Pooja asche starts echoing before a month, or twice even. Puja begins with the worship of Maa Durga and ends with Bhai Dooj or for some it ends with Chhath Pooja.
This year Mahalaya was on 6 September. It is the day when every Bengali wakes before sunrise to embark on the journey of Durga maa to earth. The day starts with listening to Mahishasura Mardini in the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Though Mahishasura Mardini and Mahalaya became synonyms, the All India Radio(AIR) programme has been broadcasting it at daybreak since 1931. The one and half hour recitation of verses from Durga Saptashati, Bengali devotional songs and music were originally written by Bani Kumar ( scripts), Pankaj Mullick (music) and Birendra Krishna ( narration and recitation) and sung by various singers.
Presently many households have switched to regional TV channels which broadcast mahalaya.
In Hinduism, the fortnight immediately after Ganesh Utsav marks the beginning of Pitri-pakash. It is of 16 lunar days when homage is paid to one’s ancestors through food offerings known as Tarpan. It ends on Mahalaya Amavasya (no moon day) popularly known as Mahalaya.
In the epic Mahabharata when Karna, a legendary donor lost the duel to Arjuna and died, his soul transcended to heaven. In heaven, he was offered gold as food. However, losing the duel in war exhausted him and he needed some real food. When he asked Yama, the god of death that why he was offered gold as food. Yama replied that he just donated gold and never offered food to his ancestors. To do so Karna was permitted to return to earth for 15 days to perform tarpan and to donate food and water.
It is believed that at the beginning of Pitri-pakash, spirits of one’s ancestors reside in their home for a month. And one is to please them through tarpan so that they go back to their realm.
Mahishasur was a demon king. He was a worshipper of Lord Brahma. He pleased Lord Brahma and consequently, he was granted a wish. Mahishasur asked for immortality but he was denied. Brahma told him that immortality could only be granted by Mahadev and to ask for something else.
Disappointed Mahishasur wittily asked “Grant me a wish so that no man or animal can kill me”, to which Brahma agreed. Despite having enough power, he believed this boon made him immortal as a woman can never defeat him.
He then attacked Trilok, destroyed and defeated everyone. Defeated gods went to Vishnu for help. The Trimurti i.e. Mahadev, Vishnu and Brahma combined their energies to give origin to Devi Durga, a reincarnation of Devi Parvati.
While Mahishasura and his asur troops were enjoying devlok, he comes across a beautiful woman. And asked her to consort him. She refused but that infuriated him. He tried to seduce her and then their battle began. A 15-day battle in which the Mahishasur and his troops eventually die.
The woman was none other than Devi Durga.
Also read: Is Left-wing politics bad?
People and Nature
Sharodiya Utsav changes the whole atmosphere in Bengal make it joyous, fresh and beautiful.
An alien plant Saccharum spontaneum or a familiar Bengali name Kash Phool, bows down with every wind stroke. The 7ft tall grass arches while its white flowers in blue sky background continue to inspire artists.
Sorot rain which is calm and quiet, gently falls on the skin. The cold touch of it makes one realise winter is ahead. The black clouds overlook us and pass without disturbing us. And sometimes the sun glances through them, its rays warm us like blessings of heaven for a better time. A familiar rhythm of dhak being played by dhakis and ‘Jago tumi jago’ through speakers and chongas make it feel like the time has come to witness Maa.
The preparation of pooja begins months prior.
Young to old, everyone’s excited to buy clothes and accessories. Visiting, greeting and gifting one’s extended families, giving young ones money to spend.
In childhood, one is said that whose house is the cleanest Maa Durga will reside in it. These kinds of stories work well on kids and thus involve them in household cleaning.
Every para holds its mandap or pandal whereas clubs organise bigger scale pujas. The clubs organise Durga puja very seriously and competitively like the theme of pandals, its decoration, the artisan, the look of the idol that conveys their message. In Kolkata, their budgets are over a crore. They organise cultural performances and other things too.
Pratima darshan (visiting pandals) begins from Panchami and Bengalis spend most evenings in crowds in pandals or in eating joints. Though metropolitan pandals are great but rural puja pandals have its own essence and serenity. Many urban people prefer to visit their native village home during this time. The week-long puja ends with Sindur Khala, Dhunichi Nach and Bashan Nach on some. Symbolically, Maa Durga is nowhere but among us. She blesses all her children and helps us to recover from our bad times.
Impact on Economy
The festive season is a time for serious business. The e-commerces have already geared themselves to make most of the purchases online. The flash sales and attractive offers on fashion, electronics, decor, etc nevertheless have attracted online customers.
But still, some people believe to do traditional shopping. Businessmen believe that this festive season is the best time to open a new business.
This season, every year, has a surge in temporary employment. Mall shops run out of helpers while eCommerce run out of delivery persons.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee commissioned a study. It was conducted by experts from the British Council, IIT Kharagpur, and Queen Mary University in the UK to find out the economic impact of the Durga Puja of 2019.
CM Banerjee said “The economy of creative industries around Durga Puja is ₹32,377 crore, which is equal to $4.53 billion. This is a huge amount of money for a seven-day festival. It is comparable to the GDP of the Maldives and around 2.5% of the GDP of West Bengal,”
Banerjee also said that the government would ask UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to declare the 7-day long festival held every year around October as one of the best festivals in the world.
Pandemic effects on Durga Puja
Like every other aspect, the COVID 19 pandemic has also affected Durga Puja. According to the need of the hour, the West Bengal government imposed strict restrictions and a set of guidelines to be followed around the festivities in 2020.
As public transportation stopped, people could not travel to other places. Craftsmen, artisans suffered huge losses as it was a very low scale puja. Even after stringent laws and restrictions, there was a huge surge in COVID 19 cases after the festival was over.
This year also restrictions are imposed. It is feared that COViD19 cases may rise if we don’t follow restrictions. So we need to be careful and prevent any public gathering. And try to enjoy puja via T.Vs or other virtual mediums.