Durga Puja also called Durgotsava, is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess, Durga. It is particularly popular in the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Tripura, Bihar and Jharkhand and the country of Bangladesh, and the diaspora from this region, and also in Nepal, where it is celebrated as Dashain. The festival is observed in the Indian calendar month of Ashwin, which corresponds to the months of September–October in the Gregorian calendar, and is a ten-day festival, of which the last five are of significance. The puja is performed in homes and in the public, the latter featuring temporary stage and pandals. The festival is also marked by scripture recitations, performance arts, revelry, gift giving, family visits, feasting, and public processions. Durga puja is an important festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism.
As per Hindu scriptures, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape shifting asura, Mahishasura. Thus, the festival epitomises the victory of good over evil, though it is also in part a harvest festival celebrating the goddess as the motherly power behind all of life and creation. Durga puja coincides with Navaratri and Dussehra celebrations observed by other traditions of Hinduism, in which the Ram lila dance-drama is enacted, celebrating the victory of Rama against Ravana, and effigies of Ravana are burnt.
Though the primary goddess revered during Durga puja is Durga, the celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya. In Bengali traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga’s children and Durga puja is believed to commemorate Durga’s visit to her natal home with her children. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga’s journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shasthi), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya dashami), when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash. Regional and community variations in celebration of the festival and rituals observed exist.
Durga puja is an old tradition of Hinduism, though its exact origins are unclear. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th—century provide guidelines for Durga puja, while historical records suggest that the royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga puja festivities since at least the 16th-century. The prominence of Durga puja increased during the British Raj in the provinces of Bengal and Assam. In today’s time, the importance of Durga puja is as much as a social and cultural festival as a religious one, wherever it is observed.
Over the years, Durga puja has become an inseparable part of Indian culture with innumerable people celebrating this festival in their own unique way while pertaining to tradition.