Durga Puja - the ceremonial worship of the mother goddess, is one of the most important festivals of India. Apart from being a religious festival for the Hindus, it is also an occasion for reunion and rejuvenation, and a celebration of traditional culture and customs. While the rituals entails ten days of fast, feast and worship, the last four days - Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami - are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur in India and abroad, especially in Bengal, where the ten-armed goddess riding the lion is worshipped with great passion and devotion.
Worship to the goddess of power is celebrated by the entire Hindu fraternity in general and Bengalis in particular in the form of Durga puja. The festival takes place in the month of Aswin or Kartik i.e. September and October according to the English calendar. An aggravated festive spirit engulfs every one as the ten armed image of the beautiful yet fierce goddess is erected in the puja pandal.
The clay idol of the goddess is decorated with immaculate decorative pieces, tiny lights and beautiful flowers. The goddess sitting on a lion is shown killing the 'Buffalo Demon'- Mahishasura accompanied by her two sons, Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya, and two daughters Goddess Laxmi and Saraswati presents a really powerful picture standing true to its synonym 'Goddess of Power.' The arti ceremony that takes place early every morning and evening is a grand affair where the praises of the goddess are sung describing her gumption and valor. The sweet fragrance of incense adds to the charm.
And Odisha (Orissa) being a Hindu state also observes this festival with a great pomp and show. Though Durga Puja is celebrated in the month of October, celebrations start weeks ahead. The entire state strikes a different chord altogether echoing the music of bonhomie, brotherhood and festivity.
The ceremony continues for three days with the immersion ceremony following on the fourth day. The images are taken in a huge procession to the nearest river or tank and are immersed there with loud music being played in the background. Youth bows down to the elders after this to seek blessings and be blessed with power like the goddess.
Durga Puja is a special time for women who look forward to this auspicious occasion to buy clothes for themselves and their family. They express their joy by partaking in the Sindoor Utsav where the married ladies smear the parting of the goddess's hair with vermilion and again smear each other's hair parting with vermilions.
Girls adorn the floor with alpana designs that are made with rice flour paste. They see this autumn festival as the annual home coming of Durga, the married daughter returning home to her parents from her husband's house for a period of four days.
Sheer joy, mad ecstasy and wondrous celebrations remain the mood of the day as during this period the spirit transports one's soul into utter delight. It is because Durga Puja is much more than a religious festival.