Durga Puja In Odisha: Tracing Its Ancient Roots & Rituals
By Srinibash Samal
Durga Puja, a popular festival, is celebrated to worship the Goddess of Power and War, the Goddess Durga and celebrate Naari-shakti (women power). This festival truly symbolizes the triumph of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma). It is magnificently celebrated all over Odisha and considered to be an important festival of the state when the streets are lighted up and marquee are decorated to set the spirit of festivity among the people.
There are endless instances of worship of Durga in the puranas. The mythological reason of worshipping her is traced from the episode of demon Mahishasura who dethroned Indra and created panic amongst the Gods and demigods. Then, Parvati emerged with the combined energies of the Trinity to vanquish him. She is thus known as Mahishasura-Mardini Durga (Durga, the destroyer of Mahishasura).
As per Markandeya Purana, the right time for invoking the Goddess is in the Basanta Rutu (spring season) in the lunar month Chaitra. Being celebrated in the Basantarutu, it is called Basanti (ka) Durga Puja or Basanti Puja. It is not much celebrated in our state.
In the Sharata Rutu (autumn season) in lunar month Aswina is celebrated as Sharadiya Durga Puja.
According to the Krutibasa Ramayana, Lord Rama is responsible for shifting Goddess-worship to autumn. Because He invoked the Goddess before invasion of Lanka. As it was not the right time for her worship, it is known as Akala Bodhana (untimely awakening).
In the past, the Goddess was worshipped at homes and in temples and sarbajanina (community) puja as it is now held was not prevalent. In homes, it was generally celebrated for five days from the Sashthi to Dashami and in temples for three to sixteen days (Tri-dinamataka for three days from Maha Ashtami to Vijaya Dashami, Pancha-dinamataka for five days from Sashthi to Vijaya Dashami, Naba-dinamataka for nine days from Dwitiya to Vijaya Dashami and Shoda-dinamataka for sixteen days from Mula Ashtami to Vijaya Dashami).
In Khandayat families of martial races, there was also the tradition of Shastra (aayudha) Puja (worship of weapons) or generally known as Khanda Puja on these days. The rituals of Durga puja being elaborate and complicated, to perform them rightly priests knowing the various mantras, mudras and nyasas (rites and rituals) are required. It is believed that any departure in the puja procedure would incur the wrath of the Goddess. Not many such priests are available now. Therefore, the number of pujas at home has decreased and sarbajanina pujas have emerged.
The present form of Sharadiya Sarbajanina Puja in the State is out of the influence of similar pujas celebrated in the neighbouring state Bengal. It is said that following the celebrations in Bengal, the family of one Ghosh Mahasaya who came and settled in village Rameswarpur near Bhadrak in the 16th century CE started Sharadiya Durga Puja as community worship. It is also said that in the year 1512 CE, Shri Chaitanya started worship of Durga as a community worship in Binod Bihari temple at Cuttack.
No matter whatever may be its origin, it is one of the important festivals all over the State and has now acquired a socio-religious character.
Large size clay idols of Mahishasuramardini Durga along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya, Ganesha on their respective mounts and the Mahishasura are worshipped in beautifully decorated stages. The preparations for making the idols start on an auspicious day after Janmashtami with the collection of clay from the river bed. After the prescribed rituals, the clay is transported to the place of making the idols. There is a tradition of adding a little Punya-Mati [soil from the door steps of besyas (prostitutes)] to it. It is said that when a person visits a besya, Lakshmi gets down at the doorstep. Thus, the soil at the door steps of a besya is sanctified with the padadhuli (dust from the feet) of Lakshmi. After collection of clay, the Kumbharas (clay artisans) get busy in making the idols. The Goddess is depicted in her semi-fearsome mood with soothing eyes and ten arms each holding different kinds of weapons (e.g. sword, sphere, discus, bow, arrows, shield, rosary, conch, bell, and wine goblet etc.). Her face is usually golden yellow and Her black hair is dressed up in karanda-mukuta (knot hanging down in long luxuriant tresses). She rides a Lion which gives her the name Simha-Bahini and is shown killing the Mahishasura with a spear that assigns her name as Mahishasura-mardini Durga.
The kumbharas have a time bound programme to complete the idols by Mahalayaamabasya which is also known as Khadi-lagi Amabasya as on this day khadi (chalk paste) is applied as primer coat on the idols. There after regular colours are applied and the idols are made ready for the puja. Traditionally, all these are carried out behind a screen and nobody other than the kumbharas and chitrakaras(painters) are allowed inside. During these periods they maintain austerity and do not take non-vegetarian food, consume alcoholic beverages or even smoke.
