The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Eighteen — Durga Puja in Eastern India, by Srijita Kar
The word Puja stands for worship. Durga puja, the worship of goddess Durga, is one of the biggest celebrations in the Eastern part of India. It is known by various names in different states. In the Western part of India it is called Navratri and in the North it is known as Dusshera. It is nine days long celebration and the start is marked by Mahalaya which is a day prior to the first day of the puja. The word Mahalaya stands for the great beginning. On the day of Mahalaya people wake up at four in the morning to listen to the recital of the great victory of goddess Durga on the radio.
The first three days of the celebration is mostly bringing the statues of goddess Durga and her children (who are other gods and goddesses whom she took under her wings as her children), namely Saraswati, Kartik, Ganesh and Laxmi, to the pandal (a fabricated structure) and decorating the surroundings. On the fourth and fifth day the facial expressions of goddess Durga are drawn and eventually her whole face is painted and she is dressed in a gorgeous saree (Indian traditional clothes). On the sixth day, Maha Shashti, her eyes are completed and with that the curtains are raised for people see the statues of goddess Durga and her four children for the first time that year. This curtain raiser is followed by the recitation and a dramatization of the story of how the evil was defeated. The story goes as follows:
When the evil, Mahishasur(meaning the great demon) started taking over the world the gods in heaven tried to stop him with all the efforts they could put in. However, he had the blessing that no man could ever defeat him and thus all gods failed. In an effort to defeat him they decided to create a creature so strong and powerful that it contains all the powers of every god in heaven. They created a female god and named her Durga. She had ten hands and had a weapon in eight hands. She uses two hands to hold the trident and one hand is free, blessing her disciples. Her strength is symbolized by the tiger that she rides. She fights the evil off with her power and eventually defeats him by impaling her trident in him.
On the seventh day, Maha Saptami, everyone gathers in the afternoon for a feast and in the evening they come together to dance on the beats of the dhak (a musical instrument). The essence of Durga puja is incomplete without dhak. It is a drum like instrument played with the help of two sticks. People dance to the beat of the instrument every time they hear it. The eighth day, Maha Ashtami, is the most important day. People fast in the morning and pray to Maa Durga by giving anjali, a form of prayer where you repeat all the chants after the priest and then ask Maa Durga to grant your wishes. A lot of people decide to do nirjalavrath which is fasting without drinking even a drop of water. The first drop of water that is provided is the charanamrita (Charan = feet, amrita= holy water) which means holy water from the goddess’ feet, meaning her blessings. The afternoon is followed by a delicious vegan meal. In the evening everyone gets together and people go around seeing the different pandals in the area.
The festival is not limited to only the worshipping and music. With the influx of the modern world and growth in economy, most districts host a numerous number of puja locations. Each location has its own pandal and statues.
There is a competition held in Kolkata (formally known as Calcutta) for which area has the best theme for the pandal for the year’s celebration. Everyone builds a unique pandal starting from the remake of the famous temples and architectures, to a very creative pandal representing the heaven and the fight between Mahishasur and goddess Durga. This year some of the themes were library, carving on one single wood log, etc.
On the ninth day, Maha Navami, we have The Maha Navami Yajna (chanting of vedic mantra and offerings). This yajna is important because it is believed to get rid of one’s future troubles. The night of Maha Navami is the last night of celebration but the tenth night and the visarjan (submerging the statues in the water so the clay can melt away and settle on the sea/river bed) is also done with great enthusiasm. On the tenth day married women come to the pandal wearing a red and white saree and powdered vermillion (known as sindoor in Bengali), since it is the symbol of a married woman, much like the ring on your left hand in the Western world. They offer the sindoor to all the goddesses and gods by pouring a little on their feet and putting a dot on their forehead and also offer sweets (dessert items made out of milk mostly). Once they are done offering, they start the sindoor khela which is playing with the vermillion that was offered. They put the powder on each other’s face and offer each other sweets as a symbol of a healthy and blessed future. Later in the afternoon the statues are loaded on trucks and driven to the holy water of Ganges for the visarjan. People dance to the beat of either dhak or play music very loud to give Maa Durga a happy and grand departure. It is a procession where people dance like there is no worry in the world. They announce the departure of Maa Durga and her companions to everyone around them, even though the tenth day signifies the end of celebration and is usually a sad affair, the celebration uplifts the mood. And thus, the saying goes “ashche bochhor abar hobe,” meaning it will happen again next year.
Photo #1 The Library Theme
Photo #2 Carved on a Wooden Log
Photo #3 The entrance resembles medieval Indian palaces. With elephants adorning the gates and soldiers lined up, it looks like the era of the Kings and Queens have returned for a celebration so grand.
For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10
The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Reports.
Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year
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