Durga puja: India and Bangladesh perspectives
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed/ The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar and VDP.
Durga puja is a festival that marks the battle of Goddess Durga with the demon Mahishasura. Goddess Durga got victorious thus marking victory of good over evil.
Durga Puja is also a harvest festival that signifies Maa Durga’s motherly love. There’s practice of including bundle of nine different plants called ‘Navpattrika’. This symbolizes Durga as a form of nature and her importance to agriculture. Along with Durga, prime deities such as Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi annd Kartikeya are also worshipped during this festival. The history of the origin of worshipping of Goddess Durga is somewhat submerged in obscurity. While some religious pundits say that Goddess Durga is being worshipped till before the dawn of recorded history, others have it to say that Raja Surath and Baisya Samadhi introduced Durga Puja in its present form in this part of the globe about 2000 years ago. Bereft of power and wealth at the hands of their kith and kins, Raja Surath and Baisya Samadhi moved around in the wilderness in search of ways to regain their lost fortunes and ultimately met Maharishi Medhosh and sought his blessings to get over the vicissitudes. Following Maharishi Medhosh’s advice, they worshipped Goddess Durga with due solemnity and devotion and recovered their lost fortunes. Celestial gods and goddesses, on numerous occasions, invoked Devi Durga’s help under trying circumstances to withstand the onslaughts of the demons and devil incarnates.
The first grand worship of Goddess Durga in recorded history is said to have been celebrated in the late 1500s. Folklores say the landlords or zamindars of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Puja in Bengal. According to another source, Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur or Bhabananda Mazumdar of Nadiya organized the first Sharadiya or Autumn Durga Puja in Bengal in 1606. The origin of the community puja can be credited to the twelve friends of Guptipara in Hoogly, West Bengal, who collaborated and collected contributions from local residents to conduct the first community puja called the ‘baro-yaari’ puja or the ‘twelve-pal’ puja in 1790. The baro-yaari puja was brought to Kolkata in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar, who performed the Durga Puja at his ancestral home in Murshidabad from 1824 to 1831.The baro-yaari puja gave way to the sarbajanin or community puja in 1910, when the Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha organized the first truly community puja in Baghbazar in Kolkata with full public contribution, public control and public participation. Now the dominant mode of Durga Puja is the ‘public’ version.
Durga Puja ‘worship of Divine Mother’ the festival of pomp and power — is the greatest socio-religious extravaganza of the Bengali Hindus and by now it has become a global celebration witnessed in almost all the major cities of the world, from New York to Los Angles, from London to Belfast, from Durban to Tokyo. It is a mixture of spiritual sublimity and enlivened sociability that gives it a multi-dimensional excellence. The exquisite beauty of the Pratima (idol), splendidly decorated by artistic skill and colourful devotional outfit adds additional grandeur to the whole spectrum of jubilation and enlightenment. Bengali culture and Bengali literature indeed owe a lot to this prodigious socio-cultural fanfare and nostalgic articulations.
Durga is the mother of all, the Mother Goddess, known by many names such as Durga, Bhavani, Amba, Chandika, Gauri, Parvati, Mahishasuramardini along with her other manifestations. The name “Durga” means inaccessible and she is the personification of the active side of the divine “shakti” energy of Lord Shiva. She is a multi-dimensional Goddess, with many names, many personas, and many facets. As Mahishasuramardini or Shakti, she is the destroyer of evil – with her ten mighty arms carrying lethal weapons she triumphantly slays the demon Mahishasura. As Sati, beloved daughter of King Daksha and Queen Menaka she gives up a kingdom and earns her father’s wrath. As Kali, she turns black as the night and omnipotent, terrible in rage and fury, with just a string of skulls as her garland and her only garb. As Parvati, she is serene, the pretty consort of Lord Shiva by his side in the snowy peaks of the Kailash mountain. She is Bhawani, symbol of life. She is Sati, the object of death. She is Basanti, the heralder of springtime. She is also Amba, Jagadhatri, Tara, Ambika and Annapurna. Durga, through all her forms, encompasses the essence of salvation and sacrifice. She is the mother of bounty and wealth, as also of beauty and knowledge, for her daughters are Lakshmi and Saraswati (Hindu goddesses of wealth and knowledge, respectively).
Just as the arrival of Maa Durga is important, so is her mode of transport for arrival as well as departure (on the day of Vijayadasami). Her arrival and departure are considered very significant as her mode of transport on both days indicates the fate of the days ahead. Her vahans or modes of transport are considered to be indications or omens. Maa Durga arrives on – an Elephant, a Horse, a Palanquin or a Boat. Which mode will be used for arrival and departure is decided based on the day of the week or on the day of Ghatsthapna and Vijayadasami, i.e. the first day and the last day. Elephant indicates peace and prosperity and so Maa Durga arriving or departing on this Vahana, means she’ll be filling your life with good deeds, blessings, results of your hard work and happiness. Boat is a sign of water transport, which represents both flood and good harvest. Maa Durga arriving on this or leaving would mean she would bless you with everything that you need to reach your ultimate desire. Palanquin is represented by four men carrying a person on a haulier; here it means outbreak of an epidemic. Maa Durga arriving or departing on this Vahana interprets that unless, humans help each other and stand united, the upcoming epidemic would be their toughest journey ever. For this year, Goddess Durga chose a Horse to be her Vahana and as per sacred texts of Hinduism, this signals an alarm of danger for humankind.
Durga represents the Divine Mother. She is the energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Shiva has no expression and without Shiva, Durga has no existence. Shiva is the soul of Durga; Durga is identical with Shiva. Lord Shiva is only the silent witness. He is motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. It is Durga who does everything. A child is more familiar with the mother than with the father, because the mother is very kind, loving, tender and affectionate and looks after the needs of the child. In the spiritual field also, the aspirant or the devotee, the spiritual child, has an intimate relationship with Mother Durga, more than with Father Shiva. Therefore, it directs the aspirant to approach the Mother first, who then introduces her spiritual child to the Father. The Mother’s Grace is boundless. Her mercy is illimitable; her knowledge infinite; her power immeasurable; her glory ineffable; and her splendor indescribable. She gives you material prosperity as well as spiritual freedom. Approach her with an open heart. Be as simple as a child. Kill the enemies of egoism, cunningness, selfishness and crookedness. Make a total, unreserved, and ungrudging self-surrender to her. Sing her praises. Ask her for mercy for our sins. These ten days are very sacred to the Divine Mother. We are to plunge ourselves in her worship. And our Mother will bless us all!
The essence of religions being is one. In order to win over the pleasure of the Creator and to do good to the humanity, it is imperative that all belonging to the humankind must make sincere efforts to remove all kinds of hatred, jealousy and misunderstanding about others and work hand in hand to ensure peaceful and respectful co-existence of the religions for achieving lasting peace and progress for the mankind.