GRAND FESTIVAL OF DURGA PUJA
V SUNDARAM I.A.S.
The best tribute to myriad aspects of eternal India and its culture was paid by Mark Twain in his book Following the Equator in these words: 'This is indeed India! The land of dreams and romance, fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million Gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterdays bear date with the smouldering antiquities of the rest of nations, the one country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined. India has two million Gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire. 'So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.'
India is indeed a land of million Gods and billion festivals. India is a large, beautiful and bountiful country. While monotheistic faiths like Christianity and Islam believe in only one God, we Hindus are indeed blessed with a multitude of them. This is the Durga Puja season. While Durga Puja is the most important annual festival of Bengal, yet it has to be understood that it is celebrated on a grand scale every year in several other parts of India like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as well. The Bengalis have appropriately coined a popular phrase: 'Baro mashey tero parban' meaning 12 months and 13 festivals! There are enough valid reasons for having so many of them. Our country is large, dialects are many, climatic conditions vary from area to area. Obviously, if one part of the country celebrates a festival to pay homage to the Gods for a good harvest, those in some other area will have to wait for their turn.
THE DURGA PUJA FESTIVAL BEGINS WITH MAHALAYA IN THE LAST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER OR FIRST WEEK OF OCTOBER DEPENDING UPON THE TIME OF SOLSTICES EVERY YEAR. Mahalaya is an auspicious occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Durga, the goddess of supreme power. It's a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth - Jago Tumi Jago. This is done through the chanting of mantras and singing devotional songs.
This festival is dedicated to celebrate the Glory of the Divine Mother Ma Durga. The religious and spiritual sanction for the celebration of the grand festival arises from Devi Mahatmiyam. This is a sacred text that sings the Glory of the Divine Mother. This text has 700 Slokas on Goddess Durga and is also called as DURGA SAPTASATHI or the CHANDI. This book has 13 chapters. Three aspects of the Divine Mother have been depicted in this Holy Book. They are Maha Kaali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswathi. The whole of Devi Mahatmiyam is chanted on special occasions especially during Navaratri (nine nights).
Some of the merits of reading this sacred text are described in its 12th chapter. In Chapter 12, The Devi says: 'And whoever with a concentrated mind shall pray to me constantly with these hymns, for him I shall without doubt put down every trouble of his. And those who shall laud the destruction of Madhu and Kaitabha, the slaughter of Mahishasura and the slaying of Shumbha and Nishumbha,' and those also who shall listen with devotion to this sublime poem on my greatness on the eighth, the fourteenth and on the ninth days of the fortnight with concentrated mind, to them nothing wrong shall happen, nor calamities that arise from wrong doings, nor poverty and never any separation from their beloved ones. They shall not experience fear from enemies, or from robbers and kings, or from weapons, fire and flood. Hence this poem of my greatness must be chanted by men of concentrated minds and listened to always with devotion; for it is the supreme course of well-being. The place of my sanctuary is where this poem is duly chanted everyday and that place I will never forsake and there my presence is certain'.
The demon 'Mahisasur' signifies the multifarious faces of evil and the weapons of Durga signify the innumerable weapons at our own disposal to tackle the evils that we face every day. The weapons were gifted to her by the Gods - with the single purpose of slaying the demon. Lord Shiva gave her the trident; Vishnu stepped in with his Sudarshan Chakra; Indra chipped in with thunder; Surya, the Sun God gave her the bow and arrow, whilst Viswakarma gave her the shield and other protective clothing. Brahma contributed the kamandalu; Kuber, the multi jeweled necklace and Yamraj, the kaldanda! In addition, the Himalayas gave her the lion, to carry her into the warfront.
I would like to touch upon some more ritualistic details relating to the Festival of Durga Puja. It is an important Hindu festival in India. It is also known as 'Durgotsab' in Bengal or 'Navratri' in South India. It is basically a ten days long festival in which Durga or Shakti, the Goddess of power is worshipped. The Goddess is worshipped in nine different forms namely Shailputri, Brahmcharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. Though this festival is celebrated throughout the country, the zeal and enthusiasm of the celebrations in the northern belt of the country in the state of West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Tripura is incomparable to any other place. The celebrations in the capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is renowned all over the world.