In earlier days, the backdrops known as Medha were made of split bamboo frames ornamented with colored papers, mica sheets and natural and artificial flowers and leaves. Nowadays, thermocol boards and different coloured lamps are used in making the medha. With substantial increase in funding, Chandi (silver) and Suna (gold) medhas have come up at some places particularly in Cuttack town. Undoubtedly, they add grace and charm while displaying opulence and pride of the sahis (localities in towns and villages). One of the major attractions of the puja is the illumination and the decorations of the stages and the medhas.
People of Cuttack deeply venerate Maa Cuttack Chandi as the living Goddess and their established deity. During Sharadiya Durga Puja as well as Basanti (ka) Durga pujas, she is worshipped in sodashaavatara (sixteen forms). The temple gets extra crowded with devotees. Though sarbajanina Durga pujas are now celebrated at all most all places in the State, until recently the puja at Cuttack was recognised as the best. The decorations, lighting and the arrangements are none to beat. These attracted crowds from nearby places who not only came to witness the puja but also for their annual puja shopping. Earlier, the pujas were limited to Chandinichowk, Chaudhuribazar, Buxibazar, Balubazar and Seikhbazar. Now every sahi celebrates puja either in a small or a big way. As brought out, at many places the chandi or suna medhas add glamour to the puja.
As mentioned, the worship follows the traditions and practices in Bengal. It is believed that Goddess comes down from Her Husband’s home in Kailash parvatto and stays at her
parent’s home in the Himalayas for three days from Maha-saptami to Maha-navami. She is therefore worshiped especially on these days. The puja begins in full splendour from the evening of Sashthiwith Bela Barana. It is believed that the Goddess on arrival on this day and stays on the branches of Bela (wood apple) tree. Therefore, branches of the bela tree are worshipped in the evening to welcome Her with aarati amidst beating of Dhaka (traditional drum), Ghanta (bell) and blowing of Shankha (conch shell) etc. The main pujas on Mahasaptami, Mahashtami, Mahanavami start thereafter.
● Mahasaptami is the first day of the puja. The day dawns with Chandi Patha (recital of Chandi Purana). Just as the first ray of sun strikes the earth, Nabapatrika Puja is performed. It is an important ritual of the puja. In Sanskrit, “naba” means nine and “patrika” means leaves. The saplings or leaves of nine types of plants representing the Goddess are worshipped. [Nine sapplings are Kadali-pua (banana sapling), Haladi (turmeric), Saru (arum), branches of Bela (wood apple), Dalimba (pomegranate), Ashoka, Jayantri, Harida and spikes of Dhana (paddy).] These are then taken to the nearby river or pond for bath. A stem of the banana sapling is draped in a new red and white sari. A brief puja is performed at the river bank and banana sapling and other leaves tied in a white Aparajita creeper are brought back in a procession and are placed near the idol of Ganesha on the stage. Once this is over chakshu daana (giving of eyes) and pranapratistha (invoking life into the idols) are performed amidst chanting of shlokas, mantras and homa etc. This is done by the priest behind a screen and the public is not allowed to view till completion. The entire atmosphere gets charged with religious fervor with the smokes from the homa, beating of dhaka, ghanta and blowing of sankha etc. The saptami puja continues till midday and sometimes thereafter. Worshippers throng in numbers to participate in the rituals.
● Mahashtami is the most important day out of the five days. The rituals on mahashtami are more elaborate than the mahasaptami. The day begins with Chandi Patha. The surroundings reverberate with the sounds from dhaka, ghanta, sankha etc. and the smokes from the homa and dhupas envelope the atmosphere. The worshippers keep upabasha and come in numbers to participate in the puja. They bring with them their bhogas and keep them at the assigned place for the priest to offer. After puspanjali and witnessing arati they break their upabasha and take bhoga. Many women keep Mahashstami. Later they wear the brata on their hand.
