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THE POWER OF DEVI: UNVEILING THE SYMBOLISM BEHIND DURGA PUJA

Durga Puja, the worship of the mother goddess Durga, holds a significant place in the cultural identity of Bengalis. Bengalis place a high value on the mother goddess Durga's devotion, or Durga Puja, as part of their cultural identity. The extravagant event, which is celebrated every year in the autumnal month of Aswin, has grown to be the most popular Hindu festival in Bengal. The colourful metropolis of Kolkata and the thousands of pandals (temporary shelters) set up throughout West Bengal contribute to the festive atmosphere and the holiday spirit that is brought about by Durga Puja.


ORIGINS


The devotion to Durga in Bengal shows a distinctive divergence from local traditions and religious conceptions of the deity. The non-Brahminic and non-Hindu origins of Durga have recently been established by studies demonstrating her prior ties to tribal goddesses. Beginning in the sixth century, the Hindu Puranas started the process of incorporating non-Vedic deities into the Brahminic pantheon. Earlier texts like the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa present Durga in a far different way than the popular representation. She was portrayed as a fearless virgin who lived in solitude and hunted in mountains, rocky terrain, and caves.







ACCOMMODATION OF TRIBAL GODDESSES


Several indigenous goddesses were integrated into the Brahminical pantheon in Bengal through the Puranic tradition. This process involves connecting the many goddesses to Sakti, the origin of feminine power, or lumping them all under the umbrella term of Devi. The tribal goddesses were integrated into a hierarchical Brahminical structure, which dictated their more universal characteristics, while still retaining their distinctive specificities. This synthesis allowed for the cohabitation of various goddesses within the context of Durga Puja, which honours and celebrates the divine feminine force.








EVOLUTION OF PUBLIC FESTIVITIES


Durga Puja's evolution from a rural household institution to a public festival is closely linked to the growth of urban social life in Calcutta, the capital of the British Empire in India. The expanding urban elite, who benefited from British funding, incorporated Durga Puja into their daily routines.


But the puja also gave rise to lavish celebrations and a variety of popular forms of entertainment, in addition to the formal observances. These performances were initially only open to invited guests, including English and bourgeois audiences. Durga Puja evolved into a recognisable institution that represents Bengali identity and serves as a venue for public performances and contests.



HISTORICAL MILESTONES AND PUBLIC WORSHIP


Historical records present several contenders for the honour of hosting the first public Durga Puja. Candidates such as Kangsanarayan, the zamindar of Taherpur, the Sabarna Chaudhuris, and Raja Krishnachandra Raya of Nadia, have been associated with the initiation of public worship. The transition from household worship to baroari (public) worship occurred in the late 18th century when twelve friends formed a committee to conduct their own Durga Puja. The committee collected public subscriptions and organized elaborate ceremonies, accompanied by diverse forms of entertainment, making Durga Puja a time of celebration and communal solidarity.



CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE


The significance of Durga Puja in Bengali culture and society is enormous. By bringing people together to rejoice in the victory of good over evil, it acts as a unifying factor. People from all walks of life participate in the celebrations, setting aside their everyday tasks to take in the festive atmosphere and develop a sense of community and camaraderie. People can partake in the festivities, artistic manifestations, and cultural events that are associated with Durga Puja as a break from their monotonous daily routine. The event also showcases the remarkable artistic talent in Bengal. Pandals are elaborately adorned temporary structures used as artistic installations to display craftsmanship, inventiveness, and novel concepts. The majestic idols of Durga and her offspring are created over the course of several months by artisans and sculptors, who showcase their talents and add to the festival's aesthetic splendour. The pandals develop into a centre for cultural events, holding musical and dance performances, plays, and other artistic expressions that draw tourists from all over the world.



Public spaces in Kolkata temporarily change during Durga Puja to become ritual and ceremonial grounds. In neighbourhoods, parks, and other public areas, pandals are erected to establish sacred spaces where the goddess and her celestial companions are worshipped. These pandals not only house the idols but also become hubs for community gatherings, storytelling, and social interaction. The way public spaces are used during Durga Puja makes it clear that it is inclusive. People from all walks of life attend the celebrations regardless of their social or economic status. As people move throughout the city, visiting different pandals and soaking in the lively atmosphere, the temporary restriction of highways and thoroughfares to make room for pandals improves the festival experience. Bengalis attach great emotional importance to Durga Puja because it stirs up memories of their ancestors and a sense of nostalgia. Families from all across the world join together to enjoy the event enthusiastically. People spend time with their loved ones throughout this season, strengthening family ties and valuing common traditions. Many people view Durga Puja as more than just a religious celebration. It offers a venue to display traditional costumes, culinary specialities, and folklore, preserving and transmitting ancestors' traditions to following generations. The festival's joyful reunions, cultural performances, and feasting leave enduring impressions that improve Bengali culture by building a sense of community.





Meril Mathew, Intern @DH

BA EPH, Christ University, Bangalore






References


1. Ghosh, A. (2000). Spaces of Recognition: Puja and Power in Contemporary Calcutta. Journal of Southern African Studies, 26(2), 289–299. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2637495

2. Bhattacharya, T. (2007). Tracking the Goddess: Religion, Community, and Identity in the Durga Puja Ceremonies of Nineteenth-Century Calcutta. The Journal of Asian Studies, 66(4), 919–962. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20203237

3. Ray, M. (2017). Goddess in the City: Durga pujas of contemporary Kolkata. Modern Asian Studies, 51(4), 1126-1164.


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