Indian mythology is full of stories of love, courage and bravery that have been handed down from one generation to another. As a child, I remember spending many evenings listening to my grandmother and gazing at her in wonder as she told us stories of powerful gods and evil demons; many of these tales form the basis of festivals that are celebrated today.
One such tale is that of the goddess Durga and her battle over the evil Mahisasura. According to legend, there once lived a demon king, Mahisasura, who was half human and half buffalo. In his quest for immortality, he prayed to Lord Brahma, who offered him a boon. With a wicked gleam in his eye, the king said, “I wish that no man or god should be able to kill me.” This meant that he could only die at the hands of a woman, which he believed was impossible. Lord Brahma granted him the boon and Mahisasura deemed himself invincible.
The power went to his head, and he waged war on earth, beginning a reign of terror that left destruction in its wake. He then set his eyes on the heavens and even displaced the gods. Terrified, they ran to Lord Brahma who realized, to his great dismay, the terrible implications of his boon. But he knew a way out! Realizing that only a woman could destroy Mahisasura, he teamed up with Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva to create a powerful, blinding light, from which emerged the powerful ten-armed goddess, Durga, the embodiment of strength. The gods gave her their favorite weapons and the goddess went to war. After a long and fearful battle, she destroyed Mahisasura and fulfilled the prophecy that he would meet his fate at the hands of a woman.
This victory of good over evil is widely celebrated as Durga Puja or Pujo in October when it is said that Durga visits her maternal home. This five day festival, brings entire cities to life and the best place to witness this first hand is inKolkata, which opens its arms to thousands of visitors every year, all eager to be a part of the massive celebrations. For weeks leading up to ‘Pujo’, talented artisans create idols of the goddess, who will eventually reside in pandals (grand, temporary structures that are constructed throughout the city), for the duration of the festival. On the first day, Shashti, the excitement is palpable as the idols are unveiled and the city reverberates with the sound of the dhaak (drum). Young and old, rich and poor, decked in their finest, gather in these pandals and for the next few days, friends and perfect strangers get together to partake in the festivities and invoke blessings from the goddess. Delicious food, music, cultural programs are hallmarks of this festival and as the last day, known as Bijoya Dashami,approaches, one cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness as the goddess starts her journey home and we must wait for another year for next year’s Pujo.
Growing up in India, this was a festival I looked forward to all year and it formed a huge part of my childhood. I was looking for a way to introduce this and other Indian festivals to my little girl…what started off as a poem eventually led to my first book, ‘Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!‘, part of the series ‘From The Toddler Diaries’.
You can read all about Durga Puja in my book, here.