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Durga Puja: Significance and Celebrations

Posted By ServDharm

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Posted on October 08 2021

Hindu mythology states that Goddess Durga was created on Mahalaya, the last day of Pitru Paksh (a 16 lunar day period when homage is paid to the ancestors), by Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva to kill the demon king Mahishasura. This day is marked as the arrival of the Goddess to earth from Kailash Parvat, with her divine powers.

The story of Goddess Durga’s birth is narrated in the Devi Bhagvatam. According to this sacred text a son called Mahishasura was born to a demon. Annoyed with the continuous victories of the gods against the demobs, Mahishasura performed intense tapasya to please the gods. Impressed by his devotion, Lord Brahma granted him a boon. Mahishasura asked Lord Brahma to bless him in such a way that neither a man nor a God could kill him. This meant he could only be killed by a woman; something he believed was impossible. Armed with this boon, he began to attack and plunder earth and then tried to take over the realm of heaven. He succeeded in defeating the army of Lord Indra at Amravati after a fierce battle. The gods, who were much perturbed by this turn of events, then approached the Trinity to help them.

The Trinity proceeded to use their powers to create Shakti in the form of Goddess Durga. Each of the gods gave her a weapon to help her kill Mahishasura. Lord Vishnu gave her the Sudarshan Chakra or discus, Lord Varuna, the Sea God gave her a conch, the Wind God, Vayu gave her a bow and arrow, Lord Indra gave her a thunderbolt, Lord Shiva gave her the Trident, the God of the Himalayas, Himavat, gave her a lion to mount on and Lord Brahma gave her the Kamandalu (pot to carry holy water). 

Initially when Durga approached Amravati, Mahishasura was scornful of fighting a woman but as the war raged on, he realised her divine powers. In the 10 days of the battle that followed, Mahishasura kept changing his form to confuse Goddess Durga. However, as soon as he changed to his original form of a buffalo, the Goddess swiftly beheaded him, thus ending his reign of terror.       

Durga Puja is also known as Durgotsava or Sharodotsava and is a festival spanning 10 days to pay homage to Goddess Durga. It is observed in the month of Ashwin and a puja is performed both at home, and in public places by constructing pandals where idols of the Goddess astride a lion attacking the demon king Mahishasura is placed. In the Devi Purana, Goddess Durga calls herself Adi Parashakti during her confrontation with Mahishasura.

The idol of Durga has ten hands. She arrives on earth along with Lord Ganesh, Kartikey, Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi. During these days, most people keep fasts and eat light food without grains. Celebrations and worship begin on the sixth day of the Navratris which is called Sasthi. During the following three days the Goddess is worshipped as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. On the eighth day or Ashtami, young girls who have yet to attain puberty are worshipped and fed. The last twenty-four minutes of Ashtami and the first twenty-four minutes of Navami are considered a sacred cusp in which the Markandeya Purana is recited and Goddess Durga is worshipped in her Chandi avatar.

The celebrations end with Vijayadashami or Dussehra when, accompanied by drumbeats, the idols of the Goddess are carried in procession to the local rivers and immersed in the water. This signifies the return of the Goddess to her home in the Himalayas.

It is chronicled that the first Durga Puja at Belur Math on the banks of the river Hooghly was held in 1901 by Swami Vivekananda.

On the tenth day, when the Goddess begins her journey back, a ritual called Sindoor Khela is observed where married women apply vermillion to the Goddess and to each other. This is a prayer to the Goddess to ensure peace and prosperity in the family and bestow good health.  

Festivities mark the days of the Goddess’ stay on earth and all the pandals perform the puja. The 10th day of Durga Puja or Dussehra is also celebrated as the day Lord Ram defeated the demon king Ravana.

The festival symbolises the victory of good over evil.

 

Written by Aarti Natarajan Sharma

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