In Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Durga Puja is also called Akalbodhan(অকাল বোধন) ("untimely awakening of Durga"), Sharadiya Pujo ("autumnal worship"), Sharodotsab (Bengali: শারদোৎসব ("festival of autumn")), Maha Pujo ("grand puja"), Maayer Pujo ("worship of the Mother"), Durga Pujo, or merely as Puja or Pujo. In Bangladesh, Durga Puja used to be celebrated as Bhagabati Puja. It is also called Durga Puja in West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Odisha, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.
Durga Puja is also called Navaratri Puja elsewhere in India, such as in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, and Maharashtra, Kullu Dussehra in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, Mysore Dussehra in Mysore, Karnataka, Bommai Golu in Tamil Nadu and Bommala koluvu in Andhra Pradesh.
Durga is an ancient deity of Hinduism, according to archeological and textual evidence available. 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 royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga puja public festivities since at least the 16th century. The 11th or 12th century Jainism text Yasatilaka by Somadeva mentions a festival and annual dates dedicated to a warrior goddess, celebrated by the king and his armed forces, and the description mirrors attributes of a Durga puja.
The word Durga, and related terms appear in the 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. A deity named Durgi appears in section 10.1.7 of the Taittiriya Aranyaka. While the Vedic literature uses the word Durga, the description therein lacks the legendary details about her or about Durga puja that is found in later Hindu literature.
A key text associated with Durga puja observations is Devi Mahatmya, which is recited during the festival. Durga was likely well established before the time this Hindu text was composed, which scholars variously estimate to between 400 to 600 CE. The Devi Mahatmya mythology describes the nature of demonic forces symbolized by Mahishasura as shape-shifting, deceptive and adapting in nature, in form and in strategy to create difficulties and achieve their evil ends. Durga calmly understands and counters the evil in order to achieve her solemn goals.
Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity in the Epics period of ancient India, that is the centuries around the start of the common era. Both Yudhisthira and Arjuna characters of the Mahabharata invoke hymns to Durga. She appears in Harivamsa in the form of Vishnu's eulogy, and in Pradyumna prayer. The prominent mention of Durga in this popular epics may have led to her worship.
The Indian texts that mention the Durga Puja festival are inconsistent. The King Suratha legend found in some version 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 more ancient Ramayana manuscripts are also inconsistent. Versions of Ramayana found in North, West and South India describe the Hindu god Rama to be remembering the Surya (the Sun god) before his battle with the demon Ravana, but the Bengali manuscripts of Ramayana such as by the 15th century Krttivasa describe Rama to be worshipping Durga.
According to Pranab Bandyopadhyay, the worship of fierce warrior goddess Durga, and her darker and more violent manifestation Kali, became very popular in Bengal region during and after the medieval era Muslim invasion. The significance of Durga and other goddesses in Hindu culture, states Patricia Monaghan, increased after Islamic armies conquered Indian subcontinent and attempted to deny iconographic representation of its male and female "idols". According to Rachel McDermott, and other scholars such as Brijen Gupta, the persecution of Bengali Hindus in Bengal Sultanate and late medieval era religious politics led to a revival of Hindu identity and an emphasis on Durga Puja as a social festival that publicly celebrated the warrior goddess.
From the medieval period up through present day, the Durga puja has celebrated the goddess with performance arts and as a social event, while maintaining the religious worship.
The Durga Puja festival is a ten day event, of which the last five mark the popular practices. The festival begins with Mahalaya, a day where Shakta Hindus remember the loved ones who have died, as well the advent of Durga. The next most significant day of Durga Puja celebrations is the sixth day, called Shashthi where the local community welcome the goddess and festive celebrations are inaugurated. On the seventh day (Saptami), eighth (Ashtami) and ninth (Navami), the goddess along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya are revered and these days mark the main Puja (worship) with recitation of the scriptures, the legends of Durga in Devi Mahatmya and social visits by families to elaborately decorated and lighted up temples and pandals (theatre like stages).
