Saturday, April 13, 2024
West Bengal

Festivals and Fairs

▪ Durga Puja ▪ Diwali ▪ Muslim Festivals ▪ Festival of Sahajiya Sect ▪ Orthodox Vaishnava festivals
▪ Rathayathra ▪ Holi ▪ Rabindra Jayanti ▪ Birthday of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose
▪ Dussera ▪ Fairs ▪ Sri-Panchami ▪ Birthday of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Durga Puja

The most important of festival in West Bengal is Durga Puja, held in autumn. In the past era, it was organised and financed by the landlords and the business barons and was participated by all sections of people.

Preparations start long before the festival. The group images are built up, stage by stage out of bamboo and straw frame work and layers of clay and finally tempera and rich clothes and costume jewellery. The group consist of seven figures.

The central figure is that of the ten-armed Durga, the great deliverer, standing astride a lion and piercing the chest of the ferocious half buffalo-half man demon Mahishasura with a spear, grasped in one among  her ten hands, while each of her other hand holds a traditional weapon. On  either side of her are seated the goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati representing wealth and learning, respectively. The former has an owl and the latter a swan for their mounts. A little in front of them are Ganesha, God of commerce, with a mouse for his mount and Kartikeya, God of war, seated flamboyantly on a peacock. The four deities are supposed to be the children of Mother Durga. The images depict her annual visit to her parents place on earth from her heavenly abode on Mount Kailas. A semi circular panel at the back of and above the group shows in a number of sections, pictures in pat style portraying the Mother's household and the various stages of her preparations for the journey.

The puja season constitutes West Bengal's longest holidays. It is a festive season for all. It is particularly a grand time for children who are given gaily coloured new dresses to wear and choice eatables, necessarily including sweetmeats, to eat. The actual puja runs through five days, starting with the ritual installation of the deity, the ceremonial worship for three days and immersion of the image in a river or a tank on the final day. Durga puja has come to be associated with a grand exhibition of cultural functions. In towns and villages, the evenings are replete with jatra, theatre, song, music, dance programmes, sports, physical and cultural competitions etc which everyone is free to attend. Community feasts are held.

Immersion CeremonyThe immersion ceremony (vijaya), provides an impressive finale. The image is carried to the water front in a procession with music and drums and after the immersion everyone greets everyone in a fraternal embrace and visitors to every home are treated to sweetmeats. The Kolkata area, where many thousands of  pujas are organised in different mohallas, offers a grand spectacle with a fair-like atmosphere in the streets and markets and brisk buying and selling of articles for utility and beauty are made. Handicrafts have a hey day. Fairs are held everywhere on the Vijaya (victory) day.

The festive season continues till Kalipuja which takes place about three weeks after. Here, the image of Kali, the Dark Goddess who destroys evil to preserve creation, is that of a blue back nude female with four hands, holding a curved scimitar in one hand and the severed head of a demon in each of two hands, the fourth hand being raised in a gesture of reassurance. She has a garland of severed heads dangling from the neck to the groin. She has stepped on the supine body of her consort Siva, the realisation of which fact makes her halt in her indiscriminate orgy of destruction and makes her bite her projecting tongue in abashment. She is the Goddess of primeval power, a tantric concept at variance with that of Durga whom Bengalis worship as the Benevolent Mother. Animal sacrifices are usually made to the Goddess except in the pujas organised by public subscription.