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!