Brave, righteous, courageous! The goddess of power, symbolising ‘shakti’, Maa Durga is the Divine Mother, the protector of all from evil and misery. The Hindu mythology introduces Durga as the fearless, formidable warrior goddess who slays a vicious demon after he was rendered invincible by any man or god. Her three fierce eyes, her ten hands holding ten weapons, her ride on the lion – each depict her unassailable vigour. Today she stands tall, as a glaring example of feminine energy on earth, so much so that Durga Puja has become a celebration of women and ‘Durga’, a synonym for women empowerment!
The Legend of Durga
The lore goes back to the half-buffalo demon, Mahishasur who did severe penance to please Lord Brahma. Seeing his devotion, Lord Brahma appeared and granted him a wish. Mahishasur wished that he be made the supreme power on earth, and in heaven – no man would be able to defeat him! Lord Brahma had to reluctantly grant his wish. Soon enough, Mahishasur became all-powerful and fearless, he wreaked destruction across earth and heaven. The devas of heaven collectively raised their concerns to Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The three gods combined their powers to create a warrior ‘woman’ who would vanquish the demon, and Durga was created. She was the one-woman army who was bestowed with multiple weapons and powers from the devas, each sharing a copy of their own weapon. Vishu gave her his Sudarshan Chakra, Shiva gave her the Trishul, Ganesha gave her the sword and so forth.
Durga on her lion, descended from the heavens and reached Mahishasur’s palace. In a harrowing 10-day battle, Durga fought fiercely and unleashed her divine wrath to destroy the demon’s various forms before beheading him on the 10th day.
Navratri: A Celebration of Women
Navratri is predominantly a celebration of women – the ‘Shakti worship’ or divine feminine power, where the female goddess is worshipped in all her manifestations. One can appreciate the deep symbolic significance of the festival in the current times, and how powerfully it resonates with the concept of modern-day women empowerment!
To quote Feminism in India, “Maa Durga thus becomes a wonderful dichotomy that the society approves and ascribes to – she fiercely protects us from evil but she also looks after her family with love and care. Maa Durga successfully becomes a metaphor for modern women.”
Durga Puja in West Bengal
Although the festival takes different forms in different parts of the country, the central theme of worshipping the female form of power remains consistent. The theme is most prominent in West Bengal, where the celebration is dedicated to breaking the norms of patriarchy and social taboos around women. The modern day pandals are themed to glorify the various roles a woman takes up in her life – from a dedicated mother, wife and sister to a boss woman at work!
Sindoor khela, which was previously a forte of married women, is open to all today – the sex workers, the transgender women as well as widows. In fact, the sex workers of Kolkata are endowed with the responsibility of organising pandals in Sonagachi, the city’s red light area. In the year 2018, the world’s first street graffiti art was unveiled which highlighted the struggles of these women and fought for their rights. One of the puja committees dedicated the year’s pandal to this theme, and special invitations were extended to these women to judge the puja competitions and participate in the various rituals.
The nine days of celebration in Kolkata is all about lauding the spirit and beauty of the feisty women of Bengal who are known for their gender neutral relationships!
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Kanya Puja in North India
Hindus across the country pay their tribute to Maa Durga by worshipping 9 prepubescent girls who represent the 9 incarnations of the goddess. The ritual, known as Kanya Puja, is hosted on the eight and ninth days of Navratri.
The puja is traditionally performed by washing the feet of the girls, offering them new clothes, stationery items and cosmetics as gifts, and serving them the puja feast (a meal of halwa, chana and puri) before the other members of the house consume the same. It is believed that worshipping the little girls would give the devotees manifold returns for the prayers due to the feminine power vested in the girl child, who are considered to be the purest in Hindu mythology.
Kanya Puja is performed in several parts of North India, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
Garba in Gujarat
Navratri celebrations are essentially characterised by elegant and elaborate Garba festivities in Gujarat. Garba, a Sanskrit word for womb, symbolises life. And Garba, the folk dance of the state is performed to honor Goddess Shakti or Durga, the feminine form of divinity.
The significance of Garba for the womenfolk today lies in the fact that no matter the age or stature, they take a well deserved break and come out from their homes to revel in a night honoring the supreme woman power in an otherwise patriarchal society.
Explore Navratri special offers on local and outstation rentals in all the cities and towns of Gujarat on Savaari cab booking app.
[Further read: Navratri celebrations in Vadodara]
While South India has diverse significance of the festival in its different states, they are all about honoring the divine goddess. Bathukamma, for instance, is the flower festival celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana at this time of the year. Bathukamma in Telugu translates to ‘Mother Goddess come alive’. The mother goddess referred to here is Gauri Devi, the mother of Goddess Durga. A festival of feminine felicitation, Bathukamma is marked by women dressing up in vibrant attires and dancing in circles around a decorated pot to the folk songs.
Chamundeshwari Temple in Mysore’s Chamundi Hills is one of the 18 prominent temples of Goddess Chamundi, where a 9-day festival is celebrated to honor the goddess. Chamundi is considered to be the Mother Goddess, the fierce avatar of Durga. As per the legend, with the amalgamation of powers vested in her by the powerful gods, she killed the demon Mahishasur. The hills in Mysore, previously known as Mahabala Hills, were named as Chamundi Hills as a tribute to the goddess.
[Further read: Mysore Dasara]
A Tribute to Women
Despite the varied celebrations throughout the country, the festival honors the supreme goddess in one form or another. The idols and images of Durga are adorned and worshipped for 9 days, reaffirming the belief that the woman is the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer of life.
A modern woman of today is Durga who has the authority and power to fight the evils of the world. She is independent, she is fierce, she only requires a will to combat evil, be it at home, office, society or elsewhere!
To the Durga in all of us, we salute you!