Monday, September 29, 2008

Durga Puja in Kolkata - origin, concepts

Durga Puja in Kolkata is quite fascinating, if you are an art lover. It is installation art of a very high order. It has less to do with religion these days. Sample it first, then we will discuss in details the history and significance. Please do not miss the last 9 paragraphs.

By Susanta Paul at Tala Pratay

                                                                     By Sanatan Dinda at Bakulbagan

                                                                        Dum Dum Bharat Chakra

Dum Dum Bharat Chakra

                                                                  New Town Durga Puja - Clock Towner


                                                                        Tridhara (?)

Akal Bodhon by Ram

Paresh Pal's Durga, my favourite because of his muscular depiction of asura. I do visit his studio in Kumartuli.

Immersion of goddess at Taki - India , Bangaldesh border

Durga Puja (Worship of Durga’), also referred as Durgotsab (Bengali: ‘Festival of Durga’) is an annual Hindu festival that celebrates worship of Hindu goddess Durga.

 It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi , Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami and Bijoya Dashami. The dates of Durga Puja celebrations are set according to traditional Hindu calendar and the fortnight corresponding the festival is called Debi Pokkho (Bengali: ‘Fortnight of the Goddess’).

Debi Pokkho/Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya, the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Pokkho ( Bengali : ‘Fortnight of the Forefathers’), and is ended on Kojagori Lokkhi Puja (Bengali ‘Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night’) . 

Therefore it is : Pitri Pokkho - Debi Pokkho -Kojagori Lokkhi Puja. Paksha or Pokkho refers to the 2 halves of a month -  Shukla Paksha (waxing moon) and Krishna Paksha (waning moon). Paksha equals 15 days. Shukla means white, bright or golden while Krishna means dark and is not considered auspicious.

Hindus observe Mahalaya as the ending of Pitri Pokkho/Paksha and the beginning of Debi (goddess or cosmic energy) Paksha / Pokkho. Pitri Pokkho is a 15-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. Pitri Pakkho is a mourning period for Hindus and is considered unlucky because shradhha, or rites to departed souls, are performed during this time. People mistakenly wish each other Shubho Mahalaya which doesn't make sense as the shubho or auspicious part starts after Mahalaya.

On the morning of Mahalaya Amavasya (new moon), devotees first pay their respects to their ancestors by offering them prayers , food and water (tarpan) - as it's the last day of Pitri Pokkho/Paksha. They normally go to the banks of river Ganges (Hooghly) to do this.

According to Hindu mythology, Ma Durga was created on this day by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to successfully vanquish the demon king Mahishasura.

On Mahalaya, (Saturday) the sculptors, who have been working for days, carving and chiseling the statue of Durga, carry out their final touch of drawing the eyes of the Mother. It is Called Chokkhu Daan, which means offering the eyes to Durga idol, it has a special significance. Artisans paint the beautiful eyes of the goddess at the break of the dawn and only a senior member from the artisan community is allowed to draw the eyes of Maa Durga. Painting the eyes of the goddess is not done on any given random day.  Chokkhudan is also known as pran-pratistha (Invocation of the goddess), meaning bringing her to life. From that moment, the idol is considered alive & ceases to be just a clay structure.

It is believed that on Debi/Devi (goddess) pokkho Ma Durga starts her journey from Mount Kailash ( where she resides with Lord Shiva) to her maternal home - Earth. 

Her homecoming along with her children- Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Kartik- marks the week-long Durga puja festival celebrations for Bengalis that end on dashami (10th day).

Durga Puja is widely celebrated in West Bengal, Assam , Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Tripura where it is a five-day annual holiday. Not only it is the biggest Hindu festival celebrated throughout the State, but also the most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali society.

Apart from Eastern part of India, Durga Puja is also celebrated in DelhiMaharashtraGujaratPunjabKashmirKarnataka and Kerala. I have witnessed Durga Puja even in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh in 2011, in the exactly the same form, we see in Bengal.

Durga Puja is also celebrated as a major festival in Nepal and Bangladesh. Nowadays, many non-residential Bengali cultural organizations arrange for Durgotsab in the countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Kuwait, Denmark, Netherland. In 2006, a grand Durga Puja ceremony was held in the Great Court of the British Museum. There are facebook pages created by organizers of this pujas - which one can refer to.

The prominence of Durga Puja increased gradually during the British Raj in Bengal. After the Hindu reformists resemble Durga with India, she had become an icon for the Indian independence movement. On the first quarter of the 20th century, the tradition of Baroyari (meaning 12 friends or Community Puja) was popularised due to this. After independence, Durga Puja became one of the largest celebrated festivals in the whole world.

Durga Puja includes the worships of ShivaLakshmiGaneshaSaraswati and Kartik also.


In Bengal, Durga Puja is also called

Akalbodhanuntimely awakening of Durga)
Sharadiya Puja (autumnal worship)
Sharodotsab (festival of autumn),
Maayer Pujo (worship of the Mother) or
only referred as Puja or Pujo.

In East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Durga Puja used to be celebrated as Bhagabati Puja.

It is also called Durga Puja in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.

Durga Puja is called Navratri Puja in Gujarat, Punjab,Kerala and Maharashtra,

Kullu Dussehra in Kullu ValleyHimachal Pradesh,

Mysore Dussehra in Mysore, Karnataka and

Bommai Kolu in Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh.


The worship of Durga is in autumn (Shôrot). Puja means "worship," and Durga's Puja is celebrated from the sixth to tenth day of the waxing moon in the month of Ashwin), which is the sixth month in the Bengali calendar.

Occasionally however, due to shifts in the lunar cycle relative to the solar months, it may also be held in the following month, Kartik. These dates correspond to the months of September and/or October.

