Welcoming Maa Durga!

Dristy Rahman writes about the celebration of Durga Puja.

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Devi paksha is the waxing phase of the moon that comes in the month of Ashwin as per the Hindu lunar calendar. The holy occasion of Mahalaya is the first day of Durga Puja or Navratri. This day marks the beginning of the grand festival and prayers are offered to invite the Goddess Durga to descend on earth and bless her devotees. This year, with Durga Puja about to knock at the door, it is high time we start preparing for one of the biggest festivals of our land.

The festival of Durga puja or Navratri marks Goddess Durga’s advent in her battle against evil. She is believed to be the mother of universe and symbolises immense power and female dynamism. Durga is the sign of justice and peace. When demonic forces created imbalance, all gods were united and became one divine force called Shakti or Durga. Goddess Durga killed the powerful demon Ashura and his commanders to control the universe with goodness as god’s will. This force is sculptured as Durga with ten armed hands, and riding on a lion. However, she is always gorgeously dressed in royal red cloth, ornaments, almond eyes, crown, and luminous dark hair. The various weapons in her hands reflect the eminent supremacy of Goddess Durga.

After nine days of worship with heartfelt devotion, Hindu community feels the united with Goddess Durga. In Bangladesh and India, Durga Puja is nationally marked as a holiday. Devotees pray for the deity’s invocation on earth and for her blessings to curb the evil rakkasha Mahishasura.  It is celebrated on the dark night of Amavashya, where devotees fervently pray to Goddess Durga to arrive on earth. This is when people start preparing for goddess Durga’s arrival and ensure a grand welcome on the sixth day or Sasthi. Huge mondops (pandals) with massive idols of Durga and other Gods and Goddesses are installed and decorated for people to worship. After fervent hospitality, they sacrifice her in the river on the tenth day, which is known as Dashomi or Dushhera. This is when Devi Durga bids farewell from her stay on earth.

Devotees remember their ancestors and pay homage to them and offer foods, clothes and sweets to the Brahmins. People wake up early in the morning; spend the day reciting prayers and hymns from their holy books. Prashad (sacrificial sweets) is also prepared for the devotees to feast on various mondop. The food offerings made for the ancestors are usually cooked in silver or copper pots and typically offered on a banana leaf or cups made of dried leaves. The food generally includes kheer, lassi, rice/ khichuri, daal, or mixed vegetables.

In Dhaka, Durga Puja celebrations vary from traditional family spots to the ultra-high budget glitzy affair in Banani. Kolkata-style corporatisation of Pujas has started but yet to be widespread in Dhaka. The most prestigious puja is at the Dhakeswari national temple. Other famous Dhaka puja mondops include those at Dhaka University’s Jagannath hall, Ramna Kali temple, Ramakrishna Mission, and Loknath Brahmachari Ashram. Other districts also boast huge number of pujas with around 1,200 pandals in Gopalganj, 900 in Sylhet, 628 in Jessore and 604 pandals in Magura. The port city of Chittagong has 281 mondops and is special because many of the immersions actually take place in the Bay of Bengal, unlike in rivers and ponds in most other places of the country. Rangpur is known to host grand celebrations in different parts of the city.

There is enthusiasm, fun, and frolic in the air and on the ground in Bangladesh during Durga Puja. Children and adults look forward to the puja festivities with great expectations. After the religious part is over, the socio-cultural aspect comes into prominence and staging of plays or screening of movies hold sway. The audience swells beyond the capacity of the pandals. Men, women and children of all faiths living in Bangladesh flock to the Hindu celebrations without a hitch.

Current president of Bangladesh, Abdul Hamid once said that Durga Puja and other religious festivals are performed from the depth of traditional heritage and Bengali culture so that the festival is never confined into the circumference of religion. Echoing this sentiment, prime minister Sheikh Hasina said that Durga Puja is not only a festival of Hindus but of all communities, irrespective of religion. She also mentioned the thousand-year-old bond of communal harmony of Bengalis.

In the year 2016, Noakhali made the tallest Durga idol, standing at 71 feet representing the year of Bangladesh liberation, and is charged with deep symbolism. Creating the best puja mondop is like a competition between the regions and cities. They all try to incorporate their best ideas and decorate the mondops in the most attractive ways. Puja-special advertisements are ubiquitous in the media and on the streets. Some TV channels do live telecasts from key puja pavilions and have special programmes. Posh hotels and restaurants have lavish puja-special meal deals, and street-food stalls shoot up in numbers, while fashion houses bring out pujo-themed apparel collections targeting the festival.

In the pre-independence undivided India, a large number of Hindus lived in this part of the country that later became East Pakistan and on independence from Pakistan was renamed as Bangladesh. Tracing back to that lineage, we still observe this grand festival with all its glory and solemnity.

The trans-communal element of Durga Puja celebrations is borne out by the mixed nature of crowds thronging the pavilions. All are welcome to the puja pandal irrespective of the religious association. The entire country lightens up with lavish decorations and lively music. It feels like a nine-days long celebration and festivity.

 

 

Dristy Rahman is a self-proclaimed magical bunny, whose glittery wand of positivity casts pink spotlights on key issues, and sprinkles progressive outlook on life.

 

 

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