Mantras, the integral part of Durga puja are accompanied by the rhythmic beatings of the dhak, smell of the incense sticks, 'dhoono' and flowers. These create the atmosphere of Durga puja. Chanting of mantras in Sanskrit is essential part of the Durga Puja Festival. This is a part of Durga Puja's Pushpanjali Mantra:
|Om Jayanti, Mangala, Kali, Bhadrakali, Kapalini. Durga, Shiba, Kshama, Dhatri, Swaha, Swadha Namahstu Te. |
Esha Sachandana Gandha Pushpa Bilwa Patranjali, Om Hrring Durgaoi Namah
Evolution of the Community or Sarbajanin puja
Initially the Puja was organised by affluent families since they had the money to organize the festival. During the late 19th and early 20th century, a burgeoning middle class, primarily in Calcutta, wished to observe the Puja. They created the community or Sarbojanin Pujas.
These Pujas are organized by a committee which represents a locality or neighbourhood. They collect funds called "chaanda" through door-to-door subscriptions, lotteries, concerts etc. These funds are pooled and used for the expenses of pandal construction, idol construction, ceremonies etc. The balance of the fund is generally donated to a charitable cause, as decided by the committee. Corporate sponsorships of the Pujas have gained momentum since the late 1990s. Major Pujas in Calcutta and in major metro areas such as Delhi and Chennai now derive almost all of their funds from corporate sponsorships. Community fund drives have become a formality.
Despite the resources used to organise a Puja, entry of visitors into the Pandal is generally free. Pujas in Calcutta and elsewhere experiment with innovative concepts every year. Communities have created prizes for Best Pandal, Best Puja, and other categories.
Creation of the idols
The entire process of creation of the idols (murti) from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a holy process, supervised by rites and other rituals. On the Hindu date of Akshaya Tritiya when the Ratha Yatra is held, clay for the idols is collected from the banks of a river, preferably the Ganges. After the required rites, the clay is transported from which the idols are fashioned. An important event is 'Chakkhu Daan', literally donation of the eyes. Starting with Devi Durga, the eyes of the idols are painted on Mahalaya or the first day of the Pujas. Before painting on the eyes, the artisans fast for a day and eat only vegetarian food.
Many Pujas in and around Kolkata buy their idols from Kumartuli (also Kumortuli), an artisans' town in north Calcutta.
In 1610, the first Durga puja in Kolkata was supposedly celebrated by the Roychowdhuri family of Barisha. Though this was a private affair, community or ‘Baroyari’ Durga puja was started in Guptipara, in Hooghly by 12 young men when they were barred from participating in a family Durga puja in 1761. They formed a committee which accepted subscriptions for organising the puja. Since then, community pujas in Bengal came to be known as ‘Baroyari – ‘baro’ meaning 12 and ‘yar’ meaning friends.In Kolkata, the first ‘Baroyari’ Durga Puja was organized in 1910 by the ‘SanatanDharmotsahini Sabha’ at Balaram Bosu Ghat Road, Bhawanipur. At the same time, similar Baroyari Pujas were held at Ramdhan Mitra Lane and Sikdar Bagan. The Indian freedom struggle also had an influence on Durga puja in Kolkata. In 1926, Atindranath Bose initiated the first ‘Sarbojanin’ Durga puja in which anybody, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, could participate in the festivities. This was consciously done to instill a feeling of unity.
Environmental hazards from the materials used to make and color the idols pollute local water sources, as the idols are brought directly into the river at the end of festivities. Efforts are underway to introduce eco-friendly materials to the artisans who make the idols. West Bengal has been credited by its own environmental agency as being possibly the first Indian State to successfully curb the use of hazardous paints. However, by their own account, only two-thirds of the idols made are currently colored with eco-friendly paints.
Commercialization of Hindu festivals like Durga Puja in the last quarter of 20th century have become a major environmental concern as devout Hindus want bigger and brighter idols. Environmentalists say the idols are often made from hazardous materials like cement, plastic, plaster of Paris, and toxic paints.
Theme-based Pujas and pandals
Pandals and idols inspired by a particular theme have been the hallmark of many community or Sarbajanin Pujas in Kolkata since the 1990s. Puja committees decide on a particular theme, whose elements are incorporated into the pandal and the idols. Popular themes include ancient civilizations like the Egyptians or Incas. Contemporary subjects like the RMS Titanic and Harry Potter have also been the subject in some pandals.
The design and decoration is usually done by art and architecture students based in the city. The budget required for such theme-based pujas is often higher than traditional pujas. They attract crowds and are well-received. Inspired by Kolkata, theme-based pandals are becoming popular in cities in neighbouring states, particularly Orissa (see above). Experimentation with the idols does not happen much outside Calcutta.
Rapid growth of competitiveness in theme pandals, and also rapid growth of massive billboards that come up at strategic junctions, prior to Puja and allied commercial activities, has also created a cultural backlash from city's traditional Puja pandals, which now claim, "We do not do theme puja, we do Durga puja,”, according to one hoarding put up in Salt Lake, Kolkata.
Popular culture specific to the puja
Durga Puja is one of the most important events in the Bengali society's calendar. Many Bengali films, albums and books are released to coincide with the Puja. The West Bengal government gives a fortnight of holidays for the Pujas. This time is used in various ways. Many people travel in India or abroad. Gatherings of friends called "Aadda" in Bengali is common in many homes and restaurants. A lot of shopping is done, and retailers cash in on this opportunity with special offers.
Visiting pandals with friends and family, talking and sampling the food sold near them is known as pandal hopping. Young people embrace this activity. Pujor Gaan (Songs of Puja) are the Adhunik Bengali songs that come out every year during this time.
TV and radio channels telecast Puja celebrations. Many Bengali channels devote whole days to the Pujas. Bengali and Oriya weekly magazines bring out special issues for the Puja known as "Pujabarshiki" or "Sharadiya Sankhya". These contain the works of many writers both established and upcoming and are thus much bigger than the regular issues. Some notable examples are Anandamela, Shuktara, Desh, Sarodiya Anandabazar Patrika, Sananda, Nabakallol, Bartaman.
- Famous director Satyajit Ray's film Joi Baba Felunath is centred around Durga Puja and his movie Nayak also has a Durga Puja reference.
- Rituporno Ghosh's Hirer Angti, Utsav and Antarmahal all are centred around Durga Puja.
- The Hindi film "Devdas" interweaves the celebration of Durga Puja into its story line.