Well, if you ask me, I would say, it keeps changing through the years. From my life’s fifth Durga puja I can recollect memories and since then whenever I have found myself in retrospection, I have found a novel picture every time. I think my Durga grows with my age. Literally, for people who have known the culture and people who just peek into the heritage, I bet no one will say that it is just about the idol of Goddess Durga and the rituals that are associated with it. The merry making of Durga puja started in the hearts of every Bengali before even the first coat of colour could have touched the deity’s face in Kumar tuli.
My Durga Puja started with a poem which I wrote a couple of decades ago, a rather childish one, but I wanted to recite and paint every year a new theme of Goddess Durga. Every morning hearing the chants of “Kaali..Taara..Mahavidya...Sharashi...Bhuvaneshwari...Chhinnamasta...Cha..Matangi… Kamalatmika…” gave me Goosebumps. The mystic air prevails in every corner of the city Kolkata and the larger picture can also be seen in West Bengal everywhere. Chants of holy names everywhere amalgamated in heart-melting melody.
If you are already in Kolkata, you must be knowing about the popular Bengali culture here, especially in the time of Navaratri. Bengalis usually start their shopping, planning and saving a lot earlier than the puja month. Countdowns are almost everywhere from even three months before Navaratri starts. Bangali loves to count the days and wait for puja, but you will almost hear from every Bengali that they love the countdown more than the puja days.
Bengali culture has embraced people of all cultures who have come to the city and thus, the culture has now become a melting pot for all other cultures in the country and even in some cases, outside the country. Have you seen people coming from Japan and China, who learn the language and culture in Vishwa Bharati University and take part in the Grand festival in Bengal?
Coming back to the Durga Puja topic, the start of the puja will always be marked by the day of Lunar Eclipse, when almost every Bengali gets up at 4 A.M. This unbelievable routine in each and every family is followed invariably every year, on the specific day of “Mahalaya”. The motives behind the Grand start of the day are varied for the different age groups though.
If you survey a family, you’ll find the little ones are the most excited to get up and listen to the radio. Well, this may sound weird, ‘getting up at 4 in the morning to listen to the radio!!’, but there is no kidding. The radio broadcasts the same, recorded, one hour long, melodious, breath-taking audio of a group of reputed singers and renowned radio artists in the leadership of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, in the radio programme called“Mahishasuramardini”.
Though Mahalaya has another side of the picture too. The male members of a Bengali family usually perform a ritual, which is done on the banks of Ganga, primarily to offer water to the souls of the ancestors. It is also said that the Goddess Durga leaves her husband’s place (Lord Shiva’s residence in Kailash) and comes to “Baper Bari” or her father’s house at this point of time.
The Bengali culture is realized and practiced at its highest intensity even among the western influenced, Urban community during the four days of the Durga Puja festival. The puja starts in its full form from the 7thday after Mahalaya. In some places Bonedi Bari puja includes the practices of worshipping little girls as Goddess Durga on MahaShaptami. The next two days,Ashtami and Navami are for concentrated deity worship, fasting till anjali atthe pandals, then, pandal hopping with friends and family, this being the most common routine. Finally, on Vijaya Dashami, the Bengalis are left with tearful eyes and loud voices heralding that the same grandeur will be repeated next year.
“Maa please come again Next Year- Ashche Bocchor Abaar Hobe!!”