The celebration of Durga Puja goes very far back in history and there
are abundant references to it in India literature from 12th century onwards.
However, today Durga Puja is generally a community festival. The Puja
celebration over the years has changed color often. Earlier, it was the most
expensive of all festivals and could only be performed by the rich and the
powerful like feudal lords, rajas and big businessmen. However, it always evoked
great enthusiasm and popular support.
But in today's ethos, The evolution of many clubs, associations and societies has made the Puja cosmopolitan in character. The social and ritualistic significance of the Puja has also been modified to a great degree. Today, this festival has become an occasion for pageantry and extravaganza. Age-old conch shells and drums have given way to loud film songs and sometimes the goddess is modeled on popular film actresses. On the flip side, animal sacrifices, a must earlier, have been dispensed with at many places and shrines.
While earlier Durga was worshiped alone, now it is, more often than not, the goddess with her family. Durga is portrayed as the supreme head; and the presence of Ganesha, Kartikeya, Shiva etc marks a wholesome picture of divinity. In southern India celebrations constitute a display of images of God and toys at home for nine days. But despite the various ways in which this festival is celebrated the feature that is common is that of the worship of the mother goddess.
Durga Puja is celebrated on a mass scale with puja pandals (marquees) dotting nearly every nook and corner of West Bengal. Thanks to a migrant Bengali population, the past few years have seen a rise in the number of Durga Pujas in other parts of the country and abroad as well. Preparations for the Puja begin long before the actual day arrives. If you are looking for bargains, you wonít find a better time. Publishing houses come out with puja editions of magazines, and craftsmen and artisans do brisk business at this time of the year.
During the four days of Durga Puja, Bengalis really let their hair down. Beside the actual Puja, most pandals organise different kinds of competition to regale the local people. Itís party time for both children and adults alike as they participate wholeheartedly in the fun and frolic. Local talent gets a chance to share the stage (a makeshift one more often than not) with more illustrious artists.
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