In the Krittibas Ramayan, Rama invokes the goddess Durga in his battle against Ravana. Although she was traditionally worshipped in the Spring - Chaitra, due to exigencies of battle, Rama had to invoke her in the autumn - Sharat - akaal bodhan ( untimely awakening of Durga). Today it is this Rama's date for the puja that has gained ascendancy, although the spring puja, known as Basanti Puja [One of the oldest 'sabeki' Basanti Puja is held every year at spring in Barddhaman Pal Bari], is also present in the Hindu almanac.

The actual worship of the Goddess Durga as stipulated by the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Spring/ Chaitra, which roughly overlaps with March or April. This ceremony is however not observed by many and is restricted to a handful in the state of West Bengal.

The more popular form, which is also known as Sharadiya (Autumnal) Durga Puja, is celebrated later in the year with the dates falling either in September or October. Since the Goddess is invoked at the wrong time, it is called "Akaal Bodhon" in Bengali. Since the season of the puja is Shôrot, autumn, it is also known as Shôrodia or Sharodia.

The pujas are held over a ten-day period, which is traditionally viewed as the coming of the married daughter, Durga, to her father, Himalaya's home.

History/ Origin of the autumnal ceremony i.e. 'Sharadiya' ceremony instead of the original Spring ceremony

A considerable literature exists around Durga in the Bengali language and its early forms, including avnirnay (11th century), Durga bhakti tarangini by Vidyapati (14th century), etc. Durga Puja was popular in Bengal in the medieval period, and records exist of it being held in the courts of Rajshahi (16th century) and Nadia district (18th century).

It was during the 18th century,  however, that the worship of Durga became popular among the landed elite of Bengal, Zamindars. Prominent Pujas were conducted by the landed zamindars/Chieftains and jagirdars, enriched by British rule, including Raja Nabakrishna Deb, of Shobha-bazar, who initiated an elaborate Puja at his residence. The first such Zamindari Puja was organised by Raja Nabakrishna Deb of the Shobha-bazar Rajbari of Calcutta in honour of Lord Clive in the year 1757. Many of these old pujas exist to this day.

Interestingly the oldest such Puja to be conducted anywhere in the world at the same venue is in Rameswarpur, Orissa, where it continues for the last four centuries since the Ghosh Mahashays from Kotarang near Howrah migrated as a part of Todarmal's contingent during Akbar's rule.

The puja was organised because Clive wished to pay thanks for his victory in the Battle of Plassey. He was unable to do so in a Church because the only church in Calcutta at that time was destroyed by Siraj-ud-Daulah. Indeed many wealthy mercantile and Zamindar families in Bengal made British Officers of the East India Company guests of honour in the Pujas.

The hosts vied with one another in arranging the most sumptuous fares, decorations and entertainment for their guests.  

This was shown beautifully, by famous Bengali film director Rituparna Ghosh in "Antarmahal". I really liked the movie. 

This was deemed necessary since the East India Company was in charge of a large part of India including Bengal after the battles of Plassey and Buxar .

Evolution of the Community or Sarbajanin puja in autumn

In 1610, the first Durga puja in Kolkata was supposedly celebrated by the Roychowdhuri family of Barisha. Though this was a private affair, community or ‘Baroyari’ Puja was started in Guptipara, in Hooghly by 12 young men when they were barred from participating in a family puja in 1761. They formed a committee which accepted subscriptions for organising the puja. Since then, community pujas in Bengal came to be known as ‘Baroyari – ‘baro’ meaning 12 and ‘yar’ meaning friends.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, a burgeoning middle class, primarily in Calcutta, wished to observe the Puja. Today, the culture of Durga Puja has shifted from the princely houses to Sarbojanin (literally, "involving all") forms. 

In Kolkata, the first ‘Baroyari’ Durga Puja was organized in 1910 by the ‘Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha’ at Balaram Bosu Ghat Road, Bhawanipur. It is just opposite to Harish Mukherjee Park.

At the same time, similar Baroyari Pujas were held at Ramdhan Mitra Lane and Sikdar Bagan. The Indian freedom struggle also had an influence on Durga puja in Kolkata. In 1926, Atindranath Bose initiated the first ‘Sarbojanin’ Durga puja in which anybody, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, could participate in the festivities. This was consciously done 2 instill a feeling of unity.

These Pujas are organized by a committee which represents a locality or neighbourhood. They collect funds called "chaanda" through door-to-door subscriptions etc. These funds are pooled and used for the expenses of pandal construction, idol construction, ceremonies etc. The balance of the fund is sometimes donated to a charitable cause, as decided by the committee.

Corporate sponsorships of the Pujas have gained momentum since the late 1990s. Major Pujas in Calcutta and also in major metro areas such as Delhi (especially in Chittaranjan Park),Bangalore and Chennai now derive almost all of their funds from corporate sponsorships. Community fund drives have become a formality. The puja in CR Park is equally big and crowded till the wee hours of 3 - 4 am! I have seen that during my stay in Delhi from 1999-2002

Despite the resources used to organise a Puja, entry of visitors into the Pandal is free. Pujas in Calcutta experiment with innovative concepts every year. Communities have created prizes for Best Pandal, Best Puja, and other categories. Only after Unesco awarded Durga Puja Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2022, started charging entry fee for 21 special Pujas, for Puja preview before actual Puja starts.

Durga puja mood starts with the Mahishasura-mardini a radio programme (with the Sanskrit recitation of the Agomoni - an audio montage -  India’s oldest radio programme which is a collection of shlokas and songs - from the scriptures from the Debi Chandi) 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 enchanting voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadro (radio broadcaster, actor, playwright and theatre director) and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick.  Bengalis wake up to the song Jago tumi jago (Wake up mother goddess).

