About Durgapuja@Kolkata

Kolkata’s Durga Puja is the biggest Street Art festival in the world with more than 10,000 Pujas in the state of West Bengal where 4500 theme pujas happen every year.

The top draws soon started recording footfalls of 2-3 lakhs a day in each pandal at a time. In the entire 255 sq km of the city 12 million people move around everyday turning into a virtual walk through gallery.

Indian Chamber of Commerce director general Rajeev Singh believes Durga Puja’s turnover in Kolkata could triple to Rs 15,000 crore in the next few years.

Kolkata’s Durga Puja is India’s official nomination for UNESCO’s 2020 list of cultural institutions from around the world that require protection and preservation, according to Sangeet Natak Akademi, an autonomous body under the Union ministry of culture that is the nodal agency for this purpose. “Kolkata’s Durga Puja has developed a special artistic profile, which no other festival has with modern artists and designers coming together to produce a new urban art. This gives it a unique dimension,” said Professor Tapati Guha Thakurta who led a five -member research team in preparing the nomination dossier for the Akademi.

DHAK: It is a traditional drum which is an integral part of the Durga Puja. Through the mystic and rhythmic beats of the dhak by dhakis the coming of Maa Durga to her children from her celestial abode is announced. It means to welcome Maa Durga dancing to the beats of 'Dhak' and to start the essence of Puja . This is a large hollow wooden instrument is covered on both ends with hide. Played either with bamboo sticks or hands. The instrument is slung over the shoulder, suspended from the neck or placed on the ground or lap. The instrument is often decorated with white or multi-coloured feathers or traditional white flowers known as 'kaashphool'.

ULU: ULU is a sound made by mouth with the criss cross movement of tongue which is also believed to drive away evil spirits around you. For this reason, it is a religious ritual followed in a Bengali functions like Durga Puja and weddings. The vocals thus generated came to be known as 'Ulu-dhwani' meaning, a howl-like sound.

SINDOOR KHELA : The ritual of Sindoor Khela is one of the most important parts of Durga Puja. According to Bengali legends, goddess Durga travels to her mother's home, once a year. On the last day of her stay, as Durga prepares to leave her parents to return to her in-law's home, a few rituals take place to bid her a proper farewell and good luck. Sindoor Khela is one such ritual. In Hinduism, the sindoor or vermillion represents the status of a married woman. This red powder is used to celebrate Durga's married status.

It is also believed that if this ritual of Sindoor Khela is conducted properly, then no widowhood can touch a woman, ever.
Needless to say, only Hindu married women strictly allowed to participate in this ritual. Unmarried women and widows are not allowed to participate in the ritual. Sometimes, young girls also indulge a little in the "playing" part of the ritual as a sign of devotion.
Sindoor Khela also symbolizes the power of womanhood in protecting her husband and children from all evil. Through the ritual of Sindur Khela, the Bengali Hindu women pray for long and happy married lives of each other. Family tiffs and petty quarrels between neighbours are settled through this ritual.

LAAL PAAR & SHADA SAREE: When it is Durga puja, Bengali women compulsory opt to wear a Lal par saree with much love and grandeur. It is because the red and white sarees are considered very auspicious. In a lal paar saree, White stands for purity while red symbolizes fertility.
Red would be the marker of married women. The combination of colours is connected to the goddess Durga. The red and white combination saree is supposed to signify the mother goddess. In Bengal, women, young, old, married, un-married refered to as Maa. In the traditional drape, the red border of the saree coupled with the red bangle and sindoor is all a part of a deliberate technique. The red border twirls around the body in such a way that it directly attract the red sindoor on the forehead of the woman, focussing on her eyes. And the eyes are the most iconic representation of the goddess Durga. The idea being, there is a goddess in every woman.

DHUNUCHI: One of the prominent customs and most awaited activity during Durga Puja is the dhunuchi naach. On Ashtami (eighth day of Navratri), this devotional dance is performed. Holding dhunuchi (an earthen pot filled with burning coconut husk and camphor) in front of Goddess Durga. Dhunuchi dance is performed to thank the Goddess. Durga Puja evenings are incomplete if men and women, boys and girls don’t take the floor to dance to the rhythmic beats of dhaak and bells, holding earthen pots billowing a fragrant smoke. Dancers can be seen holding one burning dhunuchi in each hand while performing to the beats of dhak to please goddess Durga so that she can shower blessings. The whole floor is magical and everyone dances in frenziedly.

According to some legends, it is believed that during this 9-day period of Durga puja, the Goddess comes down to her maternal home (earth) to be with her devotees. The Goddess is also dressed in beautiful sari and armed with weapons that are characteristic to her. Durga is also called 'Mahishasura Mardini'. According to legends, she killed the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Mahishasura won a boon from Lord Brahma. According to the boon, no man could ever kill him. Upon obtaining the boon, he started to think of himself as an invincible Lord and started tormenting everybody under his rule. He also troubled the lords, residing in heaven. Feeling helpless, the devas approached Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Brahma together evoked Durga to kill Mahishasura. The ten-armed Goddess, in a long and dreary battle, defeated the demon on the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami.

Durga Puja celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga (good) over the demon king Mahishasura (evil) . It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. It begins on the same day as Navratri, a nine-night festival celebrating the divine feminine. Durga Puja's first day is Mahalaya, which heralds the advent of the goddess. Celebrations and worship begin on Sasthi, the sixth day till Dashami also called Vijayadashami, the tenth day. Every year as per Hindu calendar, this important festival is celebrated on the tenth day of the month Ashwin (end of September-start of October)

Durga Puja starts with Mahalaya and is followed by Shasti, Shaptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami on the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th days respectively.

Mahalaya : With this day, the celebrations begin. It occurs on Amavasya( the lunar phase of new moon) and is held on the last day of the dark fortnight in the month of Ashvin (September 23, 2019 - October 22, 2019), according to the traditional Hindu calendar. This day is marked by preparing for the arrival of Goddess Durga on earth.

Sashti: It is the 6th day of this festival and on this day pandals are put up and Goddess Durga is worshipped as Katyayani and is gifted weapons to kill the demon.

Saptami: Saptami is celebrated on the 7th day and it is marked by bathing of the goddess, reciting aartis. On this day, a group of nine plants called Nabapatrika are tied together to present it to nine manifestations of Goddess Durga. During the early hours of the morning before sunrise, these plants are immersed in the waters of River Ganga.

Ashtami: It is celebrated on the 8th day and the puja which is offered on this day is meant to prepare the Goddess for the battle against Mahishasura. The famous Sandhi Puja, which is offered on this day, is performed when Ashtami ends and Navami begins. Interestingly, the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami, are regarded as Sandhikhan and this is the moment when Maa Durga also killed Chanda and Munda, the two allies of Mahishasura who attacked her from behind. Offerings on this day are just grand - 108 lotuses, 108 earthen oil lamps, single whole fruit, hibiscus flowers, saree, uncooked grains, jewellry, bel leaves and a garland of 108 bel leaves (Bengal quince).

Navami: The ninth day of the Durga Puja Festival it is marked by the Kumari Puja, where little girls are adorned in jewellery and are considered to be avatars (incarnations) of the goddess.

Dashami: It is the last day of the festival. Popularly known as Vijay Dashmi, it is the day when the goddess reunites with her. On this day, women smear each other with sindur which is known as Sindur Khela. As part of this ritual, married Bengali Hindu women apply sindur on the forehead and feet of the goddess and offer sweets to her. Then they put sindur on each other's faces and the idols are taken to the nearby rivers or lakes to complete the immersion ceremony of idols.