Triumph Over Evil: Goddess Durga through The Lens of Bengal

Ya devi sarva bhuteshu, shanti rupena sangsthita
Ya devi sarva bhuteshu, shakti rupena sangsthita
Ya devi sarva bhuteshu, matri rupena sangsthita
Ya devi sarva bhuteshu, buddhi rupena sangsthita
Namastasyai, namastasyai, namastasyai, namo namaha.


Devi Durga - courtesy - Marg Publication

The paras in Bengal resonate with the recitation of these holy verses of Mahishasurmardini in the wee hours of the Mahalaya morning, announcing the aagman of the Devi, her descent on the earth. Tuning to the evergreen voice of the famous radio artist, Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting these verses from the Chandi Kavya has become a parampara (tradition) for the Bengalis on the day of Mahalaya. It marks the end of Pitru Paksha which is known as Sarva Pitra Amavasya, when people pay homage to the souls of their ancestors by observing water ritual called tarpan and welcomes the Devi with the start of the Devi Paksha.

Durga - courtesy - Assam State Museum

The festival of the mighty Devi is a pan-India observance where she is mainly worshipped as the sangharini, a warrior goddess who was created by the collective power of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. Her form exuberated powerful energy with her ten arms carrying items given to her by the Gods; the trident given by Shiva, the chakra by Vishnu, the bow and arrow by Surya, khadga by Kalbhairav, kaal danda by Yama, kawach by Vishwakarma, rosary and kamandalu given by Brahma and her ornaments given by kuber, whereas, her  mount the lion is said to be given by the Himalayas. However, for the people of Bengal, she is their beloved daughter Durga, who on the onset of sharad ritu (autumn), when the beautiful white and orange hues of the Shiuli (parijat/ night jasmine) blooms creates a welcoming carpet upon the dewy grass, she arrives at her paternal house and stays with them for nine days and leaves on the tenth day after eliminating all evils. It is believed that the Goddess travels on a special mount every year sometimes on a boat, or a palanquin or on a horse and her mount becomes an indication of the future events that the earth must witness until she arrives next year.

An artist makes a clay idol of Goddess Durga for puja festival
An artist makes a clay idol of Goddess Durga for puja festival


Durga pujo in Bengal thus starts from the day of Mahalaya with the main pujo rituals commencing from shasthi or the sixth day. On shasthi, the priest ceremoniously consecrates a pot filled with water and inserts a small twig of mango tree into it, an unripe coconut covered in red traditional cotton towel is placed on top of the waterpot. A stick figure is created which is painted with vermillion and clothed in a white and red bordered sari, believed to be the terrestrial form of Devi herself, after which invocation of this abstract figure is done with offering of flowers, food, chanting of mantras. The worship of Durga continues for four days ending on Dussehra (the tenth day) with the final blessings of shanti given to all after which procession of the idols of Durga starts from the mandap to the rivers where the Visharjan ceremony takes place with a teary-eyed farewell to Maa Durga. The celebration of Durga Pujo in Bengal has a distinctive community carnival affair with collective purification of the soul that generates a sense of togetherness in every individual.

Also Read: Origin and Evolution of Durga Puja in Bengal