“Oh god!” is a phrase we use almost every day in our lives. We use this phrase mindlessly as a reaction to almost every situation. Not once do we think of the 330 million gods that exist in our Indian culture—a culture so diverse that, unknowingly, we celebrate each one of these gods throughout the year.
The beauty of the festivals we celebrate is that we get to enjoy the best of two different world– the age-old stories behind them that have been passed on from generation to generation, and the feeling of oneness we witness when people from all walks of life join in. The same festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country is a testament to our diversity. Each festival is a beautiful blend of different cultures and traditions which make us unique.
The month of October is one of prayers and celebrations; a time to worship and honour Goddess Durga. A festival that is most widely celebrated in India is Navaratri. Navaratri means nine nights and the 10th day is called Vijayadashami. Each of the nine days is dedicated to worship a different form of the Goddess—Shailaputri, Bhramacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kaalaratri, Mahagauri, Durga. On all the nine days of Navaratri, nine colours are followed and every colour has a different significance. The entire state of Gujarat dives into the spirit of Navaratri. Here they worship Maa Shakti and fast for nine days. The enthusiasm seen during these nine days is mind-blowing.
An interesting feature of Navaratri is celebrated in Tamil Nadu. Golu, which consists of nine steps, are decorated with beautiful dolls and statues of gods and goddesses. It is said that these dolls are handed from generation to generation. In Kerala, importance is given to learning. The people place books and musical instruments in front of the Goddess Saraswati, to worship.
Durga Puja, the biggest festival in Bengali, Assamese and Oriya culture, is not merely a celebration of the fact that Maa Durga has come to spend her time on Earth for 10 days. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of mass commercialisation of Durga Puja is the past decade. From themes pandals, to diverse classes of people flocking the streets – more than a festival, Durga Puja is an emotion which isn’t hard to lose yourself into. Though the first day of Puja, known as Mahalaya, is where people go to Ganges river and pray for their forefathers, the real fun arrives on the last five days of Puja. The five days – Shoshti, Shoptomi, Ashtomi, Nobomi and Dashami – encompasses a flurry of activities.
For these ten days, it is believed that Goddess Durga, with her four children, comes to visit her parents. Each year, Her choice of transportation is different, with every mode having a significance of its own. This year, Maa Durga will come to Earth as well as return on the horse, signifying mass destruction along Her way. This symbolizes the following year to be one of destruction and turmoil. Durga Puja is a commemoration of her victory over the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura.
From Anjali in the morning to feasting on the oiliest of street food at evening, perpetual banter between pedestrians and rickshaws, tired feet from hours of pandal hopping, street vendors armed with toys, balloons, imitation jewellery, ornaments, souvenirs, lanterns, candles and all sort of knickknacks one could dream of. With large funds, pandal construction usually begins mid or late July, and is not stalled even though the mentioned time frame is typically when the monsoon arrives at full swing. Though roads are blocked, making transportation a bit difficult for school or office-goers, all of the hard work is manifested in early October. Thick packs of pandal-hoppers, hungry for a thorough inspection inside the best-made pandals they they’ve heard through word-of-mouth, may have to stand in line for one or two hours in order to get in. The wait is tedious, often uncomfortable in the humidity and at times regretful, but finally making your way through everything feels worth it. Some folks even consider pandal-hopping to be a competition in its own, bragging about the number of pandals they’ve seen!
But all in all, Durga Puja is always a festival to look forward to. It’s the time when the city comes alive, students are free from the burden of academics, and everybody becomes equal in their happiness. It’s not just a religious celebration of Maa Durga and her triumph over evil, but also looking up to the Goddess as the harbinger of good luck, strength and power in our mundane lives.
In the Northern parts of the country, Dusshera is the celebration of Lord Rama defeating the demon-king Ravan. ‘Ram Lila’, or Play of Ram, is any dramatic re-enactment of Lord Rama’s life as per the Ramayana. After the most awaited scene of war between Good and Evil, the play ends with the burning of giant effigies of Ravan, Kumbhakaran and Megnath.
One country. One festival. Countless stories. This is what is divine about our country. Our lives are not defined by what made us. Who we choose to be is what defines us, and we choose to embrace the culture behind all the festivities with open arms. At the end of the day, it is the memories we make with our families and friends that we will remember, and be remembered by. It is absolutely mesmerising to see people from different cultural backgrounds come together and celebrate. Celebration helps in blurring the lines between the archaic religions, caste, creed division. It brings us all together to stand for a brighter and more progressive tomorrow.
Written by Shreemoyee Roychoudhury, Sanjana Bharadwaj and Aarohi Sarma
Picture Credits: Ritwika Sarkar
Feature Image Credits: Bhargabi Mukherjee