As the day proceeds, it is time for the sandhi puja. It is the Shakta ways of worshipping the Goddess. Literally sandhi means a juncture. It thus marks the interlinking of the Mahashtami and Mahanavami and is performed between twenty-four minutes before expiry of Ashtami and twenty-four minutes after starting of Navami. Usually, this happens towards the dead of the night. Worshippers believe that during this period, Goddess assumed Her most fearsome form and vanquished the demons Chanda and Munda, the commanders of Mahishasura. It is said that when the Goddess was engaged in a fierce battle with Mahishasura, Chanda and Munda attacked Her from behind. Then the Goddess in the form of brightly glowing woman with eyes red in anger and tongue hanging out holding a shield and falcon killed them. She is thus worshipped as Chamunda. It is customary to sacrifice a buffalo to appease the Goddess that in recent time is substituted a boitikakharu (pumpkin) or a lau (gourd) at many places. Sandhi puja during Durga puja is an important ritual. Though late in the night, devotees come in numbers to witness. As the puja proceeds, the entire surrounding rents with the sounds from dhaka, ghanta and blowing of shankha and smoke from the homa and dhupa.
● Mahanavami is the third and final day of Durga Puja which is starts after sandhi puja. The Goddess is worshipped as Mahishasuramardini. The usual homa and puja are performed.
One of the spectacular scenes during the pujas is the morning and evening aaratis on all the three days. The priest is seen dancing to the tune of dhaka, ghanta and sankha performing various poses and nyasas directing the flame or the smoke towards the idols. People come in numbers to witness this heavenly scene during aarati.
● Dashami marks the end of Durga puja. On this day, the Goddess goes back to Her Husband’s home after spending three days in Her parent’s home. After dashami and aparajita puja, the priest performs the bisarjana thus marking the end of the festival and bidding farewell to the Goddess. A tearful send-off is given to Her as if a daughter is leaving her parent’s home to her in-law’s home. Married women bid farewell to the Goddess through various rituals entreating Her to come every year.
The Dashami is also known as Dashaharaor Vijaya Dashami which are derived from the Sanskrit. The term Dashahara is a combined word – dasha means “ten” referring to Rabana who has ten heads and hara means his “defeat”. Thus, Dashahara means defeat of Rabana. Vijayadashami is also compound word. Vijay means victory and dashami is the tenth day. Since Lord Rama was victorious in his battle with Rabana on this auspicious day.
In the eastern and northeastern parts of the country, the festival commemorates Maa Durga’s victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura. While in north and central India, it signifies the victory of Lord Rama over Rabana.
On conclusion of bisarjana puja, the idols are taken for immersion in nearby rivers or water bodies which in local dialect is known as Bhasani Jatra. Bhasani Jatra is a colourful event. The procession is accompanied with sounding of drums, pipe instruments and fanfare by people accompanying in numbers. As the processions pass by, people come out of their houses to witness. Married women take a little sindura from the forehead of the Goddess and apply on theirs. The little that remains on their finger is smeared on their bangles. At places where large number of pujas is held, specific times are allotted for the processions and elaborate police arrangements are made to maintain law and order. That is why, at some places the Bhasani Jatras are delayed by a day or two.
Actually Nabaratri, Kumari Puja, Rabana Podi and Sindura Khela; are not any traditional practice in Odisha but these are now observed in influenced by the north Indian culture.
Associated with Durga Puja is Nabaratri, literally meaning nine nights. Nine manifestations of the Goddess are worshipped from pratipada till mahanavami. The observers keep upabasha and perform nightlong puja for nine nights known as jagarana.
The nine days of Nabaratri are classified as per the three basic qualities of tamas, rajas and sattva. The first three days are tamas, where the Goddess is fierce, like Durga and Kali. The next three days are Lakshmi related – gentle but materially oriented Goddesses. The last three days are dedicated to Saraswati, which is sattva. It is related to knowledge and enlightenment.
On conclusion of Nabaratri, kumari puja is performed in which nine kumaris (small girls) are worshipped with aarati as it is believed that the Durga incarnates in the body of kumaris as Nine manifestations of the Durga. They are fed and given gifts.
The playful ritual of sindura khela is observed by some Bengali and Odia families in which sindura is smeared on each other’s face and head as gesture of goodwill.
Another festival associated with Durga puja is Rabanapodi or burning the effigy of Rabana. Ramayana describes that Rama killed Rabana on the sandhikala and he was cremated on the dashami. Therefore, people burn the effigy of Rabana on the dashami to celebrate his killing. Giant size effigies of Rabana filled with fireworks are erected in open grounds. Towards the evening, it is set on fire.
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
Srinibash is a freelance author and can be reached via
Blog address: thesrinibash.wordpress.com