DURGA PUJA IN BENGAL
The worship of Devi Durga in the month of Ashwin is called ‘Akalbodhan’- an unconventional time for inauguration of the worship. It is so called since the period of this worship differs from
the conventional period (during the spring – ‘Basanta’).
Legends of Durga Puja
Creation of Goddess Durga
Goddess Durga represents a united front of all Divine forces against the negative forces of evil and wickedness. The gods in heaven decided to create an all-powerful being to kill the demon king Mahishasur who was ready to attack them. At that very moment a stream of lightning dazzled forth from the mouths of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh and it turned into a beautiful, magnificent woman with ten hands. Then all the gods furnished her with their special weapons. The image of Durga, the Eternal Mother destroying the demon, Mahishasur is symbolic of the final confrontation of the spiritual urge of man with his baser passions.
As per our great epic Mahabharat, Pandavas after wandering in the forest for 12 years, hung their weapons on a Shami tree before entering the court of king Virat to spend the last one year in disguise. After the completion of that year on Vijayadashmi the day of Dassera they brought down the weapons from the Shami tree and declared their true identity. Since that day the exchange of Shami leaves on Dassera day became symbols of good, will and victory.
This festival has immense mythological significance. As per Ramayan, Ram did “Chandi-puja and invoked the blessings of Durga to kill Ravana, the ten-headed king of Lanka who had abducted Seeta and had charmed life. Durga divulged the secret to Ram how he could kill Ravana. Then after vanquishing him, Ram with Seeta and Laxman returned victorious to his kingdom of Ayodhya on Diwali day.
Kautsa, the young son of Devdatt, insisted on his guru Varatantu to accept “Gurudakshina”, after finishing his education. After lots of persistence his Guru, finally asked for 14 crore gold coins, one crore for each of the 14 sciences he taught Kautsa. Kautsa went to king Raghuraj, who was known for his genorisity and was an ancestor of Rama. But just at that time he had emptied all his coffers on the Brahmins, after performing the Vishvajit sacrifice. So, the king went to Lord Indra and asked for the gold coins. Indra summoned Kuber, the god of wealth. Indra told Kuber, “Make a rain of gold coins fall on the “Shanu” and “Apati” trees round Raghuraja’s city of Ayodhya.” The rain of coins began to fall. The king Raghu gave all the coins to Kautsa, who gave 14 crores gold coins to his guru. The remaining coins were lavishly distributed to the people of Ayodhya city. This happened on the day of Dussehra. In remembrance of this event the custom is kept of looting the leaves of the “Apati” trees and people present each other these leaves as “Sone” (gold).
History Of Durga Puja In Bengal
The origin of celebrating Durga Pooja in Bengal dates back to 16th century AD. According to legends, the landlords of Malda and Dinajpur started Durga Puja for the first time in the state of Bengal. However, according to some sources it is said that Bhabananda Mazumdar of Nadiya or Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur first initiated autumn Durga Puja or Sharadiya, as it is called in Bengali. Over the years, the celebration has taken the form of mass festivity called as Barowari Puja when twelve friends of Guptipara in Bengal came together to organize a collective Puja called as ‘twelve-pal’ or Barowari Puja in 1790. This collective form of celebrating Durga Puja was first initiated in Kolkata by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar in 1832. Gradually by 1910, this collective form of celebrating Durga Puja evolved into community celebration known as Sarbajanin Durga Puja. It was first held by Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha in Baghbazar in Kolkata with participation from large number of people. The tradition of observing Sarbajanin Durga Puja in the eighteenth century gave way to the growth of Bengali culture.
The “Sharadiya” Durga Puja is said to have first started in the year 1757 with the Durga Puja of Sovabazar Rajbari. The oldest puja in Kolkata, it came to being due to the efforts of Maharaja Naba Krishna De, the founder of the Shobhabazar royal family. It is said that after emerging victorious in the Battle of Plassey, Colonel Robert Clive wanted to pay a thanks to the divine forces for his success. The Battle of Plassey was a landmark in the history of British domination in India as the victory of the British forces in this war gave the East India Company control of Bengal. Robert Clive was the then chief officer of British East India Company and he led his forces to victory in this crucial battle, that too with minimum casualties.
As the only church in Calcutta at that time was destroyed by Siraj-ud-Daulah, Clive was unable to show his gratitude to God.
When Raja Nabakrishna Deb came to know of Clive’s desire, he invited the latter to his house at Durga Puja and offer his thanks at the feet of Goddess Durga. Initially Clive had some hesitations to attend the puja as in those days Christians were not allowed by the Hindus to take part in Hindu festivities. However, the mighty Nabakrishna Deb managed it all and Robert Clive paid a visit to the Shobhabazar Rajbari to offer his thanks to Goddess Durga. Thereafter, the Shobhabazar Durgotsab(Durga Puja ceremony) came to be known as the “Company Puja”.
The Shobhabazar Sharodotsab proved a trendsetter in Durga Puja festivities of Bengal. From this time until the independence of India in 1947, inviting Englishmen to Durga Puja ceremonies became a fashion. The number of Englishmen attending the family Durga Puja became an index of prestige and a status symbol among the upcoming merchant class of Kolkata. After this trendsetting puja of 1757, many British Officers of the East India Company were invited as guests of honor in the Pujas by various wealthy mercantile and Zamindar families in Bengal.
The hosts vied with one another in arranging the most sumptuous feasts and organizing lavish decorations and entertainment for their white guests. This was a way of pleasing officials of The East India Company which was in charge of a large part of India including Bengal after the battles of Plassey and Buxar.
After British invasion in India, many British officers including British soldiers also participated in Durga Puja by saluting Durga idol and eating prasad. In 1765, the East India Company held a grandiose Durga Puja as they presented ceremonial thanksgiving to the deity. However, many viewed this as an act of political appeasement to Hindus. There were even reports that John Chips, the auditor-general of British East India Company observed Durga Puja at his Birbhum office. But this kind of large scale participation from British officials did not last for long as it was banned in 1840. When English East India Company changed its capital from Kolkata to Delhi, a large number of people from Bengal moved to Delhi and settled there. Hence, in 1910, Durga Puja was first celebrated in Delhi. They also conducted a ritual- mangal Kalash consecration ceremony for the deity. Since then Durga Puja has been celebrated in Delhi, with great zeal and enthusiasm. In 2009, centennial celebration of Durga Puja was held at Kashmere Gate Durga Puja in Delhi.