The Durga festival is, in part, a post-monsoon harvest festival observed on the same days in Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, as those in its other traditions. The practice of including a bundle of nine different plants, called navapattrika, as nature's symbolism of Durga, is a testament practice to its agricultural importance. The typically selected plants include not only representative important crops, but also non-crops. According to David Kinsley, a professor of Religious Studies specializing on Hindu goddesses, 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".
The festival is a major social and public event in eastern and northeastern states of India, where it dominates the religious life, with temporary stage (pandal) built in community squares, roadside shrines and large Durga temples. However, it is also observed by some Shakta Hindus as a private, home-based festival.
The festival opens at twilight with prayers to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, wisdom, music, poetry, independent thought, inner knowing and creativity. She is believed to be another aspect of the same one multidimensional goddess Devi Durga, and who is the external and internal activity of all existence, in everything and everywhere. This is typically also the day that the eyes of all deities on the Durga Puja stage are painted, bringing them to a life like appearance. The day also marks prayers to Ganesha and visit to one or more Durga temples.
The day two to five continue the remembrance and preparation to other aspects (manifestations) of goddess Durga, such as Kumari (goddess of fertility), Mai (mother), Ajima (grandmother), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and in some regions of the Saptamatrikas (seven mothers) or Navadurga (nine aspects of Durga).
The sixth day launches the major festivities and social celebrations. It is called Sasthi (literally, sixth), the goddess is welcomed, festive Durga worship and celebrations begin in elaborately decorated temples and pandals hosting the statues. The first nine days overlap with Navaratri festivities in other traditions of Hinduism.
The puja rituals are long and complicated. Three days of Mantras (words for spiritual transformation), Shlokas (verse) chants and Arati (prayer) and offerings are made, which include Vedic chants and multiple recitations of the Devi Mahatmya text in Sanskrit. Durga Slokas (which is also known as Devi Mantra) praises Durga as symbol of all divine forces. According to the sloka, Durga is omnipresent as the embodiment of power, nourishment, memory, forbearance, faith, forgiveness, intellect, wealth, emotions, desires, beauty, satisfaction, righteousness, fulfillment and peace. The specific practices vary by region. The following being most common:Preliminaries: the preparations before the actual Durga puja begins.
Bodhana: the rites to awaken and welcome the goddess to be a guest, typically done on the sixth day of the festival.
Adhivasa: anointing ritual wherein many symbolic offerings are made to Durga, where each item represents a remembrance of subtle forms of her. Typically completed on the sixth day as well.
Saptami: bathing of the goddess, selection of the priest, elaborate prayers (arati), recitation of texts describing Durga heading to war against evil, the ululu ritual (group meditation and scream-like crying at high points by women), done on the seventh day of the festival.
Mahastami: similar to Saptami, more prayers, recitation and enactment of Durga legends and scriptures on the eighth day. The day is significant because the moment when it ends and ninth day begins is considered the moment Durga kills the buffalo demon, the good once again emerges victorious over evil.
Sandhi Puja: a forty eight minute high point that celebrates the climax of war which goddess Durga was engaged in. 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 remembrance substitutes it. The surrogate effigy is smeared in red vermilion to symbolize the blood spilled. The goddess is then offered food (bhog) by women, and afterwards everyone eats. Major sites celebrating Durga Puja engage in a sixteen part devotional service. The community begins merry making, music, dancing and women playfully smear the faces of their companions with sindoor (vermilion), all as a mark of the victory of good over evil.
Mahanavami: the ninth day of festival observes rites similar to Saptami, with the difference that the celebration is after Durga's victory and Vedic style homa (fire oblation) rituals are now included. The other deities on the stage, such as Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati are remembered and prayers offered to them.
Vijaya Dasami: the tenth and last day, marked by a great procession where the clay statues are ceremoniously walked to a river or ocean coast for a solemn goodbye to Durga. Many mark their faces with vermilion (sindoor) or dress in something red. It is an emotional day for some devotees, and the congregation sings emotional goodbye songs. When the procession reaches the water, Durga is immersed, the clay dissolves, and she is believed to return to Mount Kailasha with Shiva and cosmos in general. People distribute sweets and gifts, visit their friends and family members. Some communities such as those near Varanasi mark the eleventh day, called ekadashi, by visiting a Durga temple.
