Durga Puja marks the worship of Goddess Durga. It is held during the month of October. It is the most important festival of the Bengalis. The dates for the Puja are declared according to the Hindu calendar. Usually, the Puja lasts for five days. These days are respectively called Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami and Vijayadashami. Celebration of Vijayadashami ends with Lokkhi Puja, the worship of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, a daughter of Goddess Durga. Durga puja marks the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura, a demon who hides himself inside the body of a lion to escape from being killed by Goddess Durga. It marks the victory of good over evil.
Durga puja is celebrated with great pomp and show in West Bengal, which is dominated with Bengali population. It is also celebrated in states and countries wherever Bengalis are clustered. Essentially a Bengali festival, it is also celebrated among the non –Bengali Hindus. What is surprising is statistics showing the festival being celebrated among the Hindus in Nepal who comprise 91% of the Nepalese population. Durga Puja is also celebrated in Bangladesh where 8% of the total population is Hindus.
This Puja is an occasion for rejoicing for the Bengalis. Not only Lord Durga, but also worshipped with her are her children Lord Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesha and Kartikya. This festival is marked by the change in season. It marks the receding of the monsoons and is a season marked with a rise in temperature to an extent before the onset of the Winter. The season which lingers during the Pujas is also called the festive season. Days before the puja commences, workers are busy constructing Pandals for the occasion some of them being based on themes depending on the budget of the sponsor. Some communities have their own Pandals while some rich and affluent families conduct their own Puja. A trip to West Bengal will take you to pandals in every nook and corner of every street.
Bengalis purchase clothes for themselves and for their near and dear ones during the festival. Dhol beats before the deities by professionals is the custom of this Puja. The Pujaris recite mantras and people take part in Pushpanjali. Post that, they serve Prasad. Then special Khichadi is prepared with vegetables to serve God. People often eat this for lunch during the days of the Pujas. Many competitions are held for the community and many a times stage is created to organize Natak and music programmes.
On the day of Dussehra, the idols are given visarjan and they are immersed in water. Trucks carry the idols of deities and people dance to the tune of the dhakis and play with colours to celebrate the visarjan. After the visarjan, Vijayadashami takes place wherein people visit the homes of the neighbours, touch the feet of the elders there and eat the delicacies specially prepared for them. This continues till the Lokkhi Puja post which Vijayadashami ends.