"Ayi girinandini nanditamedini
O, Daughter of the Mountain, the One who brings joy to the whole Earth,
who makes the entire Universe rejoice, the One praised by Nandin,
residing on the peak of the great Vindhya mountain; You are praised by
all those desirous of victory.
The above are the first 4 lines of the Mahishasuramardhini Stotram, a
hymn on the highly adored, worshipped and celebrated Devi Durga. Durga,
an aspect of Parvati, Lord Shiva's consort, is also one of the Trinity
of the Sacred Feminine Energy. In Sanskrit, Durga means "inaccessible"
or "invincible". In Bengali, her name implies the "one who can redeem
from utmost distress". This supremely powerful and radiant Goddess is
shown with ten arms, riding either a tiger or a lion, wielding several
weapons, also holding a soft lotus flower in one hand. She is shown to
have a meditative, love-filled smile and practices Yoga mudras or
symbolic hand gestures, many used in Tantra.
Durga is considered the Adi Shakti or the Primordial Power, who created
the entire Universe out of her womb. An embodiment of Prakriti or the
creative feminine force, Durga, the Warrior Goddess, is both fierce and
compassionate. While fighting with terrible demons, she exhibits her
raging side. But with devotees, she is gentle and benevolent and grants
all their wishes.
The Legend of Devi Durga
According to the Devi Mahatyam, Durga was created in order to fight an
asura or demon, called Mahishasura. He had a boon that he could not be
defeated by any man or God. Filled with arrogance and false pride,
Mahisha unleashed a reign of terror on the Heavens, the Earth and the
Netherworld. In order to find a way to tackle Mahisha, Brahma and the
other Devas approached Shiva and Vishnu. The Gods were so angry that a
fierce radiance emerged from their bodies. This light met as one at the
Ashram of a priest, Katyayan. Devi Durga then emerged from this
brilliant light. Hence, Durga is also called Katyayani.
Each of the major Gods gave her their weapon. Hence, she held Shiva's
Trishula (Trident), Indra's Vajra (Thunderbolt), Vishnu's Chakra
(Discus), Rama's Bow, Kubera's Ratnahara, Brahma's Kamandalu and so on.
Himavan gave her a lion, on which she rode majestically. Introducing
herself in the language of the Rig Veda, she declared that she was the
form of the Supreme Brahman and was the Creator of the entire Universe.
Durga Wages Battle against Mahisha
When Durga came face-to-face with Mahisha, the asura underestimated
her, thinking that a mere woman, and that too, one as soft-looking as
the one before him, could never ever defeat him. However, Durga's
roaring laughter created an earthquake and this made him somewhat aware
of her powers.
Mahishasura fought against her, changing forms many times. First he
became a buffalo demon - she defeated him with her sword. He then
became an elephant that tied up the goddess's lion and began to pull it
towards him. Durga cut off his trunk with her sword. Then Mahisha took
the form of a lion, and then a man, but Durga slew both forms
Then Mahishasura again started to take the form of a buffalo. When
Mahishasur had half emerged into this form, he was paralyzed by the
radiant light emitting from the goddess's body. She then roared with
laughter and in one swift stroke, cut off his head with her sword.
Legend has it that the Goddess took up severe penance for many days
before facing Mahisha in the battlefield. The fierce battle went on for
9 days. On the 10th day, the day of Vijayadashami, she finally won
against the mighty demon.
Temples Dedicated to Durga
The main temple for Devi Durga is situated on the Trikuta Parvata near
Katra in Jammu, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This temple houses
one of the most popular shrines of the Goddess, also called Mata
Vaishno Devi. Other important temples include Kanak Durga Temple in
Vijayawada; Durgamba Temple in Karnataka; Chamundeshwari Temple in
Mysore; Ammathiruvadi Temple in Thrissur, Kerala; Matrimandir near
Pondicherry; Maa Bamleshwari at Chattisgarh; Shitla Mata Temple at
Patna; Ambika Mata Temple in Rajasthan; Ambaji Temple near Gujarat;
Kalighat Temple in Kolkata; Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati; Katak Chandi
Temple in Cuttack; Shanta Durga Temple in Goa and so on.