It is the most important festival in Bengal and Bengalis celebrate with new clothes and other gifts, which are worn on the evenings when the family goes out to see the 'pandals' (temporary structures set up to venerate the goddess. The word pandal means a temporary structure, made of bamboo and cloth, which is used as a temporary temple for the purpose of the puja). Although it is a Hindu festival, religion takes a back seat on these five days: Durga Puja in Bengal is a carnival, where people from all backgrounds, regardless of their religious beliefs, participate and enjoy themselves. Modern tradition have come to include the display of decorated pandals and artistically depicted idols of Durga, exchange of Bijoya Greetings and publication of Puja Annuals. Bengali 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.

In Kolkata alone more than 2,000 pandals are set up, all clamouring for the admiration and praise of the populace. The city is adorned with lights. People from all over the country visit the city at this time, and every night is one mad carnival where thousands of people go 'pandal-hopping' with their friends and family. Traffic comes to a standstill, and indeed, most people abandon their vehicles to travel by foot after a point. A special task force is deployed to control law and order.

Durga Puja in Calcutta is often referred to as the Rio Carnival of the Eastern Hemisphere.

In playgrounds, traffic circles, ponds—wherever space may be available—elaborate structures called pandals 'are set up, many with nearly a year's worth of planning behind them. While some of the pandals are simple structures, others are often elaborate works of art with themes that rely heavily on history, current affairs and sometimes pure imagination.

Somewhere inside these complex edifices is a stage on which Durga reigns, standing on her lion mount, wielding ten weapons in her ten hands. This is the religious centre of the festivities, and the crowds gather to offer flower worship or pushpanjali on the mornings, of the sixth to ninth days of the waxing moon fortnight known as Devi Pokkho .

Ritual drummers/dhakis, carrying large leather-strung dhak –– show off their skills during ritual dance worships called arati.

On the tenth day, Durga the mother returns to her husband, Shiva, ritualised through her immersion into the waters –– Bishorjon also known as Bhaashan / Niranjan, amid loud chants of 'Bolo Durga mai-ki jai' (glory be to Mother Durga') and 'aashchhe bochhor abar hobe' ('it will happen again next year') and drumbeats to the river or other water body. It is cast in the waters symbolic of the departure of the deity to her home with her husband in the Himalayas.

After this, in a tradition called Vijaya Dashami, families visit each other and sweetmeats are offered to visitors (Dashami is literally "tenth day" and Vijay is "victory").

In fact, visiting the pandals recent years, one can only say that Durga puja is the largest outdoor art festival on earth (wikipedia).

In the late 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 idol itself has evolved. The worship always depicts Durga with her four children. In the olden days, all five idols would be depicted in a single frame, traditionally called pata. Since the 1980s however, the trend is to depict each idol separately

The Bosepukur Sitala Mandir Puja is believed to have started this art installation or Theme Puja in 2001. The person who did this puja is no more - Bandan Raha. Bandan Raha was best known for making a pandal made of earthen cups at Bosepukur Sitala Mandir which had become a rage in 2001. When the club created the pandal of earthen cups, thousands turned up at the pandal daily, many of whom had no prior idea of the puja club and since then Raha was a big name in the business.


Theme-based Pujas and pandals

Since the 1990s. Puja committees decide on a particular theme, whose elements are incorporated into the pandal and the idols. Popular themes include ancient civilizations like the Egyptians or Incas. Contemporary subjects like the RMS Titanic and Harry Potter have also been the subject in some pandals.

The design and decoration is usually done by art and architecture students based in the cityEven famous artists like Sanatan Dinda,Bhabotosh sutar also design some of them. The budget required for such theme-based pujas is often higher than traditional pujas. They attract crowds and are well-received.

Inspired by Calcutta, theme-based pandals are becoming popular in cities in neighbouring states, particularly Orissa . Experimentation with the idols does not happen much outside Calcutta.

Rapid growth of competitiveness in theme pandals, and also rapid growth of massive billboards that come up at strategic junctions, prior to Puja and allied commercial activities, has also created a cultural backlash from city's traditional Puja pandals, which now claim, "We do not do theme puja, we do Durga puja,”, according to one hoarding put up in Salt Lake, Kolkata

Durga Puja is also a festivity of Good (Ma Durga) winning over the evil (Mahishasura, the demon). It is a worship of power of Good which always wins over the bad.

Creation of the idols

Durga Puja Idol in the making at Kumortuli, Kolkata.

The entire process of creation of the idols from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a holy process, supervised by rites and other rituals.

On the Hindu date of Akshaya Tritiya when the Ratha Yatra is held, clay for the idols is collected from the banks of a river, preferably the Ganges. After the required rites, the clay is transported from which the idols are fashioned. An important event is 'Chakkhu Daan', literally donation of the eyes. Starting with Devi Durga, the eyes of the idols are painted on Mahalaya or the first day of the Pujas.

Before painting on the eyes, the artisans are supposed to fast for a day and eat only vegetarian food.

Many Pujas in and around Calcutta buy their idols from Kumartuli (also Kumortuli), an artisans' town/colony in north Calcutta.

