I am a resident of Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal, a state in Eastern India. In my native language Bengali, there is a well known proverb called as ‘Baro Mashe Tyaro Parbon’ which literally means there are countless number of festivals which are celebrated within a span of twelve lunar months in a year. Out of them, the festival which stands out the most is Durga Puja, which is celebrated for a span of five days.
Religious significance of the festival
The first nine days of the lunar month Ashwin in Bengali calendar are dedicated to the divine feminine. On these nine days, three dimensions of the feminine, namely Durga (represents Tamas Guna), Saraswati (represents Rajas Guna), and Laxmi (represents Sattva Guna) are worshipped. Out of these nine days, the final five days (MahaShasthi, MahaSaptami, MahaAshtami, MahaNabami and VijayaDashami) are considered to be most significant, during which Durga Puja is been practiced. In other parts of India (outside of West Bengal), these days are celebrated as ‘Navaratri’.
Why pujo 2k20 has been so different?
We all know that this year 2020 featured an enormous number of strange happenings. Coincidentally, this year’s Durga Puja was associated with an anomaly. Due to some astrological reasons, the month of Ashwin of this year 2020 had been labelled as ‘Molo Maash’, or an impious month in which practice of any auspicious event is prohibited. So as a result, Durga Puja got shifted to the following month of Kartikeya.
In the month of April of this year, it was rumoured that the occurence of Durga Puja might be in jeopardy, because of covid-19 outbreak. This left many people heavy-hearted. 2020 has been a very uncharacteristic year, people are forced to stay indoors, and this has resulted in numerous cases of psycological depression, and things would have gone worse if Durga Puja was forbidden. But fortunately, such a thing didn’t happen. Instead, it was ensured that certain safety measures were to be taken care of.
Just a few days before the commencement of the festival, the State High court passed an order restraining people from entering puja pandals, which would otherwise result in overcrowding and hence expand covid-19 cases in the city. People were given the permission to view the idols from outside the pandal enclosure, but not move inside
This has been a successful order, because this law had really made a big impact in reducing crowds. The streets during puja days of this year were appearing to be almost deserted as compared to those of other years. Streets, Metro rail, Puja Pandals, which usually remains jam-packed during festive times, were almost left vaccant. This didn’t keep up the festive spirits. Yes, it was awkward, but the positive sign of it is that people showed more awareness by preferring to stay indoors most of the times. As a result, the covid-19 cases in Kolkata didn’t undergo a much steep rise as it was expected to be.
My ways of spending this year’s pujo
Normally, we hang out in puja pandals on each of the five days of the festival. But this year it was made impossible due to covid-19 outbreak, so people were forced to stay indoors. During the initial phase of the festival, we too were overly cautious, afraid to move out of our homes. We were virtually viewing the idols and puja pandals of all the acclaimed, notable puja commities on our television screen or on social media. Since I was staying indoors most of the times this year, I had the sufficient time to chant Devi Mahatmyam hymns dedicated to the Goddess Durga every morning from the day of Panchami to the final day of the festival Dashami. Waking up early in the morning, taking bath and chanting Sanskrit shlokas on those auspicious days always makes a person feel much more calm and energetic for the entire day.
On news channels and social media, I noticed that there were not many people assembling in the vicinity of the puja pandals, and the metro stations seemed to be almost vaccant. This fact surprised me, and triggered my courage of moving out of home. Then on the day of Ashtami, I decided to go out to a bit far-off places. In doing so, being a responsible citizen, I took all the necessary safety measures to ensure that I don’t get myself infected. I masked myself properly, carried a small botle of alcoholic sanitiser, and maintained social distancing as much as possible. I went to the nearest metro station for the first time since the covid-19 pandemic commenced in India way back in March. I was pleased to see how all the protective measures were been taken care of wih extreme caution. A new system of online pre-booking of passes has been introduced, and it was made mandatory to be followed by all metro passengers. In addition to that, the temperature of all the passangers was been checked. The previous system involving metro tokens has been ceased. But it was quite unnatural to see an almost abandoned metro staion during puja times. When I boarded the metro, I saw hardly thiry people sitting in an entire carriage. One positive aspect of it was that I was having no difficulty in maintaining social distancing. Shortly after, I experienced absolute rejuvination when I viewed an idol of the Goddess for the first time in the year 2020. In almost every pandal, there were sufficient arrangements of sanitisers, and the police forces were trying their level best in preventing people from getting assembled.
The transition period between Ashtami and Nobomi is termed as ‘Sandhikkhon’, during which ‘Sandhi Puja’ is practiced. According to Devi Bhagavat Purana, during Sandhikkhon, a fearsome dark manifestation of the divine mother, Devi Chamunda, emerged out of the third eye of Devi Kaushiki (another form of Durga) in order to slay two demons named Chanda and Munda. Sandhi Puja is dedicated to Goddess Chamunda and involves loud beating of drums and animal sacrifice. But nowadays in most places, in order to avoid bloodshed and make things more aesthetic, an ashgourd is been offered to the Goddess instead of the life of an innocent animal. We went to the puja pandal nearest to our home to watch the practice of Sandhi Puja.
The last day Vijaya Dashami is the final day of worship. On this day, immersion of idols(Bisorjon) takes place. People shed tears, become grief-striken in seeing the huge idols involving deep sensitivities getting immersed in water, and plead to the goddess for coming back soon in the following year, by saying ‘Abar Eso Ma’. It is obvious that the ending of anything beautiful in life is always very despodent.
My few takeaways
It is true that each and every incredible thing in life has its ending, and so does Durga Puja. But while it is a living present, it is best to enjoy the time to the fullest, without bothering about its nearing end. I beleive that the most phenomenal aspect of a festival lies in its shorness. This is what makes people wait eagerly for an entire year. On the other hand, if a festival was too long, then it would have definitely lost its glaze. And once it is over, there is no use to grieve over it, and we should be ready to move on with our normal life.