Durga Puja is a high-priority law and order headache for the police and para-military forces of the Bangladesh government that cast a very wide security net during the festival days
by Anwar A. Khan writes from Dhaka
(September 27, 2017, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) According to Hindus, “Durga Puja is a celebration of good over evil.” Mythology states, the festival marks the battle of Goddess Durga with the demon Mahishasura. While Durga Puja is a time of pandal hopping, gorging on delicious food and wearing new clothes, it is also a time to be with family and friends and cherish each other. It is a festival that is celebrated on grand scale and decorated Pandals as well as artistically ornated idols of goddess Durga are main attractions of the festival. It is the six days festival celebration of Bangali Hindus and is celebrated with gaiety and grandeur in Bangladesh. Devotees of goddess Durga offer prayers and seek blessings of the goddess. During the Puja goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati as well as lord Ganesha and Kartikeya are also worshipped by devotees along with goddess Durga.
Durga is an ancient deity of Hinduism, according to archeological and textual evidence available. A key text associated with Durga Puja observations is Devi Mahatmya, which is recited during the festival. Durga was likely well established before the time this Hindu text was composed, which scholars variously estimate to between 400 and 600 CE. The Devi Mahatmya mythology describes the nature of demonic forces symbolised by Mahishasura as shape-shifting, deceptive and adapting in nature, in form and in strategy to create difficulties and achieve their evil ends. Durga calmly understands and counters the evil in order to achieve her solemn goals. Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity in the Epics period of ancient India, that is the centuries around the start of the common era. From the medieval period up through present day, the Durga Puja has celebrated the goddess with performance arts and as a social event, while maintaining the religious worship.
The Durga Puja festival is a ten-day event, of which the last five mark the popular practices. The festival begins with Mahalaya, a day where Shakta Hindus remember the loved ones who have died, as well the advent of Durga. The next most significant day of Durga Puja celebrations is the sixth day, called Shashthi where the local community welcome the goddess and festive celebrations are inaugurated. On the seventh day (Saptami), eighth (Ashtami) and ninth (Navami), the goddess along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya are revered and these days mark the main Puja (worship) with recitation of the scriptures.
It is an annual festival for Hindus of a grand magnitude. The primary goddess revered during Durga Puja is Durga, but her stage and celebrations feature other major deities of Hinduism such as goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, prosperity), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (god of good beginnings) and Kartikeya (god of war). The latter two are considered to be children of Durga (Parvati). The Hindu god Shiva, as Durga’s husband, is also revered during this festival. The festival begins on the first day with Mahalaya, marking Durga’s advent in her battle against evil. Swami Chinmayananda said, “Man, the imperfect, the bound, the sorrowful, has a thousand enemies within. He is riddled with negative thoughts fears, yearnings. These are selfishness, jealousy, meanness, prejudice and hatred just to mention but a few. The Sadhak must get rid of these lawless villains within. With Mother Durga’s kripa, these destructive masters are to be annihilated. Invoke the Mother Terrible to help us annihilate within ourselves all negative forces; all weaknesses, – all littleness.” Starting with the sixth day (Sasthi), the goddess is welcomed, festive Durga worship and celebrations begin in elaborately decorated temples and pandals hosting the statues. Lakshmi and Saraswati are revered on the following days. The festival ends of the tenth day of Vijaya Dashami, when with drum beats of music and chants, Shakta Hindu communities start a procession carrying the colorful clay statues to a river or ocean and immerse them, as a form of goodbye and her return to divine cosmos and Mount Kailash.
The festival is an old tradition of Hinduism, though it is unclear how and in which century the festival began. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th century provide guidelines for Durga puja, while historical records suggest royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga Puja public festivities since at least the 16th century. The prominence of Durga Puja increased during the British Raj in its provinces of Bengal and Assam. In the contemporary era, the importance of Durga Puja is as much as a social festival as a religious one wherever it is observed
Bangladesh has been overwhelmed by Rohingya Muslims since violence erupted in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar’s Rakhine state on August 25, 2017. The general secretary of the apex Puja Celebration Council of Bangladesh has said, “Their mass exodus has unfolded a horrific humanitarian crisis and so we will stand by the persecuted refugees with assistance by saving during the Durga Puja festival.” It is praiseworthy that in a humanitarian gesture, Hindus in Bangladesh have decided to cut the expenses of the Durga Puja to set up a fund to provide relief for the Rohingya refugees who have poured into the country following the ethnic violence in Myanmar.
Bangladesh is home to the second-largest group of Hindu Bengalis in the world. Durga Puja is a famous Hindu festival when Goddess Durga is worshipped. Durga Puja is also known as Durgotsava. Durgotsava refers to all five days festivity. Dhaka’s most prestigious puja is held at the Dhakeswari National Temple, at Dhaka University’s Jagannath Hall, Ramna Kali Temple, Ramakrishna Mission, and Loknath Brahmachari Ashram and also many other parts of the country. The festival is being marked by puja, arati, recitation from scriptures, distribution of proshad, offering of devotional songs and bhajans. The festival of Durga Puja celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Goddess Durga is the embodiment of female power. She is also the Mother Goddess, deeply revered by her devotees. This festival is the biggest festival of the Bengalis and is celebrated with great fanfare in Bangladesh.
On each day of this festival, devotees offer a flower worship (pushpanjali ) and the priest conducts an aarti. Drummers called dhakis play their instruments with great gusto as the priest chants prayers. At the end of these five days, the idols are immersed in water. As the devotees bid farewell to the Mother Goddess they softly say ‘Aasche bochor aabar hobe’ (We will celebrate your arrival again next year). Like Swami Sivananda, Hindus believe, “Durga (Devi) is synonymous with Shakti or the Divine Power that manifests, sustains and transforms the universe as the one unifying Force of Existence. ‘Shakti is the very possibility of the Absolute’s appearing as many, of God’s causing this universe. God creates this world through Srishti-Shakti (creative power), preserves through Sthiti-Shakti (preservative power), and destroys through Samhara-Shakti (destructive power). Shakti and Shakta are one; the power and the one who possesses the power cannot be separated; God and Shakti are like fire and heat of fire.”
Durga Puja is a high-priority law and order headache for the police and para-military forces of the Bangladesh government that cast a very wide security net during the festival days, covering almost every puja site through patrolling, CCTVs, dog and bomb disposal squads so that they can celebrate this annual festival peacefully.
May This Durga Puja light up for Hindus in Bangladesh. The hopes of Happy Times and Dreams for a Year Full of smiles remain on their faces! I wish that Goddess Durga empowers them with unmatched happiness, great success and good luck. May her choicest blessings brighten them today and tomorrow. May they are blessed with more and more moments of joy with their loved ones. Wishing them a very Happy Durga Puja!