Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 17, Tuesday, October 19, 2004




durga puja

THE sky is a clear translucent blue. The previously billowing clouds have become wispy remnants like cigarette smoke disappearing in the air. Monsoons torrential rains have just stopped leaving the rivers lapping along the banks. The fields filled with reed and their willowy white flowers float in the breeze. It happens every year in accordance with the seasonal cycle. These signs spell out the end of monsoon and the beginning of winter. It lasts for a very short time bringing with it a season filled with festivities. One such festival is the Durga Puja. It officially begins on the seventh day form the sighting of the new moon during the Bangla month of Ashwin and continues till the tenth day. This period signifying the arrival of the goddess is called Mohaloya.

The awakening
The day before the Puja sets off is known as the Devi'r Bodhon (goddesses' awakening). It takes place at the base of a wood apple tree and the story behind this awakening is that the gods and goddesses have spent the monsoon period in rest and solitude. This particular tree has been chosen as it symbolises the sun. After all, the sun being all-powerful, befits an all powerful goddess. In another sense the awakening of the goddess also signifies the rebirth of the spirit in the human soul.

Kumari puja
Kumari Puja is a part of Durga Puja that is celebrated with equal zest. It takes place on the eighth day where any unmarried female within one to sixteen years is given devotion due to a goddess. The selected girl is given a bath after which she is decked out in new clothes, ornaments and garlands. Red alta highlights on the feet and forehead complement the flowers on her wrist. She is then sat on a decorated stage surrounded by the knick-knacks related to puja. The chosen maiden is presented as the ideal woman embracing all the good and admirable traits. She portrays a vision of the ethereal goddess that satiates the devotees. Through the chosen maiden the devoted get a glimpse of their idol.

Hindu lore has it that an demonic entity named Mohishashur managed to drive out all the gods from their utopian abode and take over the place. In despair they sought advice from Brahma who fell in a dilemma as it was his blessing that prevented anyone from slaying Mohishashur. So he went to Vishnu for help who suggested that the collective soul of all the gods would create a feminine form that would have the power to solve their plight. And so it was done with the gods presenting her with all their weaponry to fight their battle.

Durga has another story behind it where the goddess was so named for banishing a demon named Durgam. As wicked demons go Durgam wanted to enslave the inhabitants of the word in total despair. Durga became its destroyer.

Durga's armory
Durga has ten arms each clutching a different weapon including a shield, dice, trident, discus and hatchet. Add that up with three fiery eyes and it presents a formidable opponent. It is said that she possesses the strength of all the gods and they are all linked to her.

Durga's family
In our country we typically see a framework consisting of seven statues. In the middle there is Durga with Lakhsmi and Ganesh on her right and Saraswati and Kartik on her left. At her feet are a lion and a demon. According to folklore the festival represents the goddess coming home to her paternal home with her children (that's Lakhsmi, Ganesh, Saraswati and Kartik).

Another notable icon is the Kola Bou or NabaGottika. This is a statue made up of nine different tree limbs tied to a banana tree. A shawl is put on top making it look like a veiled woman and hence the name Kola Bou (banana bride). It symbolises nine different forms of the goddess Durga.

Durga is a symbol of strength and unity with all the gods and even the demon brought together. Durga puja is a festival that brings together all the devotees and in a way it tries to bring unity among its followers. The statues are mainly made using clay from Rajbari. It is made malleable with the help of water from the Ganges or from the sea. Everyone from all classes of society are brought together for this event. In fact, classes are merged as everyone stands together in obeisance. In unity everyone asks for peace.

It is not only the devotees but also people of other religions who are touched by this event. Many people come by to see the colourful festivities. Hindu friends send invitations with cards and gifts being exchanged. It has implications far deeper than the religious. As a social event it brings people together in unity as symbolised by Durga the goddess.

By Sultana Yasmin
Tanslated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny
Model: Moni Dipa
Makeup: Farzana Shakil
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
Special thanks to Ram Krishna Mission and their library
We thank Mrs Mira Dutta for allowing us to do the photo shoot at her lovely house




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