Durga Pooja or the “Worship of goddess Durga”, also referred to as Dussahara, Durgotsava or Sharadotsav is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. The idol is placed in pandals (temporary temple structures) and all the proceedings for the pooja for the rest of the days are done in these pandals thereafter. The worshiping of goddess last for all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami.  This festival is celebrated from the sixth to tenth day of bright lunar fortnight (shukla paksha) in the Bikram Sambat Calendar month of Ashwin. This is the time when people get out of their homes and travel around the city to celebrate this colourful, embracing festival. This period falls in the fortnight corresponding to the festival and is called Devi Paksha (“Fortnight of the Goddess”). Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya, the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Paksha (“Fortnight of the Forefathers”). It is ended on Kojagori Lokkhi Pooja (“Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori which is a full moon night”).

The Durga Pooja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. Thus, Durga Pooja festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil. In Bengal, Durga is worshipped as Durgotinashini or Mahishasur mardingini, the destroyer of evil and the protector of her devotees.

This festival is widely celebrated in the Indian states of Assam, Mithila (ancient) region of Nepal and Bihar, Jharkhand, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura, Meghalaya and West Bengal, where it is a five-day annual holiday. In both West Bengal and Tripura, which have a majority of Bengali Hindus, it is the biggest festival of the year.

While travelling, we all hope that our journey goes well without much trouble and we reach our destination. Various people take various modes of transport to reach their destination. Similar is the case with the arrival and departure of Goddess Durga into and from earth. With the help of scientific and astrological explanations every year, the mode of transport that the Goddess would take for her arrival and departure from earth is predicted. Superstition has it that her journey on a Gaja vahana (Elephant back) signifies prosperity and good harvest. The elephant is therefore considered the most peaceful mode. Ashva vahana (Horse-back ride) on the other hand signifies drought. The horse depicts natural calamities, social unrest, and political upheaval. A ride on the palanquin (Palkhi) spells wide spread epidemic and that on a boat signifies flood and misery. Usually goddess chooses different modes of transport for her arrival and departure, but the year she chooses the same mode for both ways, it signifies doomsday. This year (2016) goddess chose horse-back for her arrival and elephant-back for her departure. Travelling back on elephant is considered auspicious and it signifies that this year will bring in good rain and harvest to the earth. It is interesting how even Goddess Durga has her stories of travel to and from earth and how it impacts us. Personally speaking, these aspects of Durga Pooja fascinated me a lot as it was very interesting to realise how people predict these dates of pooja and goddess’s modes of transport and what not much before-hand just by doing their astrological predictions and calculations.

This year, my college vacations for Durga Pooja begun after classes on the 7th October 2016. I left college right after my classes and rushed home. Back home was nearly a 3 hour journey and I was tired enough to be unable to do anything at all after that. But I knew that I had to visit the pandals this evening as I didn’t want to lose out on a single day of the Pooja celebration and so I made up my mind for getting ready and leaving home for Pooja. I freshened up, had a quick bite, and left for the pandal.

In this year’s Durga Pooja celebration, I traveled with my parents and a few other family friends. Living in Bangalore for over 12 years, I have seen the evolution of Durga Pooja here and how it has emerged to be such a prominent and important festival. Every person has their self-driven reasons for visiting the Pandals during this festive season. Where some come for their spiritual beliefs, a few others come as an opportunity to reconnect with others and as a source of enjoyment and fun. The pandals are also accompanied by a large number of food and beverage stalls and other attractions such as jewelry, decorative items, bags and wallets or clothing shops. Some also visit the Pandals solely for the food or these other attractions keeping all the religious or spiritual aspects aside. Well, in my case it was a mix of the best of the both worlds, with of course an extra edge to the food aspect of the celebration.

Since Durga Pooja is such an important festival for my family and me, a few days prior to the Pooja, I made sure to make time out of my busy schedule even over the weekends added with college exhertion and went shopping, bought new clothes and accessories for Pooja. The seasonal sales usually begin prior to the first week of Pooja and we start shopping as much as we can and buy all that we wanted throughout the year. For most of us it is as though we are to wear new set of clothes every time we leave from home for visiting the pandals during the Pooja season. It is the time when we shop to stock up our cupboard for the rest year.

