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In Bengal, this festival is a great holiday of the year, shared by Christians, Muslims and Hindus alike. It is connected with the autumnal equinox. Nominally, they commemorate the victory of Goddess Durga, wife of Lord Shiva over a buffalo headed demon (Mahisasur). The form under which she is adored is that of an image with ten arms and a weapon in each hand, her right leg resting on a lion and her left on the buffalo demon. This image is worshipped for nine days following on the sixteen sraddhas of the Pitri Paksh and then cast into the water.

It is conjectured that this pooja began in Bengal in approximately 12th century. Goddess Durga Pooja is chiefly a festive occasion. The fame and development of this Pooja are related to the prosperity of medieval feudalism of Bengal. Due to the festive character of this pooja, Goddess Durga has not been able to establish herself as an object of meditative cults. Kalika manifestation of Goddess Durga in that sense reigns supreme over the hearts and minds of Bengalis. Kali Pooja is being described later. Goddess Durga is not one of the Vedic deities. She is one aspect of Mahadev shakti, who manifests herself in different forms as Prithvi, PSrvati, Sati, Uma, Chandika, Kalika. The lion mounted Goddess Durga is the warrior goddess. Goddess Durga, fully armed, was created out of the breath of the most powerful gods of Hinduism. She has a beautiful feminine shape whose splendour over spread the three worlds. Each deity contributed his best virtue and weapon to create and arm her. Lord Shiva’s trident, Agni’s fire dart, Indra’s thunderbolt, Varuna’s conch shell, Visnu’s discus, Vayu’s bow, Kuber’s club, Yama’s iron rod, Vasuki’s snake, Surya’s shield and sword invested the devi’s ten arms. In this aspect, she is worshipped during Goddess Durga pooja. Devi proceeded to the Vindyas and demolished Mahisasur, in spite of the latter battling her in many guises.

According to Chandi Purana, Mahisasur, the buffalo headed demon, by his austere meditation compelled B’rhma to grant him the boon of invincibility. Brahma announced that the demon would die at the hands of a woman. Deeming this an impossibility, Mahisasur terrorized earth and heaven. Vishnu and Shiva were enraged. Goddess Durga was created to massacre Mahisasur. On the advice of Brahma, Rama of Ayodhya, undertook an elaborate and dedicated worship of devi Goddess Durga. At the climax of the pooja, one out of 108 lotus flowers for pooja, was found missing. Rama offered to pluck out his eye to make up the missing flower. The goddess appeared and granted him victory over demon king Ravana. The victory day is thus celebrated as Dussehara and as Goddess Durga pooja, both festivals on the same day (Vijaya Dashmi). This festival creates a conviction that evil has been vanquished and a benevolent deity Trinayani Goddess Durga (Three eyed Goddess Durga) smiles upon the world. In this dew fresh season, the human soul bursts into celebrations.

It is possible that in ancient times, a deity like Goddess of vegetative abundance was worshipped, who emerged into the Puranic Goddess Goddess Durga, the concept of Uma/Parvati, the wife of Kailaspati Lord Shiva. This fierceness of Goddess Durga has been overlaid by wifely and maternal tenderness, creating a complex image of the Goddess.

Goddess Durga pooja or Nava Ratra (nine nights), commencing on the 1st and ending on the 10th day of the light half of Ashwin (September-October) are celebrated in various parts of India, specially Bengal. In Assam, the great festivity to invoke the blessings of Goddess Durga, the Mother goddess in her most benign and protective aspects, is celebrated with great I ceremony. Illumination, beautifully painted clay images of the deity, dances and plays, keep thousands entertained over the pooja holidays, until, the images are taken iri procession and immersed in the great river. ~ In Tripura, at Agartala, this festival of the mother goddess Goddess Durga in her benign and protective form, ij celebrated as in Bengal. It is celebrated for four days witij great enthusiasm and ends when images of the goddess are taken out in procession and immersed in the river.

In Imphal, this festival is known as Kwak Yatra when goddess Goddess Durga is propitiated with pomp and ceremony.

Animal sacrifice used to be an obligatory requirement of Goddess Durga pooja (worship of warrior goddess Goddess Durga). This practice is now defunct all over India. At the poojas, now, symbolic slashing of pumpkins and sugarcane, is done.

Formally pooja begins with the dawn recitation from the Chandi Puran on Mahalaya. The creation of Mahisasurmardine in these days is broadcast resoundingly over AIR and Doordarshan at 5 a.m. on shasti, the next day the goddess is invoked in bodhan ceremony. From saptami onwards, for three days, fasting worshippers offer pushpanjali.

In the evenings, an elaborate aaarti is performed. After the aaarti, young men perform dhunuchi nritya before the goddess. Holding aromatic smoking censers in each hand, they dance to the beat of dhak drums. The deep percussion of the dhak, embellished sometimes with long white or multi-coloured feathers, and rhythmic movement of the dhakis, is inseparable part of the pooja celebrations. More solemn but less public is the sandhi pooja.

In the afternoon, the bhog offered to the goddess is distributed amongst the faithful. Since community paarticipation and enjoyment have been integral to this pooja, bhog is often partaken in the pandal or a hall out of leaf plates, where all sit together on the floor. On ashtami, households send specially offerings in the name of the householders to be offered to the Devi.

On dashami, it all ends with the aforementioned sindoor khela and baran or aarti of the devi. Then, in a crescendo of shouting and dancing, the image is carried by bullock carts or trucks to the nearest river or pond and immersed. The worshippers return to the pooja pandal for shantijal, without which no religious ceremony is complete. Cultural activities during Goddess Durga pooja consist of Jatras, plays, songs and variety programmes to cater to needs of the modern public. Night entertainments are norm. Show of films and videos on the occasion, has beeb discarded.

The common people, in great distress have inevitable been drawn towards the source of life and enei the universal mother, Shakti Durga, who had delivered earth from Mahisasur, is worshipped increasingly to insp courage for the struggle against forces of evil. Devi Durga appears once in a year, to share her force and hearten her devotees to endure another year, till she descends from Kailash again.

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