In other parts of India


In Delhi there are approximately 400 registered pujas, which are celebrated with great fanfare by Bengalis settled in Delhi. Unlike most of the Durga Pujas in Kolkata, the atmosphere in Durga Pujas celebrated across Delhi, in general, are less commercial and they have been able to maintain that peculiar atmosphere of Durga Puja. The oldest Durga Puja in Delhi is organised by Delhi Durga Puja Samiti, Kashmere Gate, Delhi (popularly known as Kashmere Gate Puja OR Heritage Durga Puja) since 1910. In the year of 2009, they will be completing 100 years of continuous extistence. I have seen Durga Pujas in CR Park. Like Calcutta people come to see the pandal through out the night.
Apart from Kashmere Gate Puja, Durga Pujas celebrated at Timar Pur, New Delhi Kali Bari, Karol Bagh Bangiya Sansad, Minto Road, C R Park Shiv Mandir, C R Park Mela Ground, CR Park B Block (destroyed by fire more than once) ,Hauz Khas, Nivedita Enclave are worth visiting (to name a few). Newer residential areas like Dwarka also host some of the worth visiting Durga Pujas; Aikotaan Kalibari O Sewa Samiti's (oldest Sarbajanin) Durga Puja celebrations in Sector-4 in Dwarka sub-city is known for its homely environment.


Durga Puja is one of the major, rather the most awaited festival of this City. Hundreds of pandals are setup with carnivals. The city witnesses a huge surge in visitors during these four days starting from Maha Saptami. More than 500 exhibits, known as pandals, decorated with lights, sculpturing and other art forms come up across the city. The crowd spills onto the streets during the evenings and throng the food stalls and processions. Competitions are held for giving away prizes to the best pandal,apart from puja pandals musical nights are also the point attaraction at Patna during Durga Puja Festival etc.


According to historian Late Benudhar Sharma, the present form of worship of Durga with earthen idol in Assam was started during the reign of Ahom King Susenghphaa or Pratap Singha. The King heard about the festivity, the pomp and grandeur with which the King Naranarayan of Koch Bihar celebrated Durga Puja from one Sondar Gohain, who was under captivity of the Koch raja.
King Pratap Singha sent artisans to Koch Bihar to learn the art of idol making. The King organised the first such Durga Puja celebration in Bhatiapara near Sibsagar. This was the first time Durga Puja with earthen idols in Assam was held for the masses, in addition to the worship in Durga temples like Kamakhya, Digheswari Temple, Maha Bhairabi Temple, Ugrotara, Tamreswari Mandir, etc.
Subsequently, similar Pujas were celebrated by other Kings and nobles. Now a days the Durga Puja is mostly a community festival celebrated in all the cities, towns, villages of Assam with great festivity and religious fervour for five days.


Durga Puja is one of the major, rather the most awaited festival of this Steel City. Hundreds of pandals are setup with carnivals. More than 300 exhibits, known as pandals, decorated with lights, sculpturing and other art forms come up across the city. The crowd spills onto the streets almost the whole day of all the 4 days and throng the food stalls and processions. Competitions are held for giving away prizes to the best pandal, etc.

Maharashtra and Goa

In Maharashtra, Durga Puja is an enjoyable occasion. Puja is performed each day and devotees do not remove the flower garland that is put each day on the idol or image of the deity. After nine days, all nine garlands are removed together. Young girls who have not attained maturity are invited to eat, play games, dance and sing. An elephant is drawn with rangoli, and the girls play guessing games. Then they are fed a meal of their choice.
In Goa great festivities take place in the temples of shree Shantadurga, shree Mhalasa Narayani and shree Vijayadurga.


People of Punjab strictly observe Navratri. Some Punjabis have only milk for seven days before breaking the fast on ashtami or navami. They worship Durga Ma and do the aarti at home. Some of them have fruit or a complete meal only once a day. Intoxicating drinks or meat, and other forms of entertainment are completely avoided. At the end of the fast, devotees feed beggars or worship little girls who spell the Shakti of the Mother Goddess.


Various accounts exist which ascribe the origin of Durga Puja in the state of Orissa. All historical accounts agree on the influence from other regions although some mythological accounts describe an independent origin.

Durga Puja is a festival, which is observed for 10 days. The Durga Puja is celebrated in two different ways in Orissa.

In Shakti peethas (temples of goddess) the Durga Puja is observed with proper rituals for 10 to 16 days known as Shodasa Upachara. Goddess Durga is also worshiped by devotees in different pandals in form deities across the state. The pandals are decorated with beautiful decoratives.

According to Markandeya Purana the King of Chedi dynasty Suratha started rituals of Durga Puja during 300B.C.The Chedi dynasty belongs to Kalinga(modern Orissa).

Durga Puia has different names in different Puranas and Sastras. In Devi Purana & Kalika Purana it is named as Vijaya Dashami.

It is named as Mahaparbana in Devi Mahatmya and Duseehera in Markandeya Purana.
The present form of worship of Durga with earthen idol in Orissa was started during the reign of Ganga King Chodaganga Dev in the 11th century at Puri.

The earthen idol of Mahishamardini Durga is known as Gosani and the Dussehra fesival is known as Gosani Yatra. It is noteworthy that the co-worship of Mahisamardini Durga with Madhava (Lord Jagannath) is prevalent from 11th century,Ganga period, in Puri.

Before the concept of Sarbojonin Durga Puja started, it was being conducted by princely houses and the first such Puja being conducted anywhere in the world at the same venue and continuing till date is in Orissa. It is at Rameswarpur in Bhadrak district of the state, where it was started about four centuries ago by the Mahashay family who migrated in from Kotarang near Howrah as a part of Todarmal's famous survey of India during Emperor Akbar's rule.

It is said that in the year 1512 to 1517 Chaitanya Deva had come to Cuttack, the capital of Gajapati empire of Orissa and the then emperor of Orissa Gajapati Pratap Rudra Dev received him at Gadagadia Ghata situated near the river bank of Mahanadi very close to the kings Palace popularly known as Barabati fort. In that year Sri Chatanya Deva started Durga puja at Binod Bihari temple presently known as Balu Bazar.
One reason for the wide acceptance of Durga Puja is the importance of Maa Tarini, who is considered one of the embodiments of Shakti in Oriya culture. In addition, the state is close to Bengal and the peoples share a common socio-cultural history spanning millennia. Orissa is home to many important shrines dedicated to the Goddess; great festivities are organised there on Durga and Kali Puja.