Drummers called dhakis, carrying large leather-strung dhak create music, people dance and complete the final day of worship called aarati. On the tenth day, the clay Durga image is carried in great procession, with music and dancing, to a river or to ocean, where she is immersed as a goodbye and her return to Mount Kailasha and the cosmos.
The entire process of creation of the sculptures (murti) from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a ceremonial process. Though the festival is observed post monsoon harvest, the artisans begin making the statues months before, during the summer. The process begins with prayer to Ganesha and to the materials such as bamboo frames in which the statue are cast.
Clay, or local soil collected from different parts of the region, forms the base. This choice is a religious tradition wherein Durga, as the creative energy and material, is believed to be present everywhere and everything in the universe. In Kolkata, one custom is to include soil samples, in the clay mixture for Durga, from areas locals believe to be nishiddho pallis (forbidden territories, brothels).
The clay base is combined with straw, kneaded then molded into cast made from bamboo. This is set like any clay pot, layered to a final shape, cleaned, and polished when ready. A layer of vegetable fiber called jute, mixed in with clay, is attached to the top to prevent the statue from cracking in the months ahead. The heads of the statues are more complex, and usually cast separately. The limbs of the statues are mostly shaped from bundles of straws. Then, starting about August, the local artisans hand-paint the statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, Kartikeya, the lion and the buffalo demon. The goddesses are dressed in fine silk saris, shown bejeweled and put into a pandal.
The procedures and proportions of statue (pratima or murti) are described in arts-related Sanskrit text of Hinduism, such as the Vishvakarma sastra.
The traditional idols, states Christopher Chapple, are made of biodegradable materials such as "straw, clay, resin, and wood". In the contemporary era, brighter colored statues have increased and diversified the use of non-biodegradable, cheaper or more colorful substitute synthetic raw materials. Environmental activists have raised concerns about the paint used to produce the statue, stating that the heavy metals in these paints pollute rivers when the statues are immersed at the end of the Durga festival.
Brighter colors that are also biodegradable and eco-friendly, as well as the historic tradition-based natural colors are typically more expensive. The state of West Bengal has banned the use of hazardous paints, and local Indian governments have started distributing lead-free paints to artisans at no cost to prevent heavy metal pollution.
Shakta Hindu communities mark the slaying of buffalo demon and victory of Durga with a symbolic or actual sacrifice. Most communities prefer symbolic sacrifice, where a statue of asura demon made of flour, or equivalent, is immolated and smeared with vermilion to remember the blood that had necessarily been spilled during the war. Other substitutes include a vegetal or sweet dish considered equivalent to the animal. In many cases, Shaktism devotees consider animal sacrifice distasteful, practice alternate means of expressing devotion while respecting the views of others in their tradition.
In other communities, an actual animal is sacrificed, mainly at temples of Goddess such as Bhavani or Kali. In Nepal, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, animal sacrifices are performed at Shakti temples, to mark the legend of goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon. This involves slaying of a goat, chicken or a male water buffalo. This practice is rare among Hindus, outside this region.
The Rajput of Rajasthan worship their weapons and horses on Navaratri, and formerly offered a sacrifice of a goat to the goddess – a practice that continues in some places. The ritual requires slaying of the animal with a single stroke. In the past this ritual was considered a rite of passage into manhood and readiness as a warrior. The ritual is directed by a priest. The Kuldevi among these Rajput communities is a warrior-pativrata guardian goddess, with local legends tracing reverence for her during Rajput-Muslim wars.
Months before the start of Durga puja, youth members of a community organize as a team, collect donations, engage priests and artisans, buy votive materials and help build a theme-based stage called pandal. The Durga statue is designed from clay and colors by the commissioned artisans. The design and decoration is a team effort involving artists, architects and community representatives hosting it. The budget required for such theme-based pujas is significantly higher than traditional pujas. These attract crowds of visitors. The preparations and the building of pandals are a significant arts-related economic activity, often attracting major sponsors.