Major Durga temples can also be found elsewhere in Asia, such as
Prambanan Temple in Indonesia; Dhakeshwari Temple in Dhaka, Bangladesh
and so on.
Worship of Devi Durga
Durga is worshipped all over India. She is revered equally by all Hindu
communities, especially by the Shaivas and the Shaktas. This ten-day
worship is undertaken with great fervour by Hindus all over the world.
In North India, the tenth day of Navratri signifies Lord Rama's victory
over the demon King, Ravana. Ram Lila sessions are conducted, wherein
artists enact the story of Rama and straw effigies of Ravana are burnt
in designated open spaces.
In Gujarat, the Garba dance is performed with great vigour, in order to
celebrate the Goddess' victory over Mahisha. In Maharashtra, Ambabai
and Tulja Bhavani are worshipped as forms of Mahishasuramardhini.
In Tamil Nadu, people keep the Golu (or Kolu), which is a certain
arrangement of dolls, and offer prayers, flowers, fruits, incense and
naivedya to the deity. Women then call their female friends over for
the distribution of haldi-kumkum. This is a predominantly ladies'
festival, signifying that each woman is an aspect of the Sacred
In Bangladesh, there is a four-day long Sharadiya Durga Puja. This is
celebrated with great religious fervour by all Hindus residing there.
The Durga Puja in Bengal
The Navratri festival, though, is celebrated with the most devotion and
fervour in Bengal, where Goddess Durga is considered the Supreme
Almighty. The four-day Durga Puja ceremony, starting from the Saptami
(seventh day) to the Dashami (tenth day) is the greatest annual
festival in Bengal. All through the period of the Navaratri, the
Navadurga or nice aspects of Durga are meditated upon, each Devi being
worshipped on one particular day of the Navratri. This type of worship
is especially undertaken by Shaktas or Shakti worshippers.
Durga as the Great Unifier
Goddess Durga emerged from the united powers of all the major Gods. She
therefore embodied their ideals and principles and even adopted their
weapons as her own. Durga, hence, united the Gods to help them
collectively win their individual battles against evil. For this
reason, Durga is considered the personification of unity.
Durga as a Spiritual Power
At any Durga Puja festival in Bengal, Durga is depicted as the mother
of Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati. In actuality, these
deities represent four different powers necessary to create the
existence of a certain spiritual state. Ganesha is the Lord of physical
strength; Kartikeya is the God of valour and celibacy; Lakshmi is the
Goddess of wealth and business; and Saraswati is the Goddess of purity
and knowledge. Hence, these idols collectively embody physical strength
for both agricultural and industrial workers; chivalry and bravery for
soldiers; wealth for those in business; and the enhancement of
knowledge for intellectuals.
Durga symbolizes unity even in the psyche of man. Her fight against
Mahisha symbolizes the fight against the darkness of evil and the
ultimate victory of good over evil. This victory is not only physical
in nature, but also implies the inner struggle faced everyday by man in
all fields of his life. This struggle aims to reach man to the highest
levels of Sattva or pure consciousness, where his soul meets the One
Universal Soul, embodied by Durga Herself.
The seeker then reaches a state of complete bliss, which can be
attained only after eliminating the base emotions or Rajas. The base
emotions are embodied by the lion, which is forever under the control
of the Goddess. Thus, only surrendering the mind and letting the Devi
take over it, can free the seeker of this material world and grant him
or her a permanent state of bliss.
The fight between Durga and Mahisha actually symbolizes our internal
fight between good and evil. The slaying of Mahisha is actually the
slaying of the Tamas or the impure lying within all of us.
