Celebrated for 10 days in the month of Ashvina (September – October), Durga Puja honours the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon king Mahishashura. Goddess Durga is also known as Bhavani, Amba, Chandika, Gauri, Parvati, Mahishasuramardini, and is the ‘Mother Goddess’ and the ‘Protector of the Righteous’ to all devotees. The festival commences on the same day as Navratri, the nine-night festival celebrated in many northern and western states of India that honours the divine feminine (shakti). Nothing but colour and festivity flow through the lanes during the nine days that Maa Durga resides in her basha (house) with her four children only to be reunited with her husband Shiva on the tenth day; the day of victory (Vijaydashami).
The first day is known as the Mahalaya, which heralds the advent of Maa Durga and the beginning of Devi Paksha. Every Bengali household revel in the resounding voice of Birendra Kishore Bhadra as he narrates the Goddess’s victory over Mahishashura – called the ‘Chandipaath’ – a holy scripture that is recited at dawn on Mahalaya, marking the journey of Maa Durga from Mount Kailash to her maternal home on Earth. However, worship commences on Shashti, the sixth day as her face is unveiled on that day. The five days of celebration occur on Shashti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami, and Vijaydashami.
A Special Bond That Connects India and Bangladesh
As we wait for Maa Durga to arrive this year, preparations are going on in full swing, not just in India and countries abroad like the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States of America but also in Bangladesh, a country home to the second-largest group of Bengalis. Sculptors are busy giving final touches to the idols of Maa Durga and homes are being prepped for her arrival.
Like most of India, Bangladesh also sees enthusiastic Durga Puja celebrations every year. The streets are lit up in canopies of fairy lights, Bengali songs, and Bollywood hits blare in the background as pandals are decorated to house the tallest, glossiest pratimas – idols – of the Goddess Durga. “Dugga Dugga” echo the united voices of all the women in the household as they move towards the pandals for pujo, wishing for a safe journey ahead in life. The sonorous beats of the dhak blended with the aroma of the dhunuchi lit in every home, park, and mandal fill the streets of the cities. People, Bengalis and non-Bengalis alike, devour delicacies like Khuchuri or Bhog, Luchi and Cholar Dal, Mochar Ghonto, Aloo Poshto, Ghugni, and umpteen sweet dishes like Sondesh, Rasgulla, Payesh and much more.
Apart from the rituals that are prevalent in both neighbouring countries, a special tradition follows on the final day of the puja where people from Taki in West Bengali and Satkhira, a district across the border in Bangladesh, both gear up for the immersion of the idols. People from both towns place the pratimas on a boat and sail up to the borader security boats floating in the middle of the river, along the international boundary. With a couple of meters separating them, the two groups exchange chants of “Asche bochor abar hobe!” – Until next year! – and immerse the idols together. On the day of Vijaydashami, the people of the two countries come together to celebrate a shared legacy. With teary eyes and swelling emotions, Maa Durga is bid adieu irrespective of which side of the border the devotee stands on, and all Bengalis start counting down the days until the Pujo next year.