Along the trail of fallen jasmine
The fragrance of shiuli (jasmine) hangs in the air.

Being a Bengali from West Bengal, “Durga Puja” finds a special place in my heart.  It is the most popular festival among the Bengalis. In “Sharat Ritu” (autumn), the season of festivities reaches its peak during the four-day celebrations. The white jasmine, ashok and palash flowers are in bloom. The white bar-headed goose and the white lotuses fill lakes, rivers and ponds. The kaash sways majestically to the rhythm of the “dhak” (drums) that grows louder with each passing day nearing Durga’s homecoming. Mahalaya marks the beginning; holy chants fill the air and conches are blown during the celebrations.

My mind went back to my hometown. The atmosphere was one of abundant festivity under a clear, cloudless sky. The aroma of young neem leaves filled the air.

The joint-family concept prevalent during those days gave me the opportunity to grow up with lots of cousins. The women of the house – aunties and occasionally “mashi's” (maternal aunts) – used to be active in the kitchen following early morning bath. They would be wearing cotton saris, “sindur” (vermillion) and red “bindis” (dots). The kitchen activities used to start with breakfast preparation for the entire family followed by a heavyset Bengali lunch. The aroma of delicious dishes pervaded the house, which used to make us hungry.

Multiplicity of festivals in India is a true reflection of its diversity. Like the many languages and religions of the country, various festivals are celebrated in different parts of India throughout the year. The nature also plays a significant role by providing six seasons in the year. There is a popular proverb in Bengali “Baro mase teroparbon”-meaning festivals during all twelve months of the year. This may be the most befitting expression for multiplicity of the festivals in India.

Our festivals are also season, region and religion specific. We find popular harvesting festivals like “Onam”, “Pongal” in the southern states, “Paush Parbon” in Bengal, “Bihu” in Assam, and “Sankranti” in many north and central states of India. “Baishakhi” is a popular festival in northern state of Punjab. “Paila Baishak” in Bengal, though losing its popularity among urbanites, is still embraced by the business community.

“Eid-Ul-Fitter” or in short “Eid” and “Eid-Uz-Zuha”, “Muharram” are the most popular festivals celebrated by the Muslims. “Christmas”, “Good Friday”, and “Easter” are the popular among the Christians. For the Hindus, due to the multiplicity of gods and goddesses, the festivals are numerous, though the degree of popularity varies from region to region. The list of such popular festivals is long. ”Ganapati Festival” dedicated to Lord Ganesh is most popular in Maharashtra. “Navaratri” in Gujarat, “Durga Pujo” in Bengal, and “Dasserah” across vast regions of India are meant to worship Goddess Durga. “Basant Panchami” is a festival which is celebrated in many north, central and eastern states; in Bengal it is celebrated as “Saraswati Pujo”. “RathaYatra” to worship Lord Jagannath is very popular in Orissa but has crossed our national boundary and through international organizations, like ISKCON, is now being celebrated worldwide. “Rakhsa Bandhan” is another festival which is celebrated widely across India but more significantly in northern states. The list will be much longer if one tries to enumerate every other festival of India.

Durga is shown riding a lion and killing the demons Mahishasura (who is evil) with her trident (trishul). Thus we celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Nowadays, the festival is celebrated overseas by importing the idols from West Bengal.

During the four days of the festival, Kolkata and suburbs are adorned with colorful pandals and illumination. The pandals are often built resembling temples, public buildings, monuments of India and abroad. It is quite surprising that these all temporary structures made of bamboos, tarpaulins, cloth and many more materials and innovative themes and ideas . It is amazing and truly appreciable. From the traditional work to the most innovative ones, the idols are great piece of art work.

The biggest festival of Bengalis has many economic aspects also. Huge flow of money takes place during these festival days. Various artisans of idol making, technicians, decorators, illuminators and people of other professions get involved in this festival. People buy new clothes which helps garment traders, merchants and textile industry. Many cultural programs and musical nights are also organized during the festival days and immediately after the Pujo. After a long wait and preparation of one year, these four days seem to pass with the wink of an eye. The day of immersion is spent with a heavy heart.

Durga Puja in Bengal is a festival which draws euphoria from various levels and strata of people in our society. The popularity and involvement of mass can be compared only with Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Festival in Maharashtra, Navaratr iin Guajarat and Diwali in India.

Dasserah is the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Ashwin. There are two stories about Dasserah. One says that this day celebrates the victory of Durga over the demon Mahishasura. Other story says that Rama prayed to Durga for help to defeat the demon Ravana, the king of Lanka.

Then comes Diwali which is called the Festival of Lights and it brings happiness to all homes. In Bengal, Kali Puja is celebrated to worship Goddess Kali. It is believed that on this day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after spending fourteen years of exile in the forest. Lights are lit to remember the event of Rama's homecoming.

It is rightly said that India is a land of festivals. For the people of India, festivals are not merely occasions for celebration. They form a way of life. All the major religious communities of the world are found in India and each of them have their own festive days. India is largely an agrarian society where nature plays a predominant role in the lives of people. Hence we find most of the festivals in India are linked to the cycle of seasons. All these festivals collectively form a multi-faceted culture.



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