Durga Puja

Yesterday we popped to the supermarket to buy some paneer (I made paneer tikka last night!). During Navratri, we have visited some of the hundreds of pandals in Nagpur. A pandal is a tent type structure, built with bamboo and fabric, which holds an idol inside. I guess you could call them temporary temples where Lord Ganesh is worshipped during Ganesh Chaturthi, and Goddess Durga is worshipped during Navratri.

Last night we came across a Bengali celebration called ‘Durga Puja’. I have heard so much about Durga Puja, I really needed to see this! Durga Puja is celebrated during the last four days of Navratri, this festival is all about good triumphing over evil! Last night, Durga puja began!

During Durga Puja, Mother Durga is a worshipped in her opulent, ten armed, warrior form! The Bengali way of making idols is beyond breathtaking and, unlike the Marathi style, she is accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesh and Kartikeya (the second son of Parvati and Lord Shiva). The small details, the huge eyes, the ornaments, the long curly black hair… spectacular! Durga Puja for Bengalis is what Diwali is for the rest of India, prior to the festival there are months of excitement, anticipation and preparations! 

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Goddess Durga comes to Earth for her devotees! The legend of Durga Puja (because I am all about knowing the legends behind these festivals) goes a little like this…

Mahishasur, a Buffalo Demon, persistently prayed to Lord Brahma for many years. Lord Brahma saw his devotion and granted him his biggest wish, to become invincible Once he got what he wanted, he started a ravenous rampage across the world, destroying everything he came in contact with. Once the world was ruined, he wanted to kill the Gods themselves. The Gods created a force more powerful than Mahishasur, the divine feminine, Goddess Durga. In each of her ten hands she carried the most deadly weapons on heaven and Earth, and she destroyed that undestroyable demon. 

Goddess Durga later blessed Lord Ram, in the Hindu epic The Ramayana, just before he killed the demon Ravana who has holding Lord Rama’s wife hostage. On Friday, there is another festival (yes, Hinduism has a lot of festivals!) to celebrate Lord Ram’s victory! Here in Nagpur, a huge model of Ravana is going to be burnt to the ground!

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Inspired by the first Bengali pandal, we went to visit a second! Oh my gosh, it was so beautiful!! The Bengalis really know how to make idols! I could have spent hours looking up at her face, the beauty of Goddess Durga was completely overwhelming. I am lost for words to describe it further, just look for yourself…

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There is usually a flurry of excitement when people see a foreigner among them, but this time we got a little more than we expected. As we were worshiping the idols, one of the men in the pandal asked us to offer some coconuts to Goddess Durga. I love Goddess Durga, so I was enthusiastic to do so! We then found ourselves dressed up red material (I don’t know if it has as special name), which had been blessed by the Goddess, and our photograph being taken by several people!

We had just popped to the supermarket to get paneer, I hadn’t a speck of makeup, my hair was a messy (luckily they wanted to cover my head), I had even forgotten to put on a bindi before going out! I guess you should always be ready for anything, life in India is a lot of things, but boring? Never!

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Once we were back in the car, with our coconuts and blessed material, my husband said how awkward it was because he didn’t know what was going on, these traditions are Bengali and he is Marathi. The confusion and attention hadn’t bothered me, then I realised that the majority of my life in India involves: awkwardness, too much attention and utter bewilderment! I guess I have become accustomed to it. Progress!

‘Welcome to my world’, I said.

It’s now one of my dreams to spend Durga Puja in Kolkata, Bengal! The birth place of Durga Puja, Kolkata is where the festival really comes alive, with over two thousand pandals, street lights and parties. Hopefully next year! Happy Durga Puja everyone!!!

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Goddess Durga Starts to take Her Nine Forms

Goddess Durga is very special to me, I love to visit her temples, read her stories and listen to songs devoted to her. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the workshops in Chitaroli (Nagpur) to see the preparations for the upcoming festivities celebrating my favourite deity.

These are the same workshops where I saw the Lord Ganesh idols being made for Ganesh Chathurthi. Those amazing elephant headed idols have returned to clay at the bottom of the lakes of Nagpur, and now it’s time for Goddess Durga to take form...