During the Pooja we traveled and visited multiple pandals on in fact the same day. This is known as pandal hopping. A few pandals we visited were RT Nagar Pooja, Ulsoor Pooja, North Bangalore Pooja, Jaimahal Pooja, Pooja held in the ground of Green country School and Durgotsav near Whitefield.  There was a lot of traffic due to the festive rush and we ended up spending a lot of time on the roads stuck in traffic, merely sitting in our cars. Travelling to the pandals in groups was also another fun experience where all the cars were co-ordinating to each other over phone to make sure everyone is going to the right place. On visiting the pandals I noticed that there was a large crowd of not just the communities who are expected to celebrate this festival but also others who came to cherish this festival. In a completely Bengali Durga Pooja, there was a huge crowd of non-Bengalis which was remarkable! In the mornings we were to keep a fast until we gave our Anjali (divine offering) which is done in the form of Pushpanjali (offering of flowers). Here we keep the flowers in our hand and repeat the mantras (spiritual poem/word) the priest chants and offers the flowers to the goddess. After the Pooja is completed, we first have the Prasad and the Mahabhog (devotional food which is taken directly from the offerings to the goddess) and break our fast after which we have lunch which is known as Bhog (lunch meal offered after the ceremony). The Bhog is a meal which is usually free of cost and anyone interested can have it. The ones which were ticketed ina few places, we often decided to get the coupons before hand where one of the persons would go buy it for allthe people and then we all would reach together and have the meal together. I mustn’t forget to mention that the pinch of Mahabhog each of us received, was extremely tasty and the rest of the bhog that we had was also delicious. The fun of sitting together and eating together where we all talk and enjoy is a complete different experience. These were certainly moments I would cherish for the rest of my life! We also served food (poribeshon) to the other guests while there were a few others who helped in cooking the meal. It was so much fun when we went around, screaming to the next person to serve the guests the food on the request like as though we were a team and helping each other work better. Holding the heavy utensils full of food and having to go back to refill the food, arguing with guests for the only limited item which was the fried item, serving the food in a fixed order with the salty items first and sweets only later, all these were altogether an all new experience and are memories which will remain with me forever. This also reminded me of the days when my mother used to scold me to help her in the kitchen and say that someday I will be grateful to her for teaching me to be self-sufficient!

I spoke to various people including the organizers of the Pooja. They discussed how they invest a lot of time and effort on planning and organizing the Pooja every year and also the how at times it gets troublesome to have to gather sufficient funds every year. For them, Durga Pooja is more than just a festival, it is an occasion they eagerly wait for the whole year. One gentleman said that to him, organizing and celebrating Durga Pooja was his “Passion”! They spoke of how they have already started planning for the next year’s Pooja. In the Pooja celebration, there were cultural programs where one of my cousin sister had a dance performance and I witnessed the whole program. It reminded me of my childhood days when we used to put together months of practice to put up a cultural program in front of huge audiences on large stages during the Pooja times. There were also concerts held by well-known singers (Zee Bangla sa re ga ma pa singers etc) who were invited to sing at various pandals.

Every pandal has its own theme and pandal makers are usually brought from design institutions etc especially from West Bengal to design and set up the pandal and decorate the idols. They spoke of how they chose this job and how they enjoy this work, they wait a year long to be able to do this job all over again. Later we also spoke to the priests who explained to me a little about the story and the beliefs of Pooja and what the art work around signified regarding the spiritual beliefs. I met a few scientific researchers in the field of biology and physics known world-wide for their work. It was astonishing to realize how in spite of being in science fields this festival was important to them, and they discussed the scientific reasons behind the rituals practiced during the ceremony. We also enjoyed a variety of food items during this course of time especially during the evenings and nights. May it be biryani or fried rice, chili chicken or kababs, rolls or chops, paratha or moghlai (egg wrapped paratha with filling of either chicken or mutton inside), spring rolls and momos, sweets or ice-creams, cold drinks or juices and what not? During this time I had every possible variety of food. We all enjoyed the food that each of us got from the stalls, waiting at the long queues to get our dish and then having to taste it finally is just another feeling which can’t be expressed in words.

The Ulsoor Pandal was our favorite spot as we could just remain there for as long as we wanted to be. In other places there was a fixed time until we could sit and then we had to leave from there. We spent hours in Ulsoor and sat there till around 2-3 am in groups and spoke and enjoyed for hours together! We continuously kept eating throughout the time not realizing how much we have actually already eaten! The kids kept playing around and my friend and I, both of the same age had the duty to take care of the kids. We also made sure we had sufficient pictures that we could flaunt with on the social medias of course! During this time, I also tried to catch up with my other friends who were interested in visiting pandals. The overall experience of the celebration was extremely fun. I strongly believe that every person on this planet must experience this gorgeous, colourful and wonderful festival at least ones in a life time!

In India it is commonly believed anth bhala toh sab bhala, i.e; all’s well that ends well. Similarly, we all hope the same during our Durga Pooja celebration. Finally on the day right after the idol was immersed in water, our close family friends and my family went for dinner to a restaurant named Jalsa to celebrate Bijoya (Bengali new-year) where we enjoyed the North Indian cuisine and ended our Durga Pooja celebration on the 11th October 2016.

-Information Credits: Wikipedia

-Dyutideepta Banerjee/ dyutideepta.1998@gmail.com