EVERY Bong has reason to feel elated as the Paris headquartered UNSECO is considering India’s plea for recognizing Durga Puja held annually in September –October for protection and preservation. Kolkata’s Durga Puja is India’s official nomination for UNESCO’s 2020 list of cultural institutions that requires protection and preservation. This view has been conveyed by Sangeet Natak Akademi under the Union Ministry for Culture to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Durga Puja, a ‘conglomeration of different cultures’ is India’s choice for its 2020 update. Professor Tapati Guha Thakurta led research team which has scripted the nomination dossier, has opined that “Kolkata’s Durga Puja has developed a special artistic profile which no other festival has with modern artists and designers coming together to produce a new urban art. This gives it a unique dimension.”
As we are aware that though the main rituals related to Durga Puja are performed by the Hindus, there is no bar on non-Hindus participating in the Durgotsav. It no longer confined to Bangla speaking people with more and more Hindu faithful realizing the significance of the deity known in countless names all over India . Durgotsav also called and Sharadotsav for revering Goddess Durga commences as Navratri, a nine-night festival celebrating the divine feminine goddess who was helped by all Goddesses and Gods to defeat dreaded demon called Mahishasura and his soldiers in a fierce battle lasting ten days. Durga meaning “the inaccessible” or “the invincible “in Sanskrit , remains the most popular incarnation of Devi and one of the main forms of the Goddess Shakti in the Hindu cult as well as the original manifested form of Mother Parvati or Adi-Parashakti. Durga was given weapons and tipoffs by the Gods as to how to subdue the don in the interest of peace and amity as also to restore rule of law in the world.
Drunk with power and defeating all Gods he ordered saintly people and seers to pay obeisance to him, Mahishasura had decreed that he is only God in the universe and therefore he must be worshipped by all. He initially mock Devi Durga assigned by God to tame him. He could not imagine that a powerful woman riding a lion would overpower him before slaying.
Durga Puja’s first day is Mahalaya which heralds the advent of the Goddess. Mahalaya is also the last day of the fifteen –day period when Hindus recall and pay respects to their ancestors. Worship of Durga begins on Sasthi, the sixth day of the Nav Ratra. On the first day, Durga is invoked to make her holy presence into the idols by a ritual called Pran Pratishta. God Shiva, one of the three prime Hindu Gods and Durga’s spouse, is also worshipped during this fest. The festival begins on the first day with Mahalaya, marking Durga’s arrival to battle against evil. Starting with the sixth day (Sasthi), the goddess is welcomed. Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped the following days. During Navratri devout Hindus abstain themselves from eating non-vegetarian food. Durga Puja is particularly popular in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand , Assam, Tripura, Delhi , Mumbai other Indian states , Bangladesh and also in Nepal where it is called Dashain. The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin corresponding September-October of the Gregorian calendar. Performance of arts, cultural programs and sports are part of the autumn fest celebrated after harvest of the main food crop. Scholars assert that it is the major festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. The original Durga puja also known as Chaitra Durga Puja or Basanti Puja is celebrated in spring. But the one celebrated in autumn has overshadowed it as the Durga Puja held in autumn season is more popular due to varied reasons. As narrated in the Ramayana, India’s earliest epic stated to have been composed in 5th century BC , Lord Rama of Ayodhya before going to war against Ravana, then king of Lanka across the Indian seas, had invoked blessing of mother Durga .The Durga Puja concludes with the immersion of idols of Devi Durga in water bodies . It is called Viasarjan and Vijayadasami begins. However, many Hindus burn the effigies, of Ravana, his warrior son Meghnad and Ravana’s brother Kumbhakaran heralding Dusserah .They were all defeated by Rama, Lakshman with the help of their army headed by Hanuman.
The focus during the fest is on Durga however other prime Hindu deities such as Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Saraswati considered Goddess of knowledge and music, Ganesha, God of good beginnings and Kartikeya ,God valour. Ganesha and Kartikeya are considered children of Durga who is also called Parvati , and Lord Shiva. Religion apart, Durga Puja provides an opportunity for family get-togethers as also to entertain colleagues, friends and neighbours. Durgotsav also facilitates badly needed rejuvenation and celebration of tradition and cultural heritage with family members, friends and acquaintances. Celebration of the autumn fest boosts trade and commerce besides creating job opportunities for thousands of people including artistes, artisans and others during the pan India fest. Can we overlook this aspect even though most of us may not be aware of any nitty-gritty related to the most expensive religious ceremony?