Today is the last day of Navaratri (means nine nights), an annual Hindu festival. It’s observed in the honour of the Goddess Durga in the bright half of the Hindu calendar month, Ashvin. It falls in the Gregorian months of September/ October. Celebrations include worshipping Navadurga (nine manifestations of Durga) during nine days.
In the northern and eastern parts, Navaratri is synonymous with Ramalila and Durga Puja.
Ramalila (Rama’s play) is the story of Lord Rama right from His childhood and is staged in the form of dance and play to re-enact His life including the legendary war between the Good and the Evil as per Ramayana during the festival of Navaratri.
The Ramalila is a performance art related celebrations that come to an end on the day of Dussehra (tomorrow), when the giant effigies of Ravana (the evil) are burnt with grandiose fireworks.
Ramalila is both religious and cultural event bringing all together without any distinction of caste, creed or religion. I had also participated in the Ramalila as a child artist for many years.
On the other hand, Durga Puja or Durgotsava is celebrated as the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura to help restore the dharma, the victory of the Good over the Evil.
Mahishasura had a blessing that he would not be killed either by a man or a God. So he decided to loot and kill all with impunity, to rule over all the three realms. Even Gods were not spared. So using their powers, Gods decided to create energy that took the form of Devi Durga. She took weapons from all Gods to finally kill Mahishasura. This last scene is replicated in many idols during Durga Puja celebrations.
For many people, Puja may be an alien concept, but the whole Bengal looks awesome during the Puja or ‘Pujo’ as they call.
I had twice witnessed this fever of festival fervour and festivities, when I was in Kolkata, where people have a special appreciation for art, culture, literature and cinema. This city provides an unparalled religious and cultural experience during these nine days. I can easily recall the smells, sounds and sights of Pujo.
The pandals (temporary structures for Pujo) are massive great structures, which will be unique every year. There will be always something new by various clubs with themes as varied as the Gulf War to Ukraine War, Mother Teresa to Pope.
Next to the pandals are the smells of the sizzling food of Bengal in the so-called ‘khau gali’ (food lane). Apart from food stalls, Puja pandals invariably have various shops selling clothes, cosmetics etc, and above all a stage for performance including dance and orchestra music.
In order to appreciate the structural decorations of various pandals, people resort to Pandal hopping in large numbers that often creates traffic jams during even late night hours upto two in the morning. I myself never forget to visit pandals wherever I stay, be it Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Lucknow or my own Varanasi.
But the most important attraction is the people themselves, dressed in their finest clothes, with new outfit for every day of the Pujo. Women outsmart men by wearing the most beautiful attires with heavy jewels and bangles (including sankhlas).
One of the main attractions of Durga Puja that I also like very much, is Dhunuchi dance with intense beats coming from the dhak. Dhunuchi dance is a devotional dance by holding a Dhunuchi, that contains the burning coconut husk and incense woods sprinkled on it.
It’s believed that to increase the strength and energy, Goddess Durga had performed this dance before slaying Mahishasura.
Another name for Goddess Durga is Durgatinashini (one who eliminates sufferings). May this festival remove the evil from the world and bring happiness to all of us. 🙏
Happy Navaratri 🙏
Happy Durga Puja 🙏