The growth of competitiveness in theme pandals have escalated costs and scale of Durga Puja in eastern states of India. Some communities question the billboards, the economic competition behind the Durga Puja between communities, and seek return to basics. The competition takes many forms, such as the height of statue. In 2015, a 88 foot statue of Durga attracted numerous devotees, with some estimates placing visitors at one million.
Durga puja mood starts off with the Mahishasuramardini – a two-hour radio programme that has been popular with the community since the 1950s. While earlier it used to be conducted live, later a recorded version began to be broadcast. Bengalis traditionally wake up at 4 in the morning on Mahalaya day to listen to the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick on All India Radio as they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi Path).
TV and radio channels telecast Puja celebrations. Many Bengali/Assamese channels devote whole days to the Pujas. Bengali and Oriya weekly magazines bring out special issues for the Puja known as "Pujabarshiki" or "Sharadiya Sankhya". These contain the works of many writers both established and upcoming and are thus much bigger than the regular issues. Some notable examples are Anandamela, Shuktara, Desh, Sarodiya Anandabazar Patrika, Sananda, Nabakallol, Bartaman All major local news publications are closed on the last day of the festivities.
There is enormous variation in worship practices and rituals associated with Durga Puja, as is the case with other Hindu festivals. Hinduism accepts flexibility and leaves the set of practices to the choice of the individuals concerned. Different types of Durga Puja are readily practiced in the same neighborhood, as well as regionally, with these variations accepted across temples, pandal shrines and within families. The festival is most associated with Bengali Hindus, and even there the community grants freedom of variability and accepts differences. Some Puja are flamboyant, some simple.
The style and nature of the Puja varies from being Vedic, or Puranic, or Tantric, or a combination of these. The Bengali Durga Puja typically combines all three. The non-Bengali Durga Puja tends to be essentially Vedic (srauta) wherein the melodies of Vedic hymns are sung, but it too incorporates esoteric elements making the Puja an example of a Vaidik-Tantric practice.
Historical evidence suggests that the Durga Puja has evolved over time, becoming more elaborate, social and creative. The festival has been a domestic puja, a form of practice that remains popular. Durga Puja is also practiced in the sarvajanina (public) form, where communities get together, pool their resources and effort, prepare pandal, and then celebrate the event as a megashow to share. The origins of the latter variation are unclear, with some evidence suggesting a family in Kolkatta revived this celebration in 1411 CE. Another set of sources suggest that a Bengali landlord named Kamsanarayan held a megashow in 1583, or by others in late 16th century Bengal. The rituals associated with the Durga Puja migrated to other regions, from Bengal, such as those in Varanasi, a city that has historically attracted sponsorship from Hindus from various parts of the Indian subcontinent including Bengal. In contemporary India, Durga Puja is celebrated in numerous styles and forms.
The Durga pujas of West Bengal are annual festivities of a grand magnitude. They are held over a five-day period. The city is adorned with festive lights, thousands of pandals are erected by communities all over the state, but particularly in Kolkatta. People form organizing committees, who plan and oversee the pandal (temporary shrine and stage) for the festivities. For private domestic puja, families dedicate an area of their home for Durga Puja, they clean it and decorate it for small clay statue of Durga and other deities. As a tradition, married daughters return to or revisit their parents and celebrate the Durga Puja together, a symbolism for goddess Durga who is believed to return to her parent's home for the festival. Typically the family of the married daughters join her and spend the holiday with the maternal side of grandparents.
Durga Puja is a major gift giving season in Bengal, with mothers shopping for thoughtful gifts for not only the family members but also for close relatives and friends. New clothes are the traditional gift, and people wear them to go out together to browse the arts and moods in numerous pandals.
