Durga Pujo has its roots in history and mythology, and so does the rituals associated with it. The Hindus had set up their own customs and practices for the Goddess which have been traditionally followed over the years.
Rituals, mostly, are a reflection of the society and the people's faith, religion and beliefs that have been carried on from one generation to the next.
The primary and integral part of a Durga Pujo celebration is the creation of the idol of Goddess Durga.
Did you know, that there is an important ritual associated with the making of the idol?
It is said that months before Durga Pujo, the soil used to create the Goddess is taken from the doorsteps of a prostitute’s house. This soil is then mixed with various types of clay usually from the banks of the river Ganges which is then used to mould the Goddess.
The hay structures of the Goddess and her children are then covered up with this clay to give shape to the final Protima (the idol).Watch Video
Mahalaya marks the start of Debi Paksha' (fortnight of the goddess) and end of the 'Pitru-Paksha' (fortnight of the fathers), the family members are expected to observe the day in remembrance of their forefathers through Tarpon. The rituals associated with Tarpon include fasting, taking dips in the holy river Ganges early in the morning and offerings of food and sweets in memory of demised relatives and family members. The Hindu ceremony of Shraadh and Pind-Daan for ancestors is also done on the day.Watch Video
The term 'Chokkhu Daan' literally means 'offering eyes' and is chiefly a ritual followed by the idol makers and sculptors on the day of Mahalaya. While the idol makers spend months at end to shape idols of the Goddess, the eyes of the Maa Durga are drawn on Mahalaya - marking the beginning of Debi Paksha (fortnight of the Goddess) as she opens her eyes.
Kalprarambha is a ritual observed on the morning of Sashthi, the day that marks the official beginning of Durga Pujo. This early morning (Pratahkal) ritual conducted on Maha Sashthi (the sixth day of the Devi Paksha) is done by unveiling the face of the Goddess.
The ritual involves placing a Kalash (pot) filled with water and mango leaves next to the idol of Goddess Durga. The devotees and the priest then make a Sankalp (resolution or promise) before the idol to observe and carry out the pujo ceremonies following all the rituals during the next three days - Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, and Maha Navami.
By Sashthi, the Goddess is installed in most pandals across Bengal. The priests begin the Pujo on Sashthi with Pran Pratisthan which is the gifting of life to the Goddess.
A brass vessel is placed in front of the Goddess and as the priests Maha snan mantras and conch shells are blown, the Pujo commences signifying that the Goddess is now with us.
Bodhon means 'awakening' and this ritual is celebrated with similar sentiments. Since Sri Ramchandra had awakened the Goddess at an unconventional time (autumn instead of spring), he had to worship out-of-season (akal bodhon) to seek her blessings. Following his footsteps, every year the Goddess is awakened at dusk with 'Bodhon' for the Pujo festivities to start.
Bodhon is followed by Adhibas and Amontron to welcome her amidst beats of Dhaak (local musical drum) and Shaankh (conch shell). The Goddess is worshipped with a Bel Tree and 26 objects are touched to the Goddess and the Bel tree after which a red sacred thread is tied around the Pujo area before the actual worshipping begins. The proceedings of the day end with an Aarti to the Goddess.
According to mythological anecdotes, kola bou (banana tree) is the wife of Lord Ganesha, Devi Durga's son.
On Maha Saptami (seventh day), a banana tree or plantain is ceremoniously taken to the holy river Ganges for a snan (bath) before the Pujo can start. Kola Bou, as the plantain is referred to, is then draped in the iconic white-red saree, smeared with sindoor (vermilion) and placed beside the idol of Ganesha as his bride (kola bou). This ritual is called Kola bou Snan.
Nabapatrika (nine plants) represents nine forms of the female power Shakti or Devi Durga - Brahmani (banana), Kalika (colacassia), Durga (turmeric), Kartiki (jayanti), Shiva (wood apple), Raktadantika (pomegranate), Sokrahita (ashoka), Chamunda (arum) and Lakshmi (paddy). All nine plants are collected and taken for a bath together in the Ganges which is called the Nabapatrika Snan. Usually, both the rituals are combined together before Saptami's Pujo initiates.
