Durga Puja is one of the most popular Hindu festivals in India. It is a ten days long celebration in which the Hindu goddess of power, Durga or Shakti is worshipped in nine different forms. Though this festival is celebrated throughout the country, it is immensely popular in the northern belt of the country in the state of West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Tripura. The concept of the nine day grand celebration began from the rich and famous circle of West Bengal from the 16th century and has now taken the form of community celebrations. Though the traditions and rituals have remained more or less the same, simply the celebrations have become more cosmopolitan in nature.
Durga Puja is also known as Navratra or Durgostab. It is a ten days affair in which last six days are the days of actual celebrations with elaborate rituals and intricate ceremonies as well as social get together. The Pooja begins from the very first day when the 'Kalash' is installed in a home. The person who takes the charge of the Pooja fasts for nine days. The intricate Pooja ceremony begins from the day of Mahalaya when the Goddess is invoked. The real celebrations also begin from this day onwards.
From the sixth day or Shashthi, the procedure of Pushpanjali (offering flowers) in the morning, and the aarti and bhog (offering food) three times a day becomes mandatory. There are also nine different kinds of flowers as well as bhog (food items) prescribed for the Pooja. Also there are different kinds of special ceremonies on Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami. In the wee hours of 'Saptami,' the 'Pran' or life of the Devi is said to have been brought from a nearby pond or river in a banana tree and established inside the image.
'Sandhikshan,' the crossover time between Ashtami and Navami is also an important ceremony when rows of earthen lamps are lightened throughout the night. In many homes, it is considered auspicious to offer food to nine virgin girls on the occasion of Maha Nabami. On the last day i.e. Vijayadashami, the Goddess is worshipped in the morning and in late after noon a processions of devotees along with the idol is taken throughout the city. The idol is then immersed into the sacred water and the Goddess is believed to have left for her universal abode.
The traditions of Pooja differ from state to state. In Gujarat the Navratra is accompanied by Garba and Dandia while in Bengal the drum-beats are an integral part of the Durga Puja. A special kind of the drum, known as 'Dhak,' mesmerizes the hearts of the people of Kolkata with its majestic rhythm right from the day of 'Sasthi.' This drum is held on the shoulder with the beating side in the bottom. It is beaten with two sticks, one thick and another thin and produces an exciting sound. The aarti in Kolkata accompanied by the Dhak is simply mesmerizing.