Durga Puja Rituals
Mahalaya marks the last day of 'Pitri Paksha' (a 16 day lunar calendar that is deemed to be the most auspicious time to pay homage to one's ancestors) and the last day of 'Devi Paksha'- the day when it is believed that the Goddess embarks upon her annual journey to the mortal world. It is through prayers that the spirit of the Goddess is invoked so that in the dark night of the new moon (Amavasya), She is invited to descend on Earth to ward off all evil. On this day, people offer prayers to their ancestors at the crack of dawn - a ritual named 'Tarpan'. The other important ritual on this day is the 'Chakshu daan'- when the eyes of the Durga idol are painted, signifying the spirit of the Goddess being imbibed in the clay effigy. Culturally, this day has also been associated with 'Mahishasur Mardini', an All India Radio program playing recital of 'Chandi path' (chanting of the Chandi mantra) and religious songs in Bengali in West Bengal and in Hindi all over India.
The sixth day of the moon in Devi Paksha is called Maha Shashthi- the day when the Goddess arrives in the mortal world from her heavenly abode with her children. This day is marked by the ritual of 'Bodhon', in which the effigy is unveiled for the festivities, and as myth says, the deities thereafter come alive. The rhythmic, joyous beats of the 'dhak' announcing the arrival of the Goddess and her family starts the festivities.
Mahasaptami, or the seventh day of the moon, starts with the ritual of 'Kola Bou snan' or 'Nabapatrika' - a ceremony in which a young banana plantain with a bunch of eight plants tied to its trunk with twigs of white 'aparajita' plant and nine yellow threads, is bathed and draped in a traditional red and white sari. Vermilion is then smeared on its leaves and offerings of flowers, sandalwood paste and incense sticks are made. The 'Kola Bou' or 'Nabapatrika' is then placed on the right side of the idol of Lord Ganesha.
Although the popular belief is that this banana plant symbolizes the consort of Lord Ganesha, in reality, 'Nabapatrika' is not related to Ganesha at all. The word 'Nabapatrika' means nine plants, and this collection of plants signify nine forms of the Devi Durga. The banana plant symbolize Goddess Brahmani; Colacassia plant as Goddess Kalika, Turmeric plant as Devi Durga, Jayanti as Goddess Kartiki, Wood apple as the Goddess Shiva, Pomegranate as Raktadantika, Ashoka tree as Sokrahita, Arum plant as Devi Chamunda and the Rice plant as Goddess Lakshmi.
In ancient times, when idol worship was not prevalent, the peasants' worshipped Mother Nature for a prosperous harvest. It was during the autumn, the time for reaping crops, that the farmers worshipped the Goddess Nabapatrika. Later when Durga Puja became apopular festival of autumn, all the nine holy rituals of the Nabapatrika, were added to the ceremonies of Durga Puja.
Ashtami is the most important day of Durga Puja. 'Pushpanjali' (offerings of flowers) is offered in the morning and Aarati is done by the priest. This is also the day of 'Pran Pratishthan' - infusing of spirit in the idol. In this ritual the effigy is reflected on a wide bowl of water.
Mahanavami, or the ninth day of the moon begins with 'Sandhi puja'- a ritual that takes place at the juncture of Mahashtami and Mahanavami. The 'Sandhi puja' marks the moment when Devi Durga transformed into Devi Chamunda to kill 'Chand' and 'Mund' the two generals of the demon 'Mahishasura'. 108 lamps are lit to commemorate this ceremony and the beats of dhak reach a frenzied rhythm. 'Dhunuchi nach' - a dance while holding incense burners in both hands, is performed on this evening. It is customary to perform a sacrifice during the Sandhi Puja. Obviously only a symbolic animal sacrifice is performed these days with vegetables like banana, cucumber or pumpkin. 'Subhasini Puja', 'Kanya Puja' and 'Dampati Puja' are observed on Mahanavami day in Navratri. On this day, the goddess Durga is worshipped in the form of 'Aparajita', and is offered sugarcane stalks. This day signifies Durga's victory over Mahishasur (The Buffalo Demon). This the last day of last day of Durga Puja and a Navami Bhog is served to the people. Goddess Durga is offered food which is later distributed among the devotees.
Bijaya Dashami, or the tenth day of the moon is the time to bid adieu to Ma Durga and people do so with heavy hearts. The traditional ceremony to say good-bye to the Divine Mother is full of grandeur and excitement. Innumerable people participate in this procession; they dance to the tune of Dhak and pray to the Goddess to return soon, next year. Hindu married women participate in the customary 'Sindur-Khela' (playing with vermilion). After the immersion people greet each other and participate in 'Kolakuli' (ritual embracing), youngsters seek blessing from the seniors and indulge in 'Mishtimukh' (eating of sweets). Bijaya Dashami (signifying the victory of the goddess) is an event that is celebrated all over the country.
Khuti Puja is a ritual that is similar to the Bhoomi Puja that is done before undertaking building of a house, construction of any project or factory or any permanent structure. The intent of Khuti Puja is to offer prayers to the Gods to bless the construction work of the Durga Puja pandal and to grant a good start to the festival. It also done before starting or erecting any temporary structure like the puja pandal for festivities and pious occasions.