Devotees can offer their prayers to the Goddess on Maha Saptami during the Pushpanjali held on Saptami morning. The ritual involves fasting and visiting the abode of the Goddess to offer prayers as the priest chants prayers in praise of the Goddess.
Kumari Pujo is a ritual observed on the eighth day or Maha Ashtami, when a pre-pubescent girl or Kumari is worshipped as a living incarnation of the Goddess. She is decked in new clothes and ornaments and shares the stage with the Durga idol.
Kumari Pujo, however, is not organised at all Durga Pujo pandals. Only a few observe it as a part of their tradition. The most popular destination to witness the Kumari Pujo in West Bengal is the Ramkrishna Mission Belur Math.
The prayer and Anjali to Goddess Durga on Ashtami is believed to be the most important part of Durga Pujo festivities.
The Maha Ashtami Anjali includes chanting of mantras or special hymns in praise of the Goddess in the early hours of Ashtami. Devotees fast to offer prayers to the Goddess. The mantras chanted by the priest are religiously repeated by the devotees, as they offer flowers at the feet of the Goddess at the end of each of the three chants.
Bhog is offered to the Goddess once the Pushpanjali is over.
Sandhi literally translates to mean the 'juncture' and refers to the transition of the Maha Ashtami to Maha Nabami. The time window for the Sandhi Pujo constitutes the last 24 minutes of Ashtami tithi and the first 24 minutes of Navami tithi. The Goddess is worshipped in her 'Chamunda' form at this time as she is believed to be at her fiercest and had slayed two demons - Chanda and Munda. In earlier days it was customary to perform animal sacrifices at the end of Sandhi Pujo in Ashtami, however these days the practice has been discontinued and replaced with vegetable sacrifice instead.
The priests begin reciting the prayers for Nabami once the Sandhi Pujo of Ashtami is over. In earlier days sacrifices of buffalos were common on Nabami signifying the death of Asura, however the practice has been discontinued now. Like Ashtami, bhog is offered to the Goddess once the Pujo for Nabami is over.
Sindoor Khela (the iconic playing with vermilion) is a traditional, yet fun and socialising ritual followed on the final day of Durga Pujo-Dashami. The ritual of Sindoor Khela is observed by married women, before the idol of the Goddess is taken out for immersion in the river, as a gesture to bid her farewell.
The women dress up in rich traditional attire - usually red sarees with gold jewellery and flowers to adorn their hair. They bid adieu to the Goddess and her children beginning with Boron which involves praying to the Goddess and her children, offering them sweets, wiping her tears with Paan Pata (betel leaves) just like a mother wipes the tears from her married daughter's eyes as she prepares to depart to her in-laws house from her visit to her paternal home. Sindoor is first applied on the forehead of the Goddess and later on her children. After this the married women apply sindoor on each other's forehead as a mark of marital bliss.
Bishorjon or Visarjan is the farewell ritual marking the end of the Durga Pujos. Bishorjon or 'immersion', is the ritual observed on Maha Dashami or the 10th and last day of the festival.The Bishorjon ritual involves the Goddess being immersed in the water so that she can return back to her divine abode. The farewell of Devi Durga often includes a hint of sadness and the idol is usually paraded around the locality/ the city in an organised procession before the immersion.
Bijoya is a ritual of endearment, respect and love, which follows the Bishorjon or farewell ritual on Maha Dashami. This final ritual of the Durga Pujo involves the younger generation touching the feet of the elders for respect as the seniors bless the young ones, and people in the same age group performing a form of affectionate embrace or hugging, locally called Kolakuli and wishing "Subho Bijoya". Exchange of home-made savouries or sweets is also an essential part of the Bijoya ritual, which is observed by all.