Akal Bodhon - the History of Durga
There is no clear record as to the actual history of the Durga Puja
festival. The first mention of the Puja dates back to the Ramayana. It
is believed that Lord Rama invoked Durga before leaving to fight
against Ravana. The Goddess was traditionally worshipped in spring, but
he had to invoke her during autumn, when she was in deep slumber. In
fact, this time of the year is considered inauspicious, according to
Hindu mythology. Hence, this is termed as Akal Bodhon, which in
Bengali, literally means, "untimely awakening" or "invocation".
The most auspicious time for the Goddess' worship falls in the month of
Chaitra, which arrives approximately between March or April. Also
termed as the Uttorayan, this coincides with the time of the Spring
Equinox. The Dakshinayan is considered to be the resting time for Gods
and Goddesses. This extends for the entire Winter Solstice, which is
the time period between 23rd June and 22nd December every year.
According to Krittibas' Ramayan, the war between Rama and Ravana kept
raging for some days. Rama succeeded in slaying Ravana into two halves.
But a boon from Brahma enabled Ravana to regain his original form.
Ravana then began to worship Devi Ambika, requesting her to support him
in his battle against Rama. The Devi immediately obliged and joined
Ravana on his chariot.
Vibishana then suggested to Rama that he should try to appease Durga by
offering her 108 blue lotuses and praying to her fervently. At Rama's
behest, Hanuman flew to Debidaha, the only region where he could find
Gathering the lotuses, Rama started his worship of the Goddess. To his
dismay, however, there were only 107 lotuses. Rama promptly proceeded
to pull out one of his own lotus eyes to offer to the Devi. This
pleased Devi Durga, who immediately appeared before him and stopped him
from this act. She also promised Rama that she would leave Ravana's
side and help Rama win the battle and rescue Sita.
Rama started the Puja on Shashti or the 6th day of Ashwin. The Goddess
gave him darshan on the Ashtami or the 8th day. On the start of the 9th
day, she entered Rama's weapons and thus enabled him to slay Ravana on
the Dashami or the 10th day.
Other Stories of Akal Bodhon
According to Shri Shri Chandi, King Surath had invoked Durga in autumn,
in order to get back his lost kingdom. Samadhi Vaishya had done the
same to attain Brahmagyana or the knowledge of the Ultimate Truth.
There is also a legend of Indra, the King of Gods, waking up the Devi
in autumn, in order to request her to slay Mahisha.
These different versions of Akal Bodhon possibly indicate that this
legend is purely mythological in nature.
Preparations Undertaken for the
Elaborate Durga Puja
The preparations for the Durga Puja in Bengal are elaborate and are
undertaken with much religious fervour. First, clay idols of the deity
are created. Then pandals are erected in chosen locations and then the
Puja festivities follow from there. Let us discuss these preparations
in more detail:
Creating the Durga Idol
Bengal specializes in creating beautiful clay idols of Devi Durga. The
best artists create and showcase their masterpieces during this festive
occasion. The process of creating the idol starts months before the
event. First, bamboo sticks are cut in different shapes so as to
support the main statue of the Goddess and also to create a platform to
place her idol. The artisan then painstakingly creates a clay figurine
of the Goddess. This is the most difficult part.
An outline of the idol is created by tying up pieces of straw with jute
strings. This is done by one group of artisans. The second group goes
about mixing the clay for making the idol. Yet another group comprising
the top artisans, applies the clay onto the straw skeleton, thus giving
shape to it.
The first coat of clay used to make the image of the Goddess is watery.
This helps fill up the gaps created by the straw structure. The second
layer is applied very carefully, since this is what actually gives
shape to the idol. The mixed clay has to be pure and fine, so that
there are no lumps and such while mixing. The palms, feet and head are
all made separately and are then attached to the torso.
The face, which is the main part, is created with a great deal of
effort. Liquid Plaster of Paris is first poured over it, creating a
mould. Then the mould is separated from the clay. The mould is then
used to create many other similar heads.
