Durga, Jagdamba or Mahishasura Mardini, by whichever name you call her or worship her — Goddess Durga is an embodiment of shakti, courage, love and care. A powerful goddess who can vanquish demons single-handedly and a mother who devotes her all to her children.
Maa Durga or simply Maa, as she is lovingly called by her worshippers, is one of the fiercest and widely worshipped deities of the Hindu religion. While Eastern India is renowned for Durga Puja festivities, the deity is worshiped in various forms across India during Navaratri, a festival that spans nine days.
This Durga Puja, we share with you some lesser-known facts about the goddess and the traditions associated with the festivities.
- According to tradition, the idol or pratima of Durga is made of clay and the accompanying gods and goddesses (four in number) are called ek chala (one cover). The eyes of the goddess are supposed to be painted last and in complete darkness, in the presence of only one sculptor. This important ritual is called Chokku daan (offering the eyes) and is one of the most touching moments for the sculptor who spends months creating the pratimas. The Chokku daan ceremony marks the beginning of the Divine Mother's journey in the mortal world.
- The soil or the clay used for making the idols is collected from the banks of the river Ganges, or Hooghly as it is known in West Bengal. However, the clay should also be mixed with soil taken from nishiddho palli, or forbidden areas, one of which is the courtyard of a courtesan’s house. According to folklore, a priest should go to the courtesan’s house and beg for the punya matti (pure soil). The reason behind this tradition is that the Divine Mother doesn’t discriminate between her children. Therefore, Durga Puja is sarbajanin, that is for everyone. And, this spirit is evident, as individuals from every section of the society come together to celebrate.
- In North India, Durga Puja is celebrated as Navaratri. It is believed that Lord Rama worshipped Mahishasura Mardini (another name for Goddess Durga) before going to war with the demon king Ravana. He offered 108 blue lotuses and lit 108 lamps in Maa Durga’s honour.
- Goddess Durga is believed to bring prosperity, peace and happiness to the world. But, the mode of transport or vaahan she chooses to arrive by and leave are also of great significance. Apart from the lion, the elephant, horse, boat and palanquin are the other vaahan of Maa Durga. She arrives on one vaahan and leaves on another. Her choice of vaahan for arrival and departure indicates how the following year would fare for the world.
- Durga Puja is celebrated over five days, with ashtami, navami and dashami (eighth, ninth and tenth) being the most important days of the festival. However, since Hindus also follow the lunar calendar and most auspicious days or tithis are based on the waxing and waning phases of moon, the days of Navaratri don’t follow the traditional 24-hour cycle. A new Navaratri tithi can also begin in the evening and is welcomed with arati, dhak and dhunuchi naach.
- Durga Puja celebrations were first started by landlords or zamindars of Dinajpur and Malda between the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. In 1790, 12 friends (baro-yaari) of Guptipara in Hooghly district of West Bengal collected contribution from the locals to perform the puja. This started the tradition of sarbajanin or community puja. In Kolkata, the puja was first celebrated in 1909.
- The idol of Maa Durga is decorated with much care and love and has a history of its own. The pratima is either adorned with sholar shaaj or daaker shaaj. In sholar shaaj, the idol is decorated with the white core of the shola pith (Indian cork). The tradition of daaker shaaj began when wealthy devotees came up with the idea of adorning the idol with silver foil. This had to be imported from Germany through post or daak, and that’s how the name daaker shaaj came into being.
- Along with Maa Durga and her four children, Lord Ganesha’s wife is also worshipped during Durga Puja. Kola Bou (tree bride) or a banana plant wrapped in a white saree with a red border is placed beside Lord Ganesha. On the seventh day (Saptami), the kola bou is bathed and worshipped as a goddess.
Every Indian festival is intrinsically tied to culture and tradition. This Durga Puja, share these amazing facts with your child to help her gain a better understanding of her culture and heritage.
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