The Durga Pooja is celebrated for nine days. However the last six days are more festive than the first three. From the day of Shashti i.e the sixth day, community gathering, celebrations and feasts begin with immense fervour. The last four days of Puja begins from the sixth day of the full moon phase that follows the Mahalaya and finishes with the Dashami or the tenth day. In between these six days, there are different kinds of special ceremonies on Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami. In the wee hours of 'Saptami,' a banana tree is brought from a nearby pond or river and installed inside the Pandal after the 'Pran' or life of the Devi is invoked into the banana tree.
Durga Puja 2011 falls in October 2011 vide details below.
3rd October 2011 – Saptami
4th October 2011 – Ashtami
5th October 2011 - Navami
6th October 2011 - Vijaya Dasami
6th October 2011 - Vijaya Dasami
Durgotsav, as it is called in Bengal, starts from Mahalaya. This is the day that Godess Durga is supposed to have started her journey from her husband's house in Mount Kailash in the Himalayas to her mother's place in Bengal accompanied by her children. On this auspicious day, early in the morning, at four o'clock to be precise, a two-hour-long program is broadcast in Bengali from Akashvani Kolkata. A translated version in Hindi is subsequently transmitted from all other important radio stations. The translation is restricted to only the text. The beautiful memorable songs are left untouched. Many of the artistes are no longer in our midst but their recorded voices still reverberate in each and every Bengali house on Mahalaya day. Titled 'MAHISASURMARDINI' (which means 'the slayer of the demon-in-the-guise-of-a-buffalo') this program narrates how Durga was conceived, how she was armed with a variety of weapons given by the Gods to destroy the demon and how she achieved her goal in bringing peace and happiness to the World.
Since the early 1930s, Mahalaya has come to associate itself with an early morning radio program called Mahisasura Mardini or 'The Annihilation of the Demon.' This All India Radio (AIR) programme is a beautiful audio montage of recitation from the scriptural verses of CHANDI KAVYA', Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama.
Birendra Krishna Bhadra
A two-hour pre-recorded cassette titled 'Mahisasurmardini' was released by the Gramophone Company of India (Ltd), Calcutta in 1983. In this cassette, recitation of the shlokas in fluent Sanskrit is by Birendra Krishna Bhadra and music direction is by Pankaj Kumar Mallick. The live broadcast of this musical programme took place for the first time way back in 1932!! Birendra Krishna Bhadra was only 28 years old at that time.
Pankaj Kumar Mallick
(1905 - 1978)
(1905 - 1978)
In this context, it will not be too much to say that one man who'll always be remembered for making Mahalaya memorable to one and all every year is BIRENDRA KRISHNA BHADRA, the deathlessly magical voice behind the Mahisasura Mardini. The legendary narrator recites the holy verses and tells the story of the descent of Durga to earth, in his inimitable style. Though Birendra Krishna Bhadra has long passed away, but his recorded voice still forms the core of the Mahalaya program of the All India Radio. His vital, vivid, sonorous and reverberating voice, makes the Mahalaya recital for two hours, really captivating and mesmerizing for every household, filling it with the divine aura of his narration. This inspiring programme was conceived by Pankaj Kumar Mallick (1905-1978) singer of Rabindra Sangeet or TAGORE SONGS, composer and music director. He worked with the Kolkata radio station for about half a century, from 1927 to 1975. Pankaj Kumar who helped to launch the musical feature, Mahisasuramardini, in 1929 to celebrate DURGA PUJA, and his music direction in the programme was hailed as the work of a genius. Pankaj Kumar Mallick and Birendra Krishna Bhadra together made this Durga Pooja programme glorious and memorable.
The celebration of Durga Puja in India goes back to the dawn of history. To conclude in the words of Annie Besant: 'After a study of more than 40 years of the great religions of the world, I find none so perfect, so scientific, none so philosophical and none so spiritual as that great religion popularly known by the name of Hinduism. Make no mistake, without Hinduism, India has no future. Hinduism is the soil into which India's roots are stuck and torn out of that she will inevitably wither as a tree torn out from its place and if Hindus do not maintain Hinduism who shall save it? If India's own children do not cling to her faith who shall guard it? India alone can save India and INDIA AND HINDUISM ARE ONE.'