One of the India’s grandest festivals – Durga Puja celebration is the annual festival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated between 6-10 days in different parts of the country. Most of the North India, it is celebrated for 9 Nights, hence called Navratri Festival. In eastern parts, especially in Kolkata it is a 5 days festival (from day 6-10) where the last 5 days of Shashthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navmi and Dashmi are mainly important and accordingly celebrated with much splendor.
Durga Puja Celebrations Navratri Festival
Every autumn the streets of Kolkata come alive with the sounds and sights of Durga Puja. This Hindu festival, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil, is marked in West Bengal (mainly in Kolkata) and neighbouring states as a time for dancing, drumming, eating and worship. Kolkata is the best place to be to witness the grandeur of this festival.
The festival honors the powerful female force (shakti) in the Universe. The Navratri festival commemorates the victory of the goddess over a buffalo demon called Mahishasura. According to the Hindu mythology , the demon was set out to start a war against the gods and it was up to Durga to kill him and protect earth. She began her battle against the demon on the seventh day of Navratri, known as Maha Saptami and killed him by the final day of Vijay Dashami.
This Durga puja festival dates back to ancient times in the Hindu religion, although the first historic record is available from the 1500s in West Bengal. Today, the festival is celebrated with song and dance, 9 days fasting followed by feasts, elaborate decorations at puja pandals or grand stage and religious recitals of Sanskrit verses.
After the 9 days celebrations, the idols are paraded through the streets, accompanied by music and dancing, and then immersed in the water. Food/gifts are distributed to young girls dressed as Durga.
When is Navaratri Festival?
There are actually four different Navaratri festivals throughout the year in India. However, Sharad Navaratri is the most popular one. This festival takes place in late September, or early October, each year. The dates of the festival are determined according to the Hindu lunar calendar.
Best places to celebrate Durga Puja
Durga Puja is celebrated in West Bengal, mainly in Kolkata. It’s the biggest and most important occasion of the year there. Bengali communities in other locations across India celebrate Durga Puja as well. Main Durga Puja festivities take place in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
In Delhi, Chittaranjan Park (CR Park) (Delhi’s mini Kolkata) is where the main action is, Minto Road, and also the city’s oldest traditional Durga Puja celebrations on Alipur Road at Kashmere (Kashmiri) Gate. At Chittaranjan Park, the must-see pandals or podiums are Kali Bari (Kali Mandir) and B Block.
In Mumbai, Shivaji Park in Dadar, is the oldest venue. A glamorous and hip Durga Puja happens at Lokhandwala Garden in Andheri West where many bollywood celebrity guests attend. For an all-out Bollywood extravaganza, don’t miss the North Bombay Durga Puja. The Ramakrishna Mission in Khar conducts an interesting Kumari Puja, where a young girl is dressed up and worshiped as Goddess Durga, on Ashtami or 8th day of celebrations.
The Rituals of Durga Puja Celebrations
Around one week before the festival starts, Mahalaya is celebrated which is when the Goddess is invited to come to the earth. The eyes are drawn on the idols of the Goddess on this day, in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan.
After the idols of Goddess Durga have been installed, a ritual is performed to invoke her holy presence into them on Saptami. This ritual is called Pran Pratisthan. It involves a small banana plant called a Kola Bou (banana bride), which is bathed in a nearby river, dressed in a sari, and used to transport the Goddess’s energy.
Prayers are offered to the Goddess every day during the festival, and she is worshiped in her various forms. On Ashtami, Goddess Durga is worshiped in the form of a virgin girl in a ritual called the Kumari Puja. The girls are worshiped as manifestations of the divine female energy, with the aim of evolving the purity and divinity of women in society. The divinity of Goddess Durga is believed to descend into the girl after the puja.
After the evening aarti ritual on Ashami, it’s custom for the devotional Dhunuchi folk dance to be performed in front of the Goddess to please her. This is done, to the rhythmic beating of drums, holding an earthen pot filled with burning coconut husk and camphor.
Worship is concluded on Navami with a maha aarti (great fire ritual), which marks the end of the important rituals and prayers.
On the last day, Durga returns to her husband’s abode and the statutes are taken for immersion. Married women offer red vermillion powder to the Goddess and smear themselves with it (this powder denotes the status of marriage, and hence fertility and bearing of children).
Belur Math in Kolkata holds an extensive program of rituals for Durga Puja celebrations, including a Kumari Puja. The ritual of Kumari Puja was started by Swami Vivekananda at Belur Math in 1901 to ensure that women were respected.
Difference between Durga Puja and Navratri Festival
There is not much difference between the two except the number of days. In West Bengal & other eastern states, it is celebrated as Durga Puja for last 5 days. Whereas in Northern and Western India, it is celebrated as Navratri festival for the whole 9 nights.
How is Navratri Festival Celebrated
In western India, Navaratri festival features nine nights of dancing. The traditional folk dances of Gujarat, known as Garba and Dandiya raas, are performed in circles with dancers dressed up in bright, colorful clothes. Small, decorated sticks called dandiyas are used in the dandiya raas. One of the best places to experience it is in Vadodara.
In Mumbai, dancing takes over stadiums and clubs throughout the city. While some of it has retained a traditional flavor, the introduction of disco dandiya has given Mumbai’s Navaratri festival celebrations a glamorous and modern twist. Nowadays, people prefer dancing to a fusion of remixed beats and loud Hindi bollywood music.
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In Delhi and rest of Northern States, the feature of Navaratri celebrations are the Ramleela (The story of Ramayana – holy book of Hindus) plays that take place all over the city. Tall effigies of the demon Ravana are burned as part these performances on Dussehra symbolizing the victory of good over evil.
According to Hindu mythology in The Ramayana, at the beginning of Navaratri, Lord Ram prayed to Goddess Durga to be granted the divine power to kill Ravan. He received this power on the eighth day, and finally, Ravan was killed on Dussehra. The city of Agra, near Delhi holds an annual Ram Barat – the wedding procession of Lord Rama which goes on overnight. This ram barat is famous in whole of North India because of its grandeur.
In South India (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh), Navaratri festival is widely known as Golu and is celebrated by the display of dolls/ figurines. The figurines are symbolic of feminine power. They’re placed on uneven numbered steps (usually three, five, seven, nine or 11) that are set up with wooden planks and decorated. During the festival, women visit each other’s homes to view the displays and exchange sweets.
In Telangana state of South India, Navaratri festival is celebrated as Bathukamma. This flower festival is devoted to Goddess Maha Gauri, an incarnation of Goddess Durga that’s considered to be the life-giver and Goddess of womanhood.