In the final stage, cloth soaked in fine clay, taken from the river bed
of the Ganga, is applied to the joints of the figurines. This develops
cracks while drying and essentially strengthens the joints. The image
is then painted with white earth. Once this dries, the statue is
painted with pink or yellow earth colours. Then comes the blood colour.
The fine detailing of the eyes is done by the main artist. A coat of
varnish is applied to the idol and hair, made of jute, is pasted onto
the idol's head and is then ornamented.
Pandal-Making for the Puja
Constructing a Puja Pandal is considered a form of art. This Pandal is
the abode of Goddess Durga for the four days of Durga Puja. In the
bygone days, the landed aristocracy or the Zamindars used to conduct
the Barwari Puja or a community Puja, which was generally an extension
of their own residence.
But today, Puja pandals are erected in almost every street corner.
Bamboo poles, several wooden planks and reams of cloth are required to
construct these mammoth structures. Artists make full use of their
creative skills to make the most intricate designs, so as to make
viewers catch their breath. Such is the architectural splendour of
these structures. These pandals are then decorated with bright lights
and chandeliers. On the walls are several scenes depicted from
The Durga Chalchitra
The Durga Chalchitra, also referred to as Devichal or Chali, is the
painted background of the Durga idol. Originally, these were used to
give proper proportion to the structure. Gradually, this took the form
of a slab, known as "Prabhamandali" or halo of the idol. This tradition
is very ancient and is still maintained.
Though the Chalchitra is painted on materials like canvas of Potas or
paper, a few varieties are also engraved on ivory, wood, stone or even
metals. Originally, Chalchitrakars used to be potters by profession.
But there are also two other sects; the Grahabipras (idol makers who
might have been Brahmanas by caste) and the Patuas or Sutradhars (the
painters of scroll patas).
There are four varieties of Chalchitra - Bangla Chal, Markini Chal,
Mothchouri Chal and Tanachauri Chal. Three more extinct varieties are
Girje Chal, Sarbasundari Chal and Dothaki chal. Among the commonly seen
chali is the Markini Chal. This comes in a semicircular shape,
extending from one end of the idol to the other, propped up by two
pillars. The Bangla chal follows the tradition of temple architecture.
It stretches on both sides of the idol in a suspended pattern and is
long enough to fit all the idols present there. Shiva is a vital part
of Chalchitras. He is depicted in different postures and moods, such as
playing a Vina, dancing, smoking ganja, riding the Nandi and even
The lack of patronage has caused this wonderful art to fade away from
mainstream art. Moreover, challis are usually immersed along with the
idols and hence, no official legacy is found. Nowadays, the Chalchitra
is used only as a part of decoration.
Bengalis Prepare for the Big Event
Bengalis prepare in a big way for the event. They purchase lovely new
garments, prepare good food and invite friends and relatives over to
their place, also giving away gifts to them. Some may even consider
revamping their homes. The Durga Puja, therefore, not only has
religious significance, but is also relevant socio-economically. It is
the entire community's pride.
Shopkeepers also try to sell the maximum amount of wares, offering free
gifts and discounts with every purchase. Generally, the atmosphere
continues to remain charged with joy and gaiety throughout the time of
the Durga Puja.
Ritual Worship Associated with the
There are several interesting ritual Pujas undertaken, mostly by women,
during the Durga Puja in Bengal. The most important ones are as follows:
Bengalis worship Durga as the Goddess Shakti who is also a daughter,
making an annual visit to her parents' place, accompanied by her
children, for a period of four days. The Goddess, during her stay here,
is worshipped in several forms. One of these is the Kumari, which is
the Kanya or Virgin form. This is considered the most powerful form of
A girl aged between one and sixteen, is worshipped in front of the idol
of Goddess Durga. Interestingly, the scriptures emphasise Kumari Puja
in order to enhance the purity and divinity of the women of the Indian
society. Sri Rama Krishna had said that Kumari is another form of Devi
Durga. He hence worshipped Sarada Ma as Kumari. This concept of Kumari
Puja is very ancient. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna had performed Kumari
Selecting the Kumari
The scriptures mention the qualities required in the girl to match the
dynamism, purity and serenity of the godly Kumari. The Kumari has to be
calm, serene and unmarried girl, who should not have yet reached her
puberty. Therefore, she would be bereft of desire, worldly pleasures
Depending on the age of the girls, they are worshipped in the different
forms of the Goddess.