It is thus one of the prime festivals of Orissa as well. People in Orissa celebrate it on a large scale. The Goddess Durga is among the sacred goddesses of Orissa. The celebrations are quite similar to the neighbouring state of West Bengal.


Durga Puja is celebrated in a grand way in this state.
In Mysore, Dussehra is easily the most popular festival. Elephants are decked up with robes and jewellery and taken in processions through the streets of the city. In fact, many people visit Mysore from all over the country to watch this colorful event. There is also 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 which was slain by the Goddess. The original Indian name was Mahishur. There are temples dedicated to the demon king and even a gigantic statue of the demon in the city.


Navratri is devoted to Amba mataji. In some homes, images of mataji are worshiped in accordance with accepted practice. This is also true of the temples, which usually have a constant stream of visitors from morning to night. The most common form of public celebration is the performance of garba and dandia-ras/ras-garba (a form of garba with sticks), Gujarat's popular folk-dance, late throughout the nights of these nine days in public squares, open grounds and streets.


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 honored by worshipping the books and records at home.
Thousands throng the Saraswati temple at Kottayam during this period to take a dip in the mysterious holy pond, whose source is yet unknown. Large gatherings are also seen at the famous temples at Thekkegram (Palghat), in which there are no idols, only huge mirrors. A devotee finds himself bowing before his own reflection, which symbolizes that God is within us.


Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir celebrate their festivals with pomp and show. These days, festivities are more subdued. The favorite deities of Kashmir are Lord Shiva and Serawali Ma Durga, the one who rides the tiger. Pundits and Muslims alike vouch that Navratri is important. Here each Hindu household does the puja at home. All the adult members of the household fast on water. In the evenings, fruit may be taken. As elsewhere, Kashmiris grow barley in earthen pots. They believe that if the growth in this pot is good, there is prosperity all year. The most important ritual for Kashmiri Pandits is to visit the temple of guardian goddess Kheer Bhawani on all nine days. On the last day of Navratri, an aarti is held at the temple, after which people break their fast. On Dussehra day, Ravana's effigy is burnt.

Outside India

Durga Puja is celebrated by the Indian diaspora residing in different parts of the world. It is also celebrated in regions and by people culturally and historically distinct from India.


Although the percentage of Hindu people in Bangladesh is very low, Durga Puja along with other Pujas are celebrated throughout Bangladesh by all kinds of people. Generally people in district areas organize large number of Pujas compared to the big city or village.


Dussehra in Nepal is called Dashain. As it is chiefly a Hindu nation, the pattern and dates of the festivals coincide with those of India. The King of Nepal plays a key role in the festivities, particularly during Saptami or the Seventh day of the pujas. Despite the overthrow of monarchy in Nepal, the Royal Family still has a significant cultural role in the nation.

United States, Europe and Australia

Durga Puja is organised by communities comprising of Indians in the US, Europe and Australia. Although pandals are not constructed, the idols are flown in from Kumartuli in Bengal. The desire by the diaspora peoples to keep in touch with their cultural ties has led to a boom in religious tourism, as well as learning from priests or purohits versed in the rites. Also recently, the immersion of the Durga idol has been allowed in the Thames river for the festival which is held in London. In the United States the pujas are often hosted during weekends with very few exceptions. The pujas weekends are time for Bengal friends and family to gather together to spend the weekend savoring bengali culture. Cultural programs are helds; there is food; stalls selling ethnic clothes/jewellery/books/music/dvds - there is a general atmosphere of festivity.

Environmental impact

Image of Durga being immersed in water. This has led to harm to aquatic life of many plants and animals.

"Commercialisation of Hindu festivals like Durga Puja in the last quarter of 20th century have become a major environmental concern as devout Hindus want bigger and brighter idols and are no longer happy with the ones made from eco-friendly materials," said Ramapati Kumar, a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace. Environmentalists say the idols are often made from non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, cement and plaster of Paris, and are painted using toxic dyes.

Environmentalists state that such materials do not dissolve easily. They reduce the oxygen level in the water, resulting in the death of fish and other aquatic organisms. The paints used contain heavy metals such as mercury, chromium and lead which are carcinogenic. These can adversely affect drinking water.

Over the years, white plumes attached to the drums of a Dhaki, traditional drummer have come to symbolize Durga puja, and at least four birds have to be killed to obtain a bunch of 30-40 feathers needed to decorate a single dhak (drum). But these days white plums attached to the Dhak is not very common.

Popular culture specific to the puja

Durga Puja is one of the most important events in the Bengali society's calendar. Many Bengali films, albums and books are released to coincide with the Puja. The West Bengal government gives a fortnight of holidays for the Pujas. This time is used in various ways. Many people travel in India or abroad. Gatherings of friends called "Aadda" in Bengali is common in many homes and restaurants. A lot of shopping is done, and retailers cash in on this opportunity with special offers.

Visiting pandals with friends and family, talking and sampling the food sold near them is known as pandal hopping. Young people embrace this activity. TV and radio channels telecast Puja celebrations. Many Bengali channels devote whole days to the Pujas.

Who is Durga ?

In Hinduism, the Goddess Durga or "the invincible" or Maa Durga got her name after killing the asura Durg.

Durga , a form of Devi, the supremely radiant goddess, depicted as having ten arms, riding a lion or a tiger, carrying weapons (including a lotus flower), maintaining a meditative smile, and practicing mudras, or symbolic hand gestures.
Durga is considered by Hindus the mother of Ganesh, and Kartik.
She is considered the fiercer, demon-fighting form of Lord Shiva's wife, Goddess Parvati.
Durga manifests fearlessness and patience, and never loses her sense of humor, even during spiritual battles of epic proportion.

