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Festivals of Bengal

West Bengal – a land of festivals, a land of spirit and enthusiasm. There is a popular saying in Bengali “Baro Mase Tero Parban”, which literally means thirteen festivals in twelve months. Almost all festivals of all religions are celebrated here with equal sentiment and fervor. These festivals are the ways to showcase the tradition and rich culture of the people. A great number of fairs are also organized.

Durga Puja & Goddess Durga

Durga Puja, the festival of Bengalis is the worship of ‘Shakti’ or the divine power. Most of the religious celebrations in the world have legends surrounding them. The fables are generally the fight between the evil and the good, the dark forces eventually succumbing to the divine. Worship of Goddess Durga is based on myths where Durga symbolizes the divine power.

Mahishasura, the king of Asuras, through years of austerities, was once granted a boon by Lord Bramha, that no man or deity would be able to kill him. The immense power filled in him the urge to rule over the world. He started to terrorize heaven and the inhabitants. He pervaded the world with his battalion of Asuras and plundered and ruthlessly killed the people. Chaos and anarchy reigned. Gods were driven from heaven and Mahishasura usurped the throne. The Gods scared and unable to combat him, requested Lord Shiva, Lord Bramha and Lord Vishnu to stop Mahishasura’s tyranny. In answer, the three Gods combined their divine energy and summoned up a feminine form so brilliantly glaring that it illuminated the heavens.

This combined power fell on the residence of Sage Kattyana in the Krishna chaturdashi (fourteenth day of new moon) in the month of Ashwin (September-October). From the glow emerged Devi Durga, a beautiful yellow woman with ten arms riding a lion. Despite her grace she bore a menacing expression, for Durga was born to kill. Fully grown and armed by the gods, beautiful Durga was named “Kattyani” as she is born in the ashram of sage Kattyana. The sage worshipped her for suklasaptami, asthami and nabami tithi then on the tithi of Dashami she killed Masishasura. She was sent forth against Mahishasura armed by symbols of divine power; Vishnu’s discus; Shiva’s trident; Varuna’s conchshell; Agni’s flaming dart; Vayu’s bow; Surya’s quiver and arrow; Yama’s iron rod; Indra’s thunderbolt; Kubera’s club and a garland of snakes from Shesha and a lion as a charger from Himalayas.

A fierce battle took place. Finally when Mahishasura in the guise of a buffalo charged against Durga, the Devi beheaded the buffalo and from it emerged Mahishasura in his original form. Durga pierced his chest with the trident and relieved the world from the evil power. That is why she is ‘Durgatinashini Durga’, our mother goddess who destroys the evil, protects her devotees and establishes peace and prosperity on earth. We worship Durga as the mother goddess, the epitome of ‘Shakti’ (divine power), to deliver us from the evil and bring peace and prosperity in our lives.

Kali Puja & Goddess Kali

Kali is the fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess. She assumed the form of a powerful goddess and became popular with the composition of the Devi Mahatmya, a text of the 5th – 6th century AD. Here she is depicted as having born from the brow of Goddess Durga during one of her battles with the evil forces. As the legend goes, in the battle, Kali was so much involved in the killing spree that she got carried away and began destroying everything in sight. To stop her, Lord Shiva threw himself under her feet. Shocked at this sight, Kali stuck out her tongue in astonishment, and put an end to her homicidal rampage. Hence the common image of Kali shows her in her mêlée mood, standing with one foot on Shiva’s chest, with her enormous tongue stuck out.

Kali Puja coincides with Diwali, the festivals of lights. The Durga Puja ends with a somber tone. But soon after that people again rejoices at the festive mood of Kali Puja and Diwali. Every households clean their houses and light up candles all over their houses. Children and adults set off firecrackers all night.

Kali Bhakti
The love between the Divine Mother and her human children is a unique relationship. Kali, the mother is one such deity with whom devotees have a very loving and intimate bond, in spite of her fearful appearance. In this relationship, the worshipper becomes a child and Kali assumes the form of the ever-caring mother.

Kali is also a central figure in late medieval Bengali devotional literature, With the exception of being associated with Parvati as Shiva’s consort, Kāli is rarely pictured in Hindu legends and iconography as a motherly figure until Bengali devotions beginning in the early eighteenth century.

The main purpose of the kali puja is to seek the help of the goddess in destroying evil – both in the outside world and within us. Kali Puja is done to diminish the ego and all negative tendencies that hinder spiritual progress and material prosperity.

Jagaddhatri Puja

Jagaddhatri meaning the savior of the universe is the Goddess who comes to save the people from the demonic reign of the asuras. According to Vedic scriptures, Goddess Jagaddhatri is another form of Devi Durga. In the Shukla Navami of the Bengali Month of Ashwin, the Devi appears as the ten-handed Goddess Durga, on the same day, on the month of Karthik, she presents herself in the form of the four-handed Devi Jagaddhatri, the caring mother of the world.

Jagadhatri means who holds the universe and who protects the world from cruel demons. Devi Jagadhatri is also known as Karindrasuranisudini (Who killed the elephant demon), Maheswari (the Great Goddess), Shaktacharpriya (the Goddess who loves to be worshipped according to Shaktism) and Adharabhuta (the Bearer of the World).

In Bengal it is popularly believed that Maharaja Krishna Chandra of Nadia started Jagaddhatri Puja. However, it is not verified and cannot be correct as Chandannagar’s Indranarayan Roy Choudhury’s Jagadhatri Puja precedes the date when it was started by Maharaja Krishna Chandra in Krishnanagar. Jagadhatri Puja is very popular in Chandannagar, Rishra and Krishnanagar.

