess Durga, and who is the external and internal activity of all existence, in everything and everywhere. This is typically also the day on which the eyes of the deities on the representative clay sculpture-idols are painted, bringing them to a lifelike appearance.[51][52] The day also marks prayers to Ganesha and visit to pandals temples.[53]Day two to five mark the remembrance of the goddess and her manifestations, such as Kumari (goddess of fertility), Mai (mother), Ajima (grandmother), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and in some regions as the Saptamatrikas (seven mothers) or Navadurga (nine aspects of Durga).[54][9][55] On the sixth day major festivities and social celebrations start. [3][5] The first nine days overlap with Navaratri festivities in other traditions of Hinduism.[56][20]The puja rituals involve mantras (words manifesting spiritual transformation), shlokas (holy verses), chants and arati, and offerings. These also include Vedic chants and recitations of the Devi Mahatmya text in Sanskrit.[47] The shlokas and mantras praise the divinity of the goddess; according to the shlokas Durga is omnipresent as the embodiment of power, nourishment, memory, forbearance, faith, forgiveness, intellect, wealth, emotions, desires, beauty, satisfaction, righteousness, fulfillment and peace.[57][H] The specific practices vary by region.[61]

The rituals before the puja begins include the following:[62]

  • Bodhana: Involves rites to awaken and welcome the goddess to be a guest, typically done on the sixth day of the festival.[63]
  • Adhivasa: Anointing ritual wherein symbolic offerings are made to Durga, with each item representing a remembrance of subtle forms of her. Typically completed on the sixth day as well.[64]
  • Navapatrika snan: Bathing of the navapatrika with holy water done on the seventh day of the festival.[65]
  • Sandhi puja and Ashtami pushpanjali: The eighth day begins with elaborate pushpanjali rituals. The cusp of the ending of the eighth day and beginning of the ninth day is considered to be the moment when per scriptures Durga engaged in a fierce battle against Mahishasura and was attacked by the demons Chanda and Munda. Goddess Chamunda emerged from the third eye of Durga and killed Chanda and Munda at the cusp of Ashtami and Navami, the eighth and ninth days respectively. This moment is marked by the sandhi puja, involving the offering of 108 lotuses and lighting if 108 lamps. It is a forty-eight minutes long ritual commemorating the climax of battle. The rituals are performed in the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami. In some regions, devotees sacrifice an animal such as a buffalo or goat, but in many regions, there isn't an actual animal sacrifice and a symbolic sacrifice substitutes it. The surrogate effigy is smeared in red vermilion to symbolize the blood spilled.[66] The goddess is then offered food (bhog). Some places also engage in devotional service.[67]
Left: Dhaks, played during the pujo; right: Dhunuchi naach on <

Durga Puja(দুর্গা পূজা) (pronounced [dʊrɡaː puːdʒaː]), also called Durgotsava(দুর্গোৎসব) (pronounced [dʊrɡoːtsəʋə]), is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess, Durga.[2][3] It is particularly popular and traditionally celebrated in the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Tripura and the country of Bangladesh, and the diaspora from this region, and also in Mithilanchal regions of Bihar and Nepal. The festival is observed in the Indian calendar month of Ashwin, which corresponds to the months of September–October in the Gregorian calendar,[4][5] and is a ten-day festival,[6][2] of which the last five are of significance.[7][5] The puja is performed in homes and in the public, the latter featuring temporary stage and structural decorations (known as pandals). The festival is also marked by scripture recitations, performance arts, revelry, gift giving, family visits, feasting, and public processions. [2][8][9] Durga puja is an important festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism.[10][11][12]

As per Hindu scriptures, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting asura, Mahishasura.[13][14][A] Thus, the festival epitomises the victory of good over evil, though it is also in part a harvest festival celebrating the goddess as the motherly power behind all of life and creation.[16][17] Durga puja coincides with Navaratri and Dussehra celebrations observed by other traditions of Hinduism,[18] in which the Ram lila dance-drama is enacted, celebrating the victory of Rama against Ravana, and effigies of Ravana are burnt.[19][20]

The primary goddess revered during Durga puja are Parvati Durga (a form of Parvati) and Lakshmi Durga (a form of Lakshmi),[21][22] but celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (the god of good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war). In Bengali and Odia traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga's children and Durga puja is believed to commemorate Durga's visit to her natal home with her beloved and nice children. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga's journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shasthi), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya dashami), when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash. Regional and community variations in celebration of the festival and rituals observed exist.

Durga puja is an old tradition of Hinduism,[23] though its exact origins are unclear. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th—century provide guidelines for Durga puja, while historical records suggest that the royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga puja festivities since at least the 16th-century.[10] The prominence of Durga puja increased during the British Raj in the provinces of Bengal, Odisha and Assam.[24][3] In today's time, the importance of Durga puja is as much as a social and cultural festival as a religious one, wherever it is observed.

Over the years, Durga puja has become an inseparable part of Indian culture with innumerable people celebrating this festival in their own unique way while pertaining to tradition.[3]