On the eve of Durga Puja I extend my warm greetings to all my well-wishers. May this Durga Puja brings happiness to you and fill your life with joy and prosperity. Durga Puja is not simply about celebrations and feasting. The actual carousing of the Puja is all about enlightenment of soul and the celebrations of the goodness over evil. It is about the triumph of truth over false and right over wrong. Durga Puja is about sustaining the mass believe of emergence of an almighty savior whenever evil tries to take over the goodness in the universe. So, the Puja is much beyond the glamour and glitter of pandals and the grandeur of the celebrations.
Durga Puja – the ceremonial worship of the mother goddess, is one of the most important festivals of India. It is celebrated with great pomp and show in the northern states of the country like West Bengal, Bihar, U.P, Orissa and eastern states of Tripura. The atmosphere in these states turns completely festive and people overenthusiastically participate in every little activity related to the Pooja. The entire festival becomes like a huge get together ceremony where people share good wishes and blessings. It is being a religious festival for the Hindus; it is also an occasion for reunion and rejuvenation, and a celebration of traditional culture and customs. While the rituals entails ten days of fast, feast and worship, the last four days – Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami – are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur in India and abroad, especially in Bengal, where the ten-armed goddess riding the lion is worshipped with great passion and devotion.
The Durga puja has been celebrated since the medieval period, and has evolved and adapted to the world as time passed. A considerable literature exists around Durga in the Bengali language and its early forms, including avnirnaya (11th century), Durgabhaktitarangini by Vidyapati (a famous Maithili poet of the 14th century), but the goddess Durga was not fully integrated into the Hindu pantheon, primarily in Bengal, in the 16th century. Early forms of Durgotsavs (Durga festivals) were primarily private worship in personal residences with the use of musical instruments such as the mridanga, mandira, and smakhya.
During the 18th century, the worship of Durga became popular among the land aristrocrats of Bengal, the Zamindars. Prominent Pujas were conducted by the zamindars and jagirdars, being enriched by emerging British rule, including Raja Nabakrishna Deb, of Shobhabajar, who initiated an elaborate Puja at his residence. These celebrations brought the Durgostavs out of individual homes and into the public sphere. Festivities were celebrated as a community, where royalty and peasantry were welcomed into the home of the zamindar or bania (merchant) to feast together. The festivities became heavily centred on entertainment — music and female dancers — as well as lavish feasts that continued for the entire month. In the 19th century, the Pujas celebrated placed less emphasis on elaborate celebration and feasting, and more on including all of the community. They moved from being a show of wealth and authority by royalty and merchants back to a festival of worship and community. Many of these old puja exist today. The oldest such Puja to be conducted at the same venue is in Rameswarpur, Odisha, where it has been continued since the last four centuries, starting from the time when the Ghosh Mahashays from Kotarang migrated there as a part of Todarmal’s contingent during Akbar’s rule. Today, the culture of Durga Puja has shifted from the princely houses to Sarbojanin (literally, “involving all”) forms. The first such puja was held at Guptipara — it was called barowari (baro meaning twelve and yaar meaning friends).
Today’s Puja, however, goes far beyond religion. Visiting the pandals recent years, one can only say that Durgapuja is the largest outdoor art festival on earth. The music, dancing, and art displayed and performed during the Durga puja played an integral part in connecting the community in Bengal, and eventually across India and the world. In the 1990s, a preponderance of architectural models came up on the pandal exteriors, but today the art motif extends to elaborate interiors, executed by trained artists, with consistent stylistic elements, carefully executed and bearing the name of the artist.
The sculpture of the sculpture itself has evolved. The worship always depicts Durga with her four children, and occasionally two attendant deities and some banana-tree figures. In the olden days, all five sculptures would be depicted in a single frame, traditionally called pata. Since the 1980s however, the trend is to depict each sculpture separately.
From the medieval period up through present day, the Durga puja celebrates the goddess and brings the Hindu community together by integrating modernised aspects of entertainment and technology, while still maintaining the religious worship.