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Durga Puja 2018: Glimpses of gods and mortals

In most parts of India, October is all about celebrating Navratri and Dussehra. But some parts of the country celebrate Durga Puja instead. And no one does Durga Puja quite like the Bengalis, no matter where they are.

For the people of West Bengal, Durga Puja is arguably the most important and looked-forward-to event of the year. So much so that they mostly just call it Pujo (the Bengali pronunciation of ‘puja’), with no qualifier needed. All other religious ceremonies fade to insignificance in comparison.

Legend has it that the mother goddess Durga was given the powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva so she could defeat the demon Mahishasura. Some even say that Pujo lasts five days because that’s how long Durga battled Mahishasura before defeating him. Pujo celebrates Durga’s victory, as well as her annual visit to the mortal realm with her children.

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Pujo celebrations in West Bengal are legendary for their colour, music, food and energy. But Bengalis elsewhere also celebrate Pujo with as much enthusiasm. We were lucky enough to be invited to take part in the Maha Ashtami (the third day of Pujo) celebrations at the Indian army’s EME Centre in Sainikpuri, Hyderabad. Though not on as large a scale as in West Bengal, the ceremonies and rituals, and the pure joy of those taking part, were breathtaking nevertheless.

Here are some glimpses of the celebrations.

Also read: The magnificent temples of Madurai and Tanjore

Gods among mortals

Durga Puja pandal - Durga Puja 2018
Mother Durga in all her splendour, in the process of defeating Mahishasura. She is flanked by Lakshmi and Saraswati, while Ganesha and Kartikeya are outside the frame.
Worshipper at the pandal - Durga Puja 2018
One of the faithful offers his respects
Close up of Durga - Durga Puja 2018
The gentle but strong demeanour of the mother of the universe
Ganesha's eye - Durga Puja 2018
The peaceful gaze of Ganesha, remover of obstacles, god of auspicious beginnings and son of Durga
Lion's teeth - Durga Puja 2018
Durga’s lion is both her vehicle and a weapon in her battle against evil

Purifying flames

Sacred flame - Durga Puja 2018
The priest leads the worship with an offering of sacred fire, as Ganesha looks on
Sacred oil lamp - Durga Puja 2018
A sacred oil lamp is passed among the faithful so they can partake in the blessings of the gods
Oil lamps
Rows of traditional oil lamps symbolically dispel the darkness

Dhunuchi naach—The incense dance

Dhaak drummers - Durga Puja 2018
Drummers get into the mood while playing ‘dhaak’ rythmns during the dance
Burning coconut husk - Durga Puja 2018
Coconut husk burns in a traditional ‘dhunuchi’ censer, ready to receive pieces of incense
Ladies and incense - Durga Puja 2018
Ladies are wreathed in fragrant smoke as they dance
Spotlight and smoke - Durga Puja 2018
The incense smoke makes half-seen shapes as it curls around a spotlight
Ladies dancing - Durga Puja 2018
Ladies dance with their censers, as others watch
Ladies in tranditional dress - Durga Puja 2018
Ladies in traditional finery raise a joyful chant to the mother goddess at the end of the dance

The intensity and joyfulness of the dhunuchi naach was mesmerizing. Just watching it, with its frenzied rhythms and ecstatic dancing in the billowing smoke, was an emotional experience. And if it was so intense for the watchers, one can only imagine what it’s like for the dancers themselves. Luckily, there was a meal of bhog (food blessed by the goddess) waiting for us to help us calm down. But now we can’t wait for next year!

Also read: 12 places with heritage sites that left us spellbound

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