Ganga Sagar Yatra

Gangasagar Yatra is popular all over the world for the holy bath Yatra as mentioned in the Mahabharata where a learned sage explained the significance of taking dip at the confluence of Gangasagar to Bhisma. Since that time this place has been regarded as the one of the holiest places to take bath. Gangasagar Yatra especially falls on either 14th or 15th January every year in which the devotees perform their rituals and prayer and take a dip in the holy Ganges.

The very concept behind this holy dip during Gangasagar Yatra is to cleanse and to purify the soul. Gangasagar Yatra is also famous all over the world for the Kumbh Mela where devotees in lakhs take holy dip in the Ganges River. Gangasagar Yatra is made to the place where the Ganges flows into the Bay of Bengal surrounded by Sagara Island and Diamond Harbor at the confluence of Ganges and Bay of Bengal. This sacred place is primarily important for the Temple of Kapil Muni , the great saint who according to myth was Lord Vishnu.

The visitors to the holy destination of Sagar Island seek mukti (salvation) here. On the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti, sometime during winter (mid-January), pilgrims from across the country come together at Ganga Sagar to take a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. Following the sacred dip, they offer ‘Puja’ at the ashram located nearby which is related with Kapil Muni – the celebrated sage of ancient times.

Kapil Muni’s mythological story is related with the story of bringing the Holy River Ganga at this place.The mythological story is something like — King Sagar’s 60,000 sons came to this place in search of their father’s Sacrificial Horse & they found it there. Actually the horses were stolen by Devraj Indra & hidden at ‘Patal’ (below the earth) beside Kapil Muni’s hermitage. But king’s sons was unknown with it, when they saw Kapil Muni there, they started to blame him for stealing & interrupted in Muni’s meditations. Muni became angry & his blaze of anger came out of his eyes, which burnt king’s sons & consigned their souls in to hell. Many year’s later king’s grandson king Bhagirath came to Kapil Muni to beg & to pray to Muni to release the souls from hell. Then according to Kapil Muni’s directions king Bhagirath brought Devi Ganga to this place & with the touch of this holy river’s water the souls got liberty. As per the myth, the souls were liberated on the day of “Makar Sankranti”

So to release own souls from pain, sin & to earn virtue people come here from all over India & take a holy shower into this holy Sagar ( Island) & earn blessings & worship the great saint Kapil Muni.

Dol Purnima [Holi]

The Dol Purnima festival is celebrated throughout India. It occurs on the same day as the birthday of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534), also known as Gauranga, the 16th-century Vishnavite saint and poet of Bengal regarded as an incarnation of Krishna. It is therefore a significant festival for Hindus.

Holi is probably the second most celebrated Indian Hindu holiday. It is a time of great joy and color. It is known as the liveliest Indian holidays. People celebrate this festival of colors joyously with friends and relatives. People come out wearing pure white clothes and gather together in a common place where they “play Holi. People through colored powder [GULAL or ABIR] at each other and make merry. Singing and dancing add to the gaiety of the occasion. Playing Holi begins early in the morning and continues through the day.

image007In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna). Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here.

Though Sri Krishna popularized Holi, this festival was observed even before his advent. Known originally as Holika, it existed several centuries before Christ as it is mentioned in very early religious texts such as Jaimini’s Purva-mimamsa-sutras and Kathaka-grihya-sutras.

Nabo Barsha or Poila Baisakh

image008Naba Barsha is the celebration of Bengali New Year. Naba Barsha in Bengal marks the first day of Baisakh – the first month of Bengali Calendar. The festival usually falls on the 13th or 14th day of April according to English Calendar Year. Naba Barsha festival is known as Poila Baisakh in Bangladesh and is celebrated as a national holiday.

Joyful and culturally rich people of West Bengal celebrate Naba Barsha by dutifully performing set customs and traditions. To welcome the New Year, people clean and decorate their houses. A very important tradition of Naba Varsha is the making of elaborate rangolis or alpanas in front of the house by womenfolk. Rangolis are prepared with flour and its center is adorned with earthenware pot decorated with auspicious swastika. This pot is filled with holy water and mango leaves to symbolize a prosperous year for the family. On Naba Barsha, people of West Bengal propitiate Goddess Lakshmi – the Hindu mythological Goddess of Wealth to pray for prosperity and wellbeing. Many devotees also take a dip in a nearby river to mark the occasion.

For Bengalis, Naba Barsha is the beginning of all business activities. Businessmen and traders purchase new accounting books and start new account known as Haalkhata. People also worship Lord Ganesha by chanting mantras.

Saraswati Puja & Goddess Saraswati

image009Goddess Saraswati the Goddess who signifies knowledge, learning, arts and culture. She is seen as the serene Goddess wearing a crescent moon on her brow riding a swan or seated on a lotus flower. Saraswati Puja is performed to pay allegiance to the Goddess of learning. According to her different specialties she is known by different names like Bakdevi, Biraj, Sarada, Brahmi, Satarupa, Mahasweta, Sarbasukia, Prithudar, Bagiswari and, of course, Saraswati.

In Eastern India, particularly Bengal, Saraswati has been absorbed into the Bengali culture. She has been given the mantle of daughter of Parvati and is treated as a daughter. The Goddess of knowledge is revered among the students and learned who strictly follow all the rituals to worship her. The festivities that accompany Saraswati puja is a part of the social celebrations. Young girls are seen in yellow saaries. Pushpanjali (offering of flowers along with mantras) are offered. Bright palash flowers are offered that are a part of the worship. The Goddess who is the patron of music, culture and learning is revered by singers and musicians with great devotion.

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