The Divine belief

The word Shakti, means divine feminine force and Durga is the warrior form of the Divine Mother.
Other incarnations include Annapurna .
Durga's darker aspect Kali is represented as the consort of god Shiva, on whose body she is often seen standing.
Durga's form is blindingly bright, as a radiant goddess (devi), with three lotus-like eyes, ten powerful hands, lush hair with beautiful curls, a red-golden glow from her skin and a quarter moon on her forehead. She wears a shiny attire emitting fierce rays. Her ornaments were carved beautifully of gold, with ocean pearls and precious stones embedded in it.

According to the narrative from the Devi Mahatmya story of the Markandeya Purana text, Durga was created as a warrior goddess to fight an asura, (an inhumane force/demon) named Mahishasur. He had unleashed a reign of terror on earth, heaven and the nether worlds, and he could not be defeated by any man or god, anywhere.

So the gods went to Brahma who had given Mahishasur the boon to be the invincible conqueror of the universe. Brahma could not do anything.

So they made Brahma their leader and went to Baikuntha-the place where Vishnu lay on Anantya Naag. They found both Vishnu and Shiva there and Brahma eloquently reported the reign of terror Mahishasur had unleashed on the three worlds.

Hearing this both Vishnu, Shiva and all the gods got very angry and beams of fierce light emerged from each of their body. This blinding sea of light met at the Ashram of the priest Katyan. Thus the goddess Durga took the name Katyani from the priest and emerged from the sea of light.

She gave her own introduction in the language of Rig-Veda saying that she was the form of the supreme Brahman and had created all the gods. Now she had come to fight the demon to save the gods. The gods did not create her, it was her leela that she emerged from their combined energy. The gods were blessed with her compassion.

Thus Durga was formed from the Trimurti (Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma) to destroy the buffalo demon Mahisha.

It is said that upon initially encountering Durga, Mahishasura underestimated her thinking "How can a woman kill me-Mahishasur the one who has defeated the god trinity".

And the terrible Mahishasur rampaged against her, changing forms many times. First he was a buffalo demon, and she defeated him with her sword. The he changed forms and became an elephant that tied up the goddesses' tiger and began to pull it towards him. The goddess cut off his trunk with her Khorgo. The demon Mahishasur continued his terrorizing, taking the form of a lion, and then the form of a man, but both of them were gracefully slain by the goddess Durga.

Then Mahishasur began attacking once more, starting to take the form of a buffalo again. The patient goddess became very angry, and as she sipped divine wine from a cup she smiled . When Mahashaur had half emerged into his buffalo form, he got paralyzed by the extreme light emitting from the goddess's body. The goddess then resounded with laughter before cutting Mahishasur's head down with her Khorgo.
Hence Mata Durga is also known as Mahishasurmardhini – the slayer of Mahishasur.


The four day long Durga Puja is the biggest annual festival in Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. It is celebrated likewise with much fervour in other parts of India, especially the Himalayan region, but is celebrated in various forms throughout the Hindu universe.
The day of Durga's victory is celebrated as Vijaya Dasahmi, Dashain (Nepali) or Dussehra (Bengali) - these words literally mean "the Victory Tenth" (day).

In Kashmir she is worshipped as shaarika (the main temple is in Hari Parbat in Srinagar).
The actual period of the worship however may be on the preceding nine days (Navaratri) followed by the last day called Vijayadashami in North India .

Nine aspects of Durga known as Navadurga are meditated upon, one by one during the nine-day festival by devout Shakti worshippers.

In North India, the tenth day, signifying Rama's victory in his battle against the demon Ravana, is celebrated as Dussehra - gigantic straw effigies of Ravana are burnt in designated open spaces (e.g. Delhi's Ram Lila grounds), watched by thousands of families and little children.
In Mysore Karnataka, she is worshipped as Chamundeshwari, the patron goddess of the city during Dussehra.
In Gujarat it is celebrated as the last day of Navaratri, during which the Garba dance is performed to celebrate the vigorous victory of Mahishasura-mardini Durga.
The Goddess Durga is worshiped in her peaceful form as Maha Gauri, The Fair Lady, Shree Shantadurga also known as santeri, is the patron Goddess of Goa. She is worshiped by all Goan Hindus irrespective of caste.

Weapons of Durga

Each of her weapons was gifted to her by various gods:
• The conch shell in Durga's hand symbolizes the 'Pranava' or the mystic word 'Om', which indicates her holding on to God in the form of sound.
• The bow and arrows (Barun??) represent energy. By holding both the bow and arrows in one hand "Mother Durga" is indicating her control over both aspects of energy - potential and kinetic.
• The thunderbolt (Indra) signifies firmness. The devotee of Durga must be firm like thunderbolt in one's convictions. Like the thunderbolt that can break anything against which it strikes, without being affected itself, the devotee needs to attack a challenge without losing his confidence.
• The lotus in Durga's hand is not in fully bloomed, It symbolizing certainty of success but not finality. The lotus in Sanskrit is called "pankaja" which means born of mud. Thus, lotus stands for the continuous evolution of the spiritual quality of devotees amidst the worldly mud of lust and greed.
• The Sudarshan-Chakra or beautiful discus (Vishnu), which spins around the index finger of the Goddess, while not touching it, signifies that the entire world is subservient to the will of Durga and is at her command. She uses this unfailing weapon to destroy evil and produce an environment conducive to the growth of righteousness.
• The sword/scimitar/lance ???? (Kumara) that Durga holds in one of her hands symbolizes knowledge, which has the sharpness of a sword. Knowledge which is free from all doubts, is symbolized by the shine of the sword.
• Durga's trident or "trishul" (Rudra)is a symbol of three qualities - Satwa (inactivity), Rajas (activity) and Tamas (non-activity) - and she is remover of all the three types of miseries - physical, mental and spiritual.
• Brahma’s kamandalu
• Kuber’s gada or mace
• Lion by Himalaya, her father

Notable temples in India

The Legend of the “Kola Bou”

A Banana plant draped in white and red Bengali style saree, with vermilion on its leaves is placed beside Lord Ganesha on “Saptami”, the seventh day. This tree bride is called “Kola Bou”. She is popular as Lord Ganesh’s wife. In reality Kola bou has no relationship with Lord Ganesh. Our scriptures call her Navapatrika. 