The organizing committees of each pandal hires a purohita (priest) who performs the services on behalf of the community. For the priests, the Durga Purja is a major time of activity, wherein he pursues the timely completion of a busy Vedic-Puranic-Tantric ritual sequence along timed to various offerings and fire oblations, in full public view, while the social festivities occur in parallel. The complex rituals include periods of accurate and melodic scripture recitation. The third and fourth day of the Puja are increasingly complex, while tens of thousands of people come in for a darsana. On the day of Vijayadashami, the purohita leads the immersion ceremony.
According to Claire Alexander and other scholars, the ritual of immersing Durga idol into river attracted the attention of colonial era travelers to the Bengal region from Europe, such as Garcin de Tassy and Emma Roberts. In 1831, Tassy reported that similar rituals were annually observed by Islamic community in Bengal as well. Shia Muslims observed Muharram over 10 days, took out processions in memory of their Imam Husayn ibn Ali, and then cast a memorial Imam's cenotaph into a river on the 10th day. Further, stated Tassy, the Muslim rituals included the same offerings at their annual festival in the memory of their Imam during Muharram, as the Hindus did during Durga Puja. According to Aslam Syed, the immersion in water ritual by Hindus for Durga in Bengal, and Ganesh in the western states of India, may have grown because the Hindu leaders attempted to create a competing procession and immersion ritual to that of Islamic Muharram allowed by the colonial British government in the 19th and early 20th century.
The Durga Puja is celebrated in two different ways in Odisha. In Shakti peethas (temples of goddess) the Durga Puja is observed with proper rituals for 16 days known as Shodasa/Shohala dinatmaka, which starts from 7 days earlier to mahalaya called as Mulastami(The ashtami with Ardra nakshatra) and ends on Vijayadashami, dussehra. Goddess Durga is also worshipped by devotees in different pandals across the state. The pandals are decorated with beautiful decorative.
Durga Puja is the main festival of Hindus in the Bengali dominated Barak Valley of Assam, where Silchar is the main city. In Silchar more than 300 exhibits, known as pandals, decorated with lights, sculptures and other art forms are created. It is said that Durga Puja started in the valley during the rule of Dimasa king Suradarpa Narayan. The festival is popular in other areas of Assam too where ethnic Hindu Bengalis reside.
Durga Puja is one of the major festivals in Bihar. Bhagvati Durga Puja and Nou-Durga along with Vijaya Dashami is an important festival of the Maithili Community. Hundreds of pandals are set up with carnivals. The city witnesses a huge surge in visitors in the four days from Maha Saptami up to Vijaya Dashami. More than 1000 exhibits, known as pandals, are set up across the city. Ancient Places of Patna Durga Puja includes Bari and Chhoti Patan Devi, Maa Shitla Mandir Agamkuan etc. Some of the popular puja pandals include New Dak Bungalow Road, Shiv Mandir Khajpura, Shri Krishna Puri, Durga Ashram etc.
All Durga temples are full of people, new trains are scheduled during this season. In Hindu Calaendar, Maha Navratri is celebrated on 1st to 9th day of Ashwin Month.
After Diwali, Navaratri is the largest Hindu festival celebrated in Gujarat. The festival is devoted to the Goddess Amba mataji. In homes and temples, images of goddess Amba are worshiped in accordance with rituals. Temples dedicated to the Goddess have a constant stream of visitors from morning to night during this period. The most common form of public celebration is the nightly performance of Garba and Dandia Ras throughout the nights of these nine days in public squares, open grounds, streets, private venues and people's homes and courtyards.
Durga Puja is celebrated with many carnivals. The festival mood starts from Mahalaya, a huge surge in visitors is witnessed during the last four days of the festival, arriving from cities like Jamshedpur (TATA), Ranchi, Hazaribag, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Sisai, etc. After offering puja, thousands of people set out in the evening to have a darshan of pandals. There are also many melas having different stalls, games, etc.
Durga Puja is celebrated in a grand way in this state. Mysore Dasara is a popular festival. Elephants are deckedup with robes and jewellery and taken in processions through the streets of the city. Many people visit Mysore from all over the country to watch this colourful event. There is a floating festival in the temple tank at the foot of Chamundi Hill and a procession of chariots around the temple at the top.