- A one year old is worshipped in the
Sandhya form of the Devi
- A two year old is worshipped in the
- A three year old girl is worshipped
in the Tridha form
- A four year old is worshipped in
the Kalika form
- Subhaga and Uma are the forms for a
five and a six year old respectively
- A seven year old is worshipped as
Malini, while an eight year old represents Kujjika
- Kalsondarbha and Aparajita stand
for a ten year old and an eleven year old respectively
- Bhairavi is represented by a twelve
year old and Mahalakhmi by a thirteen year old
- Pitnayika, Khetragya and Ambika are
worshipped by way of fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year old girls
Kumari Puja Vidhi
Kumari Puja is held on Ashtami or Nabami. At early dawn, the Kumari is
bathed in Ganga water and is clad in a red Benarasi sari. She is
adorned with jewellery and flowers and alta (a type of watery red
paint) is applied to her feet. A tilak of sindoor is applied on her
The Kumari fasts the whole day until the puja is over. She is made to
sit on a decorated chair, facing the goddess and a flower from the
Devi's hand is placed in her hand. Placed before her are flowers, bel
(wood apple) leaves, incense sticks, lamps and other things required
for puja. The purohit then chants appropriate mantras to complete the
It is believed that after the puja, the divinity of the Goddess Durga
can be seen in the girl. The Kumari is then gifted with gold, silver
and clothes, as it is considered a pious act to gift the now divine
The Sandhi Puja
As a tradition, the Nabadurga or the Nine Durgas are propitiated during
the Durga Puja festival in Bengal.
The Sandhi Puja, a vital part of the Durga Puja, is performed during
the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day. The Sandhi Puja lasts from
the last 24 minutes of Ashtami till the first 24 minutes of Nabami.
Durga is worshipped in her Chamunda form during this time.
The Legend of Chamunda
Devi Durga had killed 2 demons, Chanda and Munda, at Sandhikhan. Hence,
she has the name, "Chamunda". While Durga and Mahishasura were battling
with each other, the two generals of Mahisha, Chanda and Munda attacked
the Devi from behind. Durga then appeared before them, a luminescent
woman, her hair knotted on her head, a crescent moon above her
forehead, a tilak on her forehead and a garland around her neck. Her
earrings and yellow sari gave her a golden glow. Her ten hands held ten
different weapons. Though beautiful, her face turned blue with anger
when she faced Chanda and Munda.
From the Devi's third eye emerged a Goddess with a large falchion and a
shield. She had an angry-looking face, bloody tongue and blood-shot
eyes. This fearful entity, Devi Chamunda, leapt forward and killed the
demons, right at the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day.
Sandhi Puja in the Past
In the times of yore, a bronze bowl with a tiny hole was placed in a
bucket full of water. The hole was made in such a way that it took
precisely 24 minutes for the bowl to completely submerge in the water.
The moment the bowl submerged in the water, cannon balls were fired in
order to announce this moment of Sandhi Puja.
This very popular technique for measuring the Sandhikhan was employed
by Rajbaris, including the Zamindar of Sutanuti of Sobhabajar. The
people residing in and around Sobhabajar waited for this indication to
proceed with their Puja. So popular was this ritual, that Raja Krishna
Chandra, the King of Krishnanagar, was given the cannon of Plassey as a
gift from Robert Clive.
In Shikharbhum Rajbari, a platter with sindoor (vermilion) used to be
kept in front of the Devi. It was believed that the foot prints of
Goddess Durga could be seen in the platter. This moment also indicated
the commencement of Sandhi Puja.
