Today is the first day of the upcoming celebrations of Durga Puja. Today is the day Godess Durga starts her 10day war with Mahisasur, the Demon. This day is significant, and in Calcutta, AIR radio airs a famous Poetic renedition in Sanskritised Bengali in praise of the godess, foloowed by an account of the war...at 5 in the morning. And more often than not, every house is awake and listening.
Thus marks the beginning of the most important festival of Bengal, and the beginnign of Autumn, and Harvest time.
The sky should be clear, with a few white cotton-like clouds, and strong wind.
On the sixth day (Shashthi), begins the war in earnest. And that is the day all of calcutta really starts the celebrations. There are Puja Pandals everywhere, and people flock to visit them. Stiff competition between the pandals to win awards (no mean feat). In fact Calcutta or Kolkata is there in the Guiness Book for maximum lighting in a city for these 4 days. On Shashthi one is supposed to wear new clothes.
Seventh day (saptami) is also important, but the momentum really picks up on the eight day (Ashthami) when there are special prayers by devotees to the Godess praising her, and egging her on to win the war. On this day as per the Mythological story even the other Gods prayed to her. People fast in the morning till the time of the prayer and then eat. Usually the prayer time is in the morning, sometimes as early as 5am, or as late as 7pm. You are supposed to wear new clothes.
9th day (Navami) is the peak. There are evening prayers, morning prayers, and people out on the streets decked out in all their finery.
At the end of Navami the Godess wins the war, and on the 10th day (Dashami) everyone visits their frnds, relatives with sweets and other delicacies, celebrating the victory of good over evil, once again. A day of meetings and renewing acquantaince with all those relatives whom one does not meet any other time of the year. Then at the end of the day the Godess is set afloat in a river so that the clay made model dissolves and becomes part of the river silt.
Throughout the Pujas there are drums (dhols) playing, with other small community fun acts. Everyone flocks together to the Pandals, and more often than not no one is recognisable.
The days are stipulated on the basis of astronomy...position of the sun and the moon, so they barely match with the Georgian calendar. FOr example, this year the Pujas will last 3 days, not 4. Last to last year they lasted for 5 days.
It is extremely good fun, the weather is fine, and the lighting on the streets mindblowing. All the creative talents of the Bong come out and are displayed on the streets.
Every year the Godess arrives on a different vehicle... signifying the weather to be expected. These can range from palki, to Butterfly (rains, storm etc).
There is a long story behind it all, the crux being Mahisasur becomes a very powerful person. He is the God of the underworld, and due to his tapasya's has become more powerful than all the Gods. It is then that the three most powerful Gods: Brahma (god of creation), Vishnu (god of Sustainance) and Shiva(God of destruction) get together ans combine their energies to make Godess Durga, the Supreme Powerful. She has 3 eyes, thw third one neing the inner eye, and 10 hands, to manage all affairs with ease...and all weapons of war. Her faithful pet/copanion is a Lion.
As she makes her way to where Mahisasur is causing destruction, she is gifted a weapon by every one she meets...right from Sun to mountains...not to mention other Gods.
Mahisasur keeps changing forms during the war, especially when he starts becoming tired. In the last stage heakes the form of a . When Durga recognises him, cuts open the neck and he emerges, she kills him.
There are many stories surrounding Durga and she has more than a 100 forms, as she saves the world again and again in different ways, even from herself (Kali).
Her husband is Lord Shiva, and she has 4 children: Sraswati (Godess of arts and learning), Lakshmi (Godess of Wealth etc), Ganesha ('The ELephant God') and Kartik (God of War).
A few days later on the darkest new moon night, is celebrated Diwali/ Kali Puka in calcutta...Godess Kali being the form of Godess Durga where she is wild, angry, and destructive. This is a very difficult Puja, and endorsed by Tantriks. The night is celebrated with fireworks. And the night before is knwon as the night of 13 ghosts.
Rama is said to have performed Durga Puja before advancing on his war with Ravana in Ramayana.
Durga puja is also a very difficult puja, and is celebrated in few houses...those that were Landlords and had large area.
There is a different flavour in the air in calcutta for these few days. And it is perceptible. The air smells different, and the advent of the Pujas can be made out with the crazy sales going on as people prepare for their new clothes.
As per tradition, close relatives gift each other clothes. So one ends up with lots of them, though usually they just give money and you go buy for yourself! But one does not traditionally buy for oneself.
Thats longer than it was supposed to be! Ill stop now.
For some snaps/ cartoons, visit www.anandautsav.com If you go to 'pandal hopping' you will see the different pandals which won awards. Do note that all of themm are made with only bamboo and cloth. Sometimes a little mud on top of the cloth for the designs.