Bangladesh Slideshow

07 October, 2008

Durga Puja

The Goddess Durga is the epitome of beauty, valiance, and courage. Though she holds weapons in each of her ten hands, her face portrays immense beauty and tender protective instincts.

The making of the Durga idol starts a few months before autumn arrives. The people who make the idol are traditionally known as Pals. Creating the idol is a difficult - and now dying - art. The idol is generally made of clay, bamboo, straw and several other raw materials like iron, shola, papier mache, sand etc. Talented and hard-working artisans combine efforts to create this larger than life idol of the Goddess Durga.

In the first stage, the frame of the Durga idol is created with bamboo and straw, while another group of artists prepares the clay mixture and other decorations. This clay mixture is very important. It cannot contain any impure elements. In the second stage, the bamboo and straw frame of the idol is covered in clay. The face, hands, and feet are made separately by the senior artists, and attached to the body later on. A thin coat of clay - ideally taken from the Ganges riverbed - is applied all over the idol to strengthen the joints. The idols of the lion on which the Goddess rides, of the demon Mahisashura, and Durga’s four children - Ganesha, Kartik, Laxmi and Saraswati - are also made using the same process. Traditionally the images were carved out of white Indian cork, a very difficult technique. Today, cork is only used to make the crown and ornaments of the Goddess.
On completion, the idol is painted with earthen colors. Special care is taken while painting the facial expressions and the eyes. The mark of a great artist is reflected by the way he moulds the face and paints the expression of the Goddess. A long flowing wig is added to her head. Finally, the idol is adorned in a traditional red sari and ornaments, as befitting a married Hindu woman. The idols are then brought into the lavishly decorated and brightly lit Puja Mandap.

Ironically perhaps, the Buffalo Demon Mahisashura may have founded the Durga Puja when upon learning of his impending demise at the hands of the Goddess, he, as his last wish, asked the Goddess that he too might be worshipped along with her. The Goddess granted his wish and since then, the demon is always seen at her feet.

The main Puja starts from Shashthi which is the sixth day after the new moon. The Goddess is also believed to arrive at her parents’ home on the same day, accompanied by her children. The idols of the Goddess and her family are placed on a raised platform in a previously erected enclosure. The priest ceremonially establishes life in the clay image and from then on until the tenth day, the image is treated as the Goddess herself. It is obligatory for all worshippers to clean their houses, take a purificatory bath and offer prayers to the Goddess. Many devotees also observe a fast on this day and break the fast after the evening Aarati.

Durga’s four children: Ganesha and Laxmi. Saraswati and Kartik.

Saptami is the first day of Durga Puja. Kola Bou (the Banana Tree bride of Ganesha) is given a pre-dawn bath, known as Mahasnan. This is an ancient ritual of worshiping nine types of plants. Together, they are worshiped as a symbol of the Goddess Durga. The main Saptami Puja follows.

Ashtami is universally accepted as the culminating point of the four day celebrations. Devotees recite mantras and offer flowers to the Goddess Durga (Pushpanjali) and pray for her blessings. Apart from the traditional recitation of hymns and shlokas, Asthami Puja is associated with Kumari Puja, worshipping of the girl child. Traditional rituals of animal sacrifices have been substituted with fruit and vegetable offerings. The ritual of 'Sandhi Puja' marks the ‘Sandhikkhan’, the auspicious juncture between Ashtami and Nabami. 108 Dias (oil lamps) are lighted during 'Sandhi Puja'.

Nabami, the ninth day, is considered doubly auspicious, as the Goddess is believed to have been conceived and sent to earth by the Gods on this day. Nabami Bhog (auspicious food offerings) is offered to Durga and later distributed among the devotees.

The tenth day is called Vijaya Dashmi (the victorious tenth day). It was on this day that the Goddess slew the demon and rid the earth of his evil. It is also the day when she returns back to her home. People visit each other's houses, and special sweets are offered to the guests. On this day, the idol of the Goddess is immersed into a water body, usually a river, signifying her return to her husband Shiva’s home in Mount Kailash.
The immersion (Vasan or Visarjan) of the idols take place amidst music, blowing of conch shells, beating of drums and chanting of mantras. 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. The beat of drums, the clash of cymbals, the ringing of bells, dances before the image of Durga, incense wafting in the air, all form an integral part of Durga Puja. Devotees typically wear new clothes on all the four days of Puja. Makeshifts stalls are erected in Puja grounds selling sweets, cork decorative items, religious pictures and puja items, amongst others.

The differences of caste and creed are forgotten and participation in the Puja strengthens community bonding.

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