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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.
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.
Gods among mortals
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Dhunuchi naach—The incense 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!