Durga Puja, an important Hindu festival, celebrates the power of Goddess Durga, the divine feminine (Shakti) and the victory over evil forces. Read this article to learn about the significance of Tithis & dates during this festival, rituals performed, the spirit of Goddess Durga’s idol and that of collective worship.
Durga Puja is one of the major festivals of Hinduism, traditionally celebrated for 10 days in the month of Ashvin (September – October) and particularly celebrated in Bengal, Assam and other eastern states of India. It symbolizes the victory of Goddess Durga over the invincible Mahishasura and celebrates the divine feminine (Shakti). The environment begins to vibrate with Durga Puja fervour from Mahalaya, which is the last day of Pitru Paksha (a 16-lunar day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors), and officially starts from form the Sashti Tithi (the 6th day) when Goddess Durga is celebrated in various forms as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. It ends with Vijayadashami with loud chants and drumbeats.
In northern India, people fast and light a lamp for nine days, a practice known as ‘Akhand Jyot’. They end this period of fast with Kanjak, where they invite nine girls below the age of 10 to their house and distribute gifts and offerings. It is believed that these ‘kanyas’ or girls are the forms of Goddess Durga. In Gujarat, the festival is also celebrated with the ‘Garba’ dance.
In southern India, people decorate the altar by organising steps in odd numbers and place toys and effigies of all deities. They invite everyone for a feast and exchange gifts. Each night is dedicated to the different forms of Goddess Durga.
Maha Panchami (19th October 2023)
Is marked as the commencement of Durga Puja across India.
Shashti (20th October 2023)
On Shashti, which is the sixth day of the Durga Puja festival, it is believed that Goddess Durga descends on earth with her four children - Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. On this day, Goddess Durga’s idol is revealed to the public.
Saptami (21st October 2023)
Goddess Durga’s idol is invoked with life by the ritual of Pran Pratishtha. A banana tree is dressed in a sari and bathed in a river like a newly wedded bride and the process is called ‘Kola Bou’.
Ashtami (22nd October 2023)
Goddess Durga is worshipped as a young, virgin girl in a ritual called ‘Kumari Puja’. Sandhi Puja is performed to worship Chamunda Devi’s form of Goddess Durga.
Navami (23rd October 2023)
This is the last day of the festival when a Maha Arti (symbolic of removing darkness) is organized to mark the conclusion of the festival.
Vijaya Dashami (24th October 2023)
On the 10th day, the idol of Goddess Durga is taken for immersion to the river.
Though the festival starts in September or October, the artisans start making the idols months before, during summer. The process begins with prayers to Lord Ganesha and to the perceived divinity in materials such as bamboo frames in which the idols are cast.
The process of sculpture making starts with the clay, or alluvial soil, collected from different regions to form the base. It is believed that Goddess Durga is Prakriti (Mother Nature), present everywhere in the universe. The custom is to include soil samples in the clay mixture of Goddess Durga from areas believed to be ‘nishiddho pallis’ (forbidden territories such as brothels).
The clay is combined with straw, kneaded and molded into cast made from hay and bamboo. Then it is given shape, painted, polished, decorated, and displayed in the pandal for Durga Puja.
This festival is a social and public event in the eastern and northeastern states of India, where it dominates religious and socio-cultural life. Temporary pandals are built at community squares, roadside shrines and temples. The festival starts at twilight with prayers to Goddess Saraswati, a manifestation of Goddess Durga who resides in all creations, in everything and everywhere.
On this day, the eyes of Goddess Durga are made. Ganesha Puja is also performed and devotees visit the pandal temples. Day Two represents the remembrance of the Goddess and her manifestations, such as Kumari (goddess of fertility), Mai (mother), Ajima (grandmother), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and, in some regions, as the Saptamatrikas (seven mothers) or Navadurga (nine manifestations of Durga). From Sashti Tithi, major festivities and social celebrations start.
On Vijayadashami, the idol of Durga and other effigies are carried through a huge procession to the local river, where they are immersed and this custom is followed as symbolic of the departure of the deity to her home and to her husband, Shiva, in the Himalayas. The idols are biodegradable made of clay soil, straw, and wood.
The environmental activists have raised the concern and banned the use of hazardous paints, and various state governments have started distributing lead free paints to artisans at no cost to prevent pollution. Images of the Goddess along with the huge lion, the demon Mahishasura, the different pandals decorated with bamboo structures, and temples are then removed.