Considered to be Lord Ganesha's consort, Kolabou in actuality has no
relationship with the Elephant-Headed God. But she is referred to in
scriptures as the Nabapatrika. Interestingly, Nabapatrika was a popular
ritual performed by the farmers to appease the Gods for a good harvest.
As idol worship was not so popular at that point in time, they
worshipped Mother Nature instead. The Sharat Ritu or season of autumn
was the time of Amondhan - the time for reaping a harvest.
When Durga Puja got popular many centuries later, the Nabapatrika
rituals were also added with it. The Nabapatrika, hence, signifies a
primitive form of the Durga Puja. Each of the nine plants used in the
Nabapatrika worship are considered to be one aspect of Devi Durga.
Early in the morning on Saptami, twigs of the aparajita plant, along
with nine bunches of yellow threads, are used to tie the Nabapatrika.
It is then bathed, signifying the Abhishek of all the nine Goddesses
representing Nabapatrika. It is bathed with waters from 8 different
holy places and the ritual is accompanied with the chanting of mantras
and playing of musical instruments for different goddesses. Also,
different ragas or melodies are sung with the Abhishek done with each
Nabapatrika is then adorned in a white sari bordered with brilliant red
and vermilion is smeared on her leave. Then, placed on a decorated
pedestal, she is worshipped with incense sticks, sandalwood paste and
flowers. Afterward, she is placed on the right side of Lord Ganesha.
This is why she is regarded as Ganesha's wife.
The Nabapatrika ritual used to be a big affair with the Babus of the
yesteryears. Once idol worship came into being, this ritual slowly lost
its importance. Now, people perform this ritual on a minor scale.
Various types of ritualistic offerings are made to the Goddess during
this time, as a means of worship. Here, devotees offer various foods,
sweets, incense, ghee, oil, money and even gold and silver ornaments at
the Feet of the Goddess.
These offerings symbolize the devotee surrendering material and worldly
pleasures to the Goddess, thereby signifying the shedding his or her
mortal ego, trying to reach the higher planes of spiritual existence.
On the last day of Dashami, Devi Durga is sent back to Kailash, to her
Lord Shiva. This ritual is referred to as the Bisharjan. A branch is
marked before the commencement of the Puja. It is then cut from the
tree and tied to a mirror. This mirror is kept on a platter in an angle
that the reflection of the Devi can be seen in the mirror. The mirror
is bathed with water. After the Dashami puja, the Bisharjan implies the
immersion of the mirror in a platter of water, while shaking the idol
at the same time.
The ghat puja is important here. Four arrows are placed in a
rectangular plot, their tips tied with a red thread. The ghat, an
earthen or brass pot is placed in the middle of the plot and the loose
end of the thread is tied around the idol of the goddess. Later, the
red thread is also wrapped around the idol.
After completing the Dashami puja, the purohit asks the Goddess to
forgive him for errors committed while conducting the Puja. Then,
inviting her to visit again, he takes a flower from the ghot and,
chanting mantras, throws it behind his back, shakes the ghat and tears
off the thread. This concludes the Bisharjan ritual.
The Sindoor Khela is an important event of the Dashami. All married
women take the blessings of Devi Durga for the last time before her
immersion. They perform aarati, place betel leaves in the palms of the
Goddess and put sweets on the lips of the idol. They then wipe the eyes
of the idol, as one does to wipe off tears. This is called the Durga
Baran. They then apply vermilion to the Devi's head and also to each
Just before the idol is immersed in water, the women take the sindoor
from the Devi's forehead and place it on their own. The sindoor that
remains on the finger is applied on an iron and gold bangle, which is
termed as the Loha. This is usually gifted by the mother-in-law and is
supposed to be worn by the married woman, all her life.
Devi Durga is finally given a warm send-off, by way of the Bisharjan.
This marks the conclusion of the very beautiful and very elaborate
Durga Puja festival in Bengal.