Durga Puja, the grandest and most spectacular festival of India, is in full swing now. This festivity is so divine, joyous and fabulous that it never ceases to keep us waiting eagerly for the arrival of the Goddess. Every year, we cover the Durga Puja celebration on Travel Beats in different ways. We have come up with an article on the age-old rituals of Durga Puja to keep some requests from the Indian community in USA so that they can share it with their American friends.
With the image of dhaak, the face of Goddess Durga surfaces to the mind. A most identifiable icon of the Durga Puja festivity, dhaaks are beaten during the worship of the Goddess, dhunuchi naach, aarti in the mornings and evenings from the beginning to the end of the festival. The beating of dhaak defines the ambience, dominates the mood and fills the air on the festive days.
Dhunuchi Naach is an attraction of the Durga Puja celebration on festive evenings. In the Bengali community, boys, girls, men and women perform this traditional dance holding earthen lamps full of burning coconut shell with both hands and facing the Goddess. The rhythmic moves of their dancing feet are accompanied by the beats of dhaaks. The excitement soars and crowd cheers with the fast beating of dhaaks during the performance. It is a most entertaining and crowd-pulling part of the Durga Puja event in Kolkata, the rest of Bengal and other states of India. Women wear dhakai, taant and jamdani saris with golden work in the typical Bengali dressing style, and men wear embroidered kurtas of different colors in combination with white dhotis for this occasion.
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A ritualistic part of the Durga Puja celebration, Pushpanjali refers to the offering of flowers with devotion to the holy feet of the Goddess. Each day of the festival starts with this ritual in the morning when Bengalis wearing new traditional clothes utter holy mantras and offer the Pushpanjali. However, the Pushpanjali on Maha Ashtami has lots of significance. Almost everyone fasts till this ritual is performed. Once it is over, the devotees are given prasad.
Kumari Puja on Maha Ashtami, the 8th day of the festival, is one of the traditional ceremonies interwoven with the way Durga Puja is celebrated in Bengal. A five or six year old girl child is worshipped as a human incarnation of the Goddess. Worshipping of the girl child or kumari with lamps, incense sticks, flowers and other holy essentials is worth watching every year. She is offered sweets too. The people present on the puja spot offer their devotion to the tender feet of the child and receive her blessings. However, the Kumari Puja initiated by Swami Vivekananda at Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math, is a grand spectacle.
The most spectacular part of Durga Puja celebration, Sandhi Puja is performed at the moment when Maha Ashtami ends and Maha Navami begins. This ritualistic ceremony holds special significance because it is believed that the Goddess kills the buffalo demon at this time. Sandhi Puja marks triumph of the good and defeat of the evil. Worshipping of the Goddess in this part of the festivity requires a grand arrangement that entails 108 lotus flowers, 108 lamps, platefuls of sweets, a large pot full of rice grains, clothes, hibiscus garlands, wood apple leaves, vermillion, etc. The Sandhi Puja aarti is the most wonderful spectacle to behold with devotion.
The color of vermillion eclipses the glow of other colors on Dashami, the 10th day of Durga Puja, when married women of the Bengali community indulge in sindur khela. It is an age-old customary ritual for them to exchange good wishes and festive greetings by smearing each other’s face with vermillion. The married Bengali women of all age-groups including the newly wed and the old deck themselves in white saris with deep red border, and gold ornaments for this occasion as you might have seen in the climax of Bollywood movie Kahani starring Vidya Balan. They offer flowers with vermilion to the obedience of Ma Durga before bidding adieu to the Goddess.
Immersion of the idols of the Goddess and her family members – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartik – is the culminating ceremony of the Durga Puja festival that leaves Bengalis with tears in the eyes. Bengalis across the country tearfully bid adieu to the Divine Mother on Maha Dashami, the 10th or last day of the festival. The immersion is preceded by spectacular processions in which traditionally dressed men and women dance in rhythm with the beats of dhaak, all the way to the river bank. Hundreds of devotees join the procession and catch the last glimpse of the Goddess during immersion.
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