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Navratri (nine divine nights) begins this week, a festival dedicated to worshiping the nine divine forms of Goddess Durga:

1st day: Shailputri is mother nature herself. The Goddess rides a bull, has a half-moon on her forehead, a trident in her right hand and a lotus in her left. She is also known as Parvati or Sati.

2nd day: Brahmachaarini is the personification of love and loyalty, she carries mala beads (a rosary) in one hand and a kamandalu (a pot) in the other. This form of Goddess Durga performs great penance in the name of love.

3rd day: Chandraghantaa rides a tiger and is responsible justice and dharma (righteousness) in the world. She has golden skin and ten arms, one of her hands holds a bell which scares away demons. Unlike the previous two forms, Chandraghantaa is capable of terrifying anger if provoked.

4th day: Kushmaandaa is the form of Goddess Durga whose smile can cast away darkness from the world,  her laughter is so great it could create an entire universe! She has eight arms, rides a lion and shines like the sun.

5th day: Skandmaataa is goddess of fire and has four arms and three eyes. Whilst sitting on a lotus flower, she holds her son on her lap, she represents the mother aspect of Goddess Durga.

6th day: Kaatyaayani is epitome of love combined with anger, she has four arms, three eyes, and rides a lion. She is the daughter form of Goddess Durga.

7th day: Kaalaraatri the most violent form of Goddess Durga, she shows a dark side to life. Kaalraatri is the destroyer of demons, she even drinks their blood! Her skin colour is black or blue and her hair is wild. She has huge eyes, can breathe fire and rides either a corpse or a donkey. Worshiping Kaalaraatri can make you fearless!

8th day: Maha Gauri is worshipped as her eight year old self, radiating compassion and peace. She is now the opposite of her previous form, Kaalraatri.  Her complexion is the fairest of all, and can be compared to a conch shell, the moon or Jasmine flowers.  She is often dressed in a white or green sari and holds a drum and a trident.

9th day: Siddhidaatri is the form of Goddess Durga who grants wishes, bestows knowledge and heals the sick. Shiddhidatri has four arms and rides a lion.

Can you spot the different forms of Goddess Durga in the photos I have taken?

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Eight arms

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Riding on six lions

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Fresh clay before paint

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Ornate crown

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Different styles

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Busy streets

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Divine!

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Artist painting her beautiful faces

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

My husband and the sunset

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

The Mother

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

A smile which casts away darkness

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Blow touch drying, the festival is only days away!

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Look at that severed head!

durga being made model clay puja idol lion Goddess

Defeating demons!

It was such an honour to see the divine feminine, Goddess Durga, take form. Can you imagine how beautiful they will be once they are painted and adorned with sarees and jewelry?

Like these photos? Check out my photographs from the Ganesh Chathurthi Workshops.

Why do Hindus Immerse their Gods & Goddesses?

The day after Hartalika, we took our husband’s made of sand to the lake to immerse them. Next week, on the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi, the Ganesh idols being worshiped in homes and communities across India, will meet the same watery fate.

Why do Hindus immerse their Gods & Goddesses?

Why throw idols which have the invoked spirit of God inside them into murky and polluted water?

Immersion of the statue is symbolic of our own life cycle, our bodies dissolve and we get fresh new ones when we are reborn. The clay returns to the bottom of the lake, destined to be dug up again the following year, and crafted into new idols. It is very important only clay idols are immersed as idols made from plaster of Paris cause pollution. It is said that eco-friendly immersion of the idols brings more good fortune, respecting the environment is a huge part of Hindu dharma (a complicated word to translate, it basically means ‘eternal law’).

This sentiment reminds me of the words, from the common book of prayer, spoken at a Christian funeral, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life”.

The fact that new idols are made every year is also symbolic of creation and supports the creators, the craftsmen and artists of India. We made our Shiva linga statues ourselves but during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja, thousands of idols are made and this supports the families of the men and women producing them.

Why Do Hindus Immerse Their Gods and Goddesses?

When we arrived at the lake to immerse our Shiva lingas, there were many other ladies already there immersing their husbands made of sand. Some singing songs and performing more rituals. With a small plop, our Shiva lingas returned to the lake until next year.  

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If you know of any other reason idols are immersed, please share below.