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The Asian Destination will be sharing some essential travel tips from those that have experienced the culture, food and people first hand.
Monday 12th November – Kali Choudas (Naruka Chaturdashi)
Goddess Kali is worshipped on this day (and also on Kali Puja which coincides with Diwali). Kali Choudas falls midway through the Ashwin month and celebrates the day Goddess Kali, associated with empowerment or shakti, slayed the demon king, Narakasura. The killing of Narakasura symbolizes the banishing of apathy thus allowing light, hope and positivity to replace the darkness in our lives.
In addition to rituals and prayers, special sweet offerings are made. In preparation for Diwali, 14 lamps or diyas are lit to welcome home Lord Rama after his 14 years spent in exile.
Tuesday 13th November – Diwali & Kali Puja
Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of lights. On this day, Lord Rama defeated the demon Ravana, thus representing a victorious battle of good overcoming evil. After 14 years in exile, Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom of Ayodhya and was met by rows of diyas to celebrate his arrival.
Diwali today, marks a time to decorate homes with diyas and consciously welcome new light, love & prosperity into our lives as the new Hindu year approaches (this year the Hindu New Year starts on Wednesday 14th November). Pujas are performed and both Lord Ganesha, God of Wisdom and Lakshmi, Goddess of good fortune are worshipped. Friends and family celebrate with food and fireworks, flowers and rangoli patterns.
Thursday 15th November – Bhai Phota (Bhai Dhooj in Northern India, Bhai Tika in Nepal)
Bhai Phota (or Bhai Fota) is celebrated in Bengal, traditionally 2 days after Kali Puja & Diwali and marks the sibling bond between brothers and sisters. With the ring finger on their left hand, girls mark their brother’s forehead with a mixture sandalwood paste and curd whilst reciting a traditional rhyme three times. In doing so, they pray for the safety of their brother, his well being and his success.
With every great festival comes an opportunity to feast and Bhai Phota is no different! Breakfast on Bhai Phota usually consists of Luchis (buttery bread) and traditional Bengali sweets. Lunch includes Bengali classics such as Hilsa fish and an assortment of the traditional sweets.
So this week, whether you are celebrating any of the above or not – take a moment to listen out for the fireworks (if you were wondering why there were people still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ now you know!) the festivities, and enjoy time spent with friends and family!
Whether you are well accustomed to Durga Puja or have been newly introduced to it (either through this year’s Hindi blockbuster, Kahaani or last week’s BBC episode of This Is India) this 9-10 day Hindu festival is celebrated in the millions, worldwide. Navratri and Garba celebrations occur during this time but for Bengalis, Durga Puja remains a key event in the religious and social calendar. Being British born, I envy my Indian friends and family that are able to truly relish the ‘native’ Durga Puja experience at home – a colourful chaos of sounds, smells and visions. Western schooling systems rarely permit sufficient vacation time during the pujas and therefore visiting West Bengal for Durga Puja remains on my Bucket List. However, for now I share Durga Puja celebrations through my own eyes, growing up in the UK.
Lehengas & Luchis
Since childhood, Durga Puja has always created a sense of excitement. It meant it was time to finally wear the traditional Indian lehengas, salwars or saris bought during our last India trip especially for the occasion. New clothes became a symbol of new beginnings, the colourful combinations and shimmering sequins celebrating the diversity of our culture.
After putting our hands together in prayer, bowing to the Goddess Ma Durga and blessing ourselves with the holy fire, we are allowed ‘prasad’. Prasad, in the form of fruits, Bengali sweets or coconuts are usually offered as a form of worship and after the religious rituals have been performed, are eaten, as they have now been blessed by the Goddess. Puja celebrations involve not only religious festivities but also allow a cultural mix of songs and dance, enjoyed before more puja meals.
Luchis (or Puris) are a delicious yet deceptively devilish Bengali classic – fried doughy bread usually accompanied by daal and Bengali misti (sweets).
Meeting & Greeting
As I grew up, Durga Puja gained more significance in the social calendar. It became a constant in our ever changing, hectic lives. It offered an opportunity to greet friends, old and new that had travelled far and wide for this one occasion.
Aarti & Shadhana
Along with devotional worship (aarti) comes the opportunity to cleanse the soul and carry out ‘spiritual practice’ or shadhana; a time to seek spiritual peace within yourself regardless of the chaos of the modern world around us.
For me, Durga Puja today encompasses all these: ‘luchis & lehengas’, ‘meeting & greeting’ and ‘aarti & shadhana’, not as 3 separate entities but as an integrated culmination of festivities. Excitement grows as we coordinate our outfits, warm affection and emotion stirs as we embrace familiar faces and sweeten our palates. Today, it is amazing to be able to witness puja celebrations across continents through 1 effortless video call on a smart phone, live television broadcasting or through uploaded Facebook photos or statuses. However, let us not forget the real reason of our shadhana, our real cause for celebration.
Goddess or Ma Durga/Durga Ma – is believed to be mother of the universe. She is responsible for creation, preservation and destruction of the world.
‘It is believed that Ma Durga was created by gathering the strength of all the mothers. Every year the mother graces us with her presence, eliminates evil and goes back so that all of us can live happily and peacefully without fear.’
– From Kahaani, translated from the original Hindi.
So this Durga Puja, whether you are a devotee or not, may you be touched with Ma Durga’s sword of omniscient knowledge, protected from all evil by her many arms and blessed with the certainty of success.
It is thought that as we strive to form an inner peace within ourselves, we become unaffected by the circumstances we cannot alter. In doing so, we detach from the fear of the unknown and become the people we are meant to be. May we each find our inner peace this Durga Puja.
Shubo Bijoya – Happy Durga Puja 2012!