Mysore is named after Mahishasur, the very demon who was slain by the Goddess. The original Indian name was Mahishur. There is a gigantic statue of him on top of the Chamundi hills which is said to be the place where the demon was slain by the Great Goddess.
In Kerala, Durga Puja signifies the beginning of formal education for every child aged 3–5 years. While puja goes on in the temple for all ten days, it is the concluding three days which are most important. Ashtami is the day of Ayudya Puja, when all the tools at home are worshipped. Custom dictates that no tools be used on this day. On navami day, Goddess Saraswati is honoured by worshipping the books and records at home.
Nashik boasts of four major ones celebrated by "prabashi" Bengalis' – like the ones at the Government of India Press grounds organised by Nashik Sarbojanin Durga Puja Committee which is the oldest and biggest, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (H.A.L)in Ojhar, then the one at Artillery Station,Deolali and one in the industrial area of Satpur-Ambad. In recent years, places such as CIDCO, Rajeevnagar, Panchavati and Mahatmanagar also have set up new mandals.
In 1910, a year before Delhi was declared the capital of British India, the first Sarbojanin (community) puja in Delhi was organised near Kashmiri Gate by a group of expatriate Bengalis, including the doctor Hemchandra Sen. This group became the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti, popularly known as the "Kashmere Gate Puja". The Timarpur puja (near Delhi University) started in 1914.
In 2011, over 800 pujas were held in Delhi, with a few hundred more in Gurgaon and Noida each.
Durga Puja is Celebrated in the state of Tripura with all its pride and glory. In India Durga Puja is the second biggest celebrated in this state and also the biggest celebrated festival to the people of Tripura. Particularly, in the Capital city of Agartala.
Durga Puja is celebrated by the Bangladesh's Bengali Hindu community. In Dhaka, the Dhakeshwari Temple attracts numerous Durga devotees, and the Durga's procession heads to Sadarghat (Dhaka's river port), where the idols are immersed.
In the recent past, Durga Puja celebrations and festivities were also started in Hong Kong by the Bengali diaspora.
Durga Puja in Nepal is called Dashain. It is the longest festival in Nepal, also celebrated by Nepalese diaspora. It is observed over 15 days, of which the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth. Throughout the country Shakti is worshiped in all her manifestations. This festival is also known for its emphasis on the family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. It is a public holiday. People return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate it together.
Durga Puja is organised by some Indian American communities in the United States.
Durga Puja is organised by Bengali communities in Europe. Although pandals are not constructed, the sculptures are imported from India. According to BBC News, for community celebrations in London in 2006, these "idols, belonging to a tableau measuring 18ft by 20ft, were made from clay, straw and vegetable dyes". At the end of the Durga Puja, these were immersed in River Thames, for the first time in 2006, after "the community was allowed to give a traditional send-off to the deities by London's port authorities". The Bengali community stated, per the BBC News report, that the immersion ceremony "is a very sentimental issue for us, everybody wanted to see the idols being given a proper immersion".
In Switzerland, the 'Swisspuja' group based in Baden, Aargau, in northern Switzerland, has been celebrating Durga Puja since 2003. Currently, the five-day long festival is celebrated at Langnau am Albis, Zurich. There is a Durga Puja organised by the Centre Vedantique in Geneva as well.
In Malaysia and Singapore, the Malaysian Bengalee Association and the Bengali Association of Singapore celebrate Durga Puja with Bhog distribution and Anjali along with cultural programs every year.Satyajit Ray's film Joi Baba Felunath is centred on Durga Puja; his movie Nayak has a Durga Puja reference.
Rituporno Ghosh's Hirer Angti, Utsab and Antarmahal all are centered on Durga Puja.
The Hindi Devdas interweaves the celebration of Durga Puja into its story line.
The film Kahaani is centred on Durga Puja and plays a prominent role in the unfolding of events.
The film Dashami is also centered around Durga puja.