In ancient times, idol worship was not prevalent, the peasants’ worshipped Mother Nature for a prosperous harvest. It was during the autumn, the time for reaping crops, that the farmers worshipped Goddess Navapatrika. Later when Durga Puja became a popular festival of autumn, all the nine holy rituals of the Navapatrika, were added to the ceremonies of Durga Puja. In fact Navapatrika represented the primitive form of Durga Puja. This form of worship is still prevalent in some places. 

Navapatrika or the nine plants of worship depicts nine forms of goddess Durga. They are banana plant as Goddess Brahmani, Colacassia plant represents Goddess Kalika, Turmeric plant symbolises Devi Durga, Jayanti denotes Kartiki, Wood apple Goddess Shiva, Pomegranate Raktadantika, Ashoka tree symbolises Sokrahita, Arum plant represents Chamunda and the Rice plant Goddess Lakshmi.

In the early hours of Saptami, the twigs of white “aparajita” plant along with nine bunches of yellow threads are used to tie the Navapatrika. It is then bathed. During olden times the bath was an elaborate affair. It was compared with the coronation of a King. All the nine Goddesses representing Navapatrika are bathed with waters from 8 different holy places. Over the years this elaborate ritual has shrunk to a small affair. Water from the Ganges or some nearby pond accompanied with Dhak and Kanshi finishes the ceremony. After the bathing ceremony Navapatrika is adorned in red bordered white Bengali style saree and vermilion is smeared on its leaves. Offerings of flowers, sandalwood paste and incense sticks are made. Later kolabou is placed on the rightside of Lord Ganesh. This is the reason she is popularly known as Ganesh’s wife.


Holy tree missed in Puja rituals -  By Sujay Khanna

MIDNAPORE: With the jayanti tree - an intrinsic part of Bodhon that marks the beginning of Durga Puja - on the verge of extinction, Puja rituals are now observed in a half-hearted manner. While the priests are upset about the injustice being done to the Divine, botanists fear that jayanti tree could become completely extinct unless efforts are made to cultivate it. 
Durga Puja, we all know, begins with Bodhon - a ritual to welcome the Goddess who comes travelling all the way from Kailash to her maternal home. The kolabou (banana stem) worship is an integral part of Bodhon and is done on the morning of Sashthi. According to shastras, nine forms of Goddess Durga, including the kolabou, are worshipped on this day. But nowadays, the puja is usually done with eight forms of the Goddess as the Jayanti tree is hard to find. 
Purohit Purnendu Chakraborty, who performs the age-old puja at the Mullick household in Midnapore town, said the demand for jayanti trees far outstrips the scant supply during Durga Puja. 
The ritual is thus proving incomplete these days as the kolabou itself does not comprise the Navapatrika or nine plants it is supposed to be made up of. The rituals require the Nabapatrika to make up the kolabou. The plants like Colacassis, turmeric, jayanti, wood apple, pomegranate, arum, ashoka and paddy are tied to a banana stem which represents the Brahmani form of the Goddess. The kolabou, wrapped in a red and white sari, is them smeared with vermilion and placed near the deity at Puja pandals. 

Vidyasagar University's professor of botany and forestry, Nagendra Verma, fears the tree could become extinct because of pollution and scant rainfall. "Thus Centre must take steps to preserve the jayanti trees or else a day will come when the Puja can no longer be performed in accordance with the Puranas," said priest Raghupati Chakraborty.
The nine different plants which comprises the Navapatrika:

1. Ashoka (Ashoka Gaachh) - represents Goddess Shokarahita
2. Rice (Dhaan Gaachh) - represents Goddess Lakshmi
3. Arum (Maankochu Gaachh) - represents Goddess Chamunda
4. Pomegranate (Daalim Gaachh) - represents Goddess Raktadantika5. Wood apple (Bel Ghaachh) - represents Goddess Shiva
6. Jayanti (Jayanti Gaachh) - represents Goddess Kartiki
7. Turmeric (Halud Gaachh) - represents Goddess Durga
8. Colacassia (Kochu Gaachh) - represents Goddess Kalika
9. Banana (Kola Gaachh) - represents Goddess Brahmani

There is another side of this story, which is not there even in wikipedia. I wrote an article on this in Asian Age in 1999. Strange it may seem, but I was along a fan of Mahisasura, probabaly because of the way my father described Mahishasura to me.

As per wikipedia Mahishasura's father Rambha was king of the asuras, and he once fell in love with a water buffalo; Mahishasura was born out of this union. He is therefore able to change between human and buffalo form at will (mahisha = buffalo). Despite being a demon (the word asura used to mean "not-god" and does not have as strong a negative connotation as "demon"), Mahishasura was also pious in his meditation to Brahma. Eventually, Brahma granted him a boon that he could not be defeated in battle by any man or god.

According to famous sculptor Meera Mukherjee (in her book In search of Viswakarma),the asuras are not demons. There only sin is they do not follow Vedic religion. They are the persons who created roads, medicine, cultivated lands. They were invariably killed by Gods by sheer deceit. According to the legendary Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Datta, Ram is a coward.He did not accept Sita, although she was innocent, after she came back from Lanka , with the false presumption that she has been exploited by Ravana. The fact is Ravana did not even touch Sita and kidnapped her, only becasue, Laxman cut the nose of his sister Surpanakha , when she proposed Laxman. Ten heads of Ravana signifies mastery of 10 disciplines e.g. Architecture, Astronomy,warfare etc. Ravana is very pious. Laxman killed great warrior, Indrajit,brother of Ravana from his back, when Indrajit was worshipping. It was against the ethics and rule of war. Michael Madhusudan Datta came heavily on Laxman for his cowardice and said " I hate Ram and his rabel" in his famous " Meghnath (other name of Indrajit) Badh Kabya ".

Asuras are probably the black people or Dravidians , whom Aryans referred to as "Dasyu" (the workd found in Persian language also, according to Irfan Habib in Vedic Civilization) in Vedas.
It will be interesting to note that in Durga puja even Mahisasura is being given garlands and worshipped.

According to blogger Akshay Chavan, " there is a tribe of people who call themselves “Asuras” , consider themselves to be the descendants of Mahishasura, hate “Devas” for defeating him and consider Navratri as a period of mourning to remember the defeat of “Asuras” by “Devas”. This tribe, called the "Asur Tribe" ,  consider themselves to be kinsmen of Mahishasura and do not worship Devas as they conspired to defeat him. The Asur Tribe is mainly predominant in the Chhota Nagpur plateau of Jharkhand state. They are found in the districts of Gumla, Lohardaga, Palamu and Latehar of the Jharkhand state. The modern Asur tribe is divided into three sub-tribal divisions, namely Bir (Kol) Asur, Birjia Asur and Agaria Asur. By profession, Asurs are traditionally Iron smelters. " 

They are also present in Tea Gardens of North Bengal (though they migrated from Jharkhand) and their lingua franca is Sadri language (or Madeshi language ).

" To this day, they resent the Devas. They believe that Devas are power hungry and can do no good to anyone. The Asurs worship their ancestors or nature offering them haria (rice beer) and chicken on a sacred day. While rest of the country celebrates Durga Puja and Navratri, the Asurs spread across North Bengal and Jharkhand go into a deep period of mourning. During this time, the elders stay even away from sunlight. Windows are barred and all activities done only after sunset.The Asur tribe has tried to preserve their traditions in this rapidly changing and assimilating world. A fascinating fact, which is truly a great example of the great anthropological diversity of India. 

In the popular culture today, Asuras are often confused with “Rakshas” (Demons). However, this was not always so. Once upon a time, Asuras were not considered demons but in fact power seeking deities. In the early Hinduism, there were two classes of deities, Devas and Asuras. Infact, in those times, Indra and Varun were considered to be Asuras. Asuras were powerful deities who were opposed to gods. Sometimes, they were more powerful than the Devas and sometimes worked with them together to achieve a common goal. As per the Hindu Puranas, Asuras and Devas are step sons of Rishi Kashyap. Curiously, it is only in the later stages of Hinduism that the Asuras began to be portrayed at demons or evil being. So what happened? Why did the Asuras go from being a kind of a deity to becoming demons or rakshas?

The historical theory behind the split of Asuras and Devas

The answer to this question lies in time far back in millennia, when wandering hordes of Aryans travelled through large parts of Asia. It is believed that Aryans came to India through Central Asia in the Bronze Age. There is a theory among historians explaining the Asuras and Devas divide to the split between the Indian Aryans and the Iranian Aryans. This theory is corroborated by the fact that in old-Iranian religion as well as Zoroastrianism, the term Asura corresponds to the Zoroastrian word “Ahura”. In Zoroastrianism, Asuras or “Ahuras” are supreme godly beings while Devas or “Daevas” are demonic. Prophet Zoroaster propagated the worship of Ahura Mazda while the first Zoroastrian Gatha condemns Daevas for their ill treatment of cows.

Based on this opposing definitions of Devas and Asuras in Indian and Iranian religions, Historian theorise that following may have happened. At a date lost in history, the single tribe of Aryans of Central Asia split into two parts. One tribe settled down in Iran and the other tribe of Aryans came to India. Then, after some time differences arose between them and they had a fight. As a result, on one hand, the Iranians demonised the Devas and considered Ahuras godly, while on other hand, the Indians demonised the Asuras and considered Devas godly.

Another hypothesis is that the opposition between Asuras and Devas is rooted in Indo-Iranian Aryans social structure. At important festivals, it is postulated that two clans or sub-tribes would compete in making the most perfect ritual offering to the gods, seeking to outdo their peers in beauty of hymns sung, richness of offerings, and minute observance of traditional formulae. One clan would sacrifice to Devas, the other to the Asuras. When Aryan society grew and split between Indian Aryans and Iranian Aryans, the two resulting societies slowly forgot the old agonistic context, and eventually chose one set of deities over the other. Thus, what we now know is that for Indian Aryans, it was Devas = good and Asuras = Bad while for Iranian Aryans, it was the other way round. 

As the process of Globalization gathers pace, the iron smelting, the traditional occupation of the Asurs has become unviable thereby forcing them to migrate to cities. Also, more educated Asurs are giving up their traditions to integrate into the mainstream. The Asurs or Asuras have preserved their traditions for millennia, but will they be able to do the same for the next millennia? Only time will tell. All I can say is that the survival of this unique tribe, still true to their beliefs after thousands of years, is truly a tribute to the cultural diversity of India. So next time when you think that Asuras are Demons or Rakshas, found only in Mythology, think again! Some of them could be standing right next to you.

Chronological order