Many people perceive the allegorical ancient scriptures as mere stories. The antecedents of Mahishasur become irrelevant when they learn that the mighty demon king, granted the boon of immortality, eventually transforms into a formidable evil force and is ultimately defeated by the goddess. However, what astonishes them the most is the acceptance of a woman warrior. The feminine form of the word ‘mardan’ (which means destroy in Sanskrit) is ‘mardini’, hence the one who destroyed the evil spirit is known as ‘Mahishasur-Mardini’. From the Vedic era to the times of Upanishads and Puranas, goddesses such as Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Durga have been worshipped for their exceptional virtues. This firmly establishes that an inert body comes to life when its mental power, or ichha-shakti, is awakened. The Aadi Shakti (libido) within transforms the body into Shiva. Unitedly, both Shiva and Shakti begin to create, protect, and if necessary, destroy, in order to start the process of creation afresh. This mythological divine concept or macrocosmic union is represented in the mortal world at a microcosmic level, which is why the creation of a new life springs from ‘Anand’.
According to our seers, we are ‘Amritasya Putrah’, not born out of any sin committed by our parents. The omnipotent Purush, as described in the Vedas, and his consort Prakriti (Mother Nature), bear testimony to this fact. Modern science tells us that we receive half of our molecular DNA from our mother and the other half from our father. However, we acquire mitochondrial DNA exclusively from our mother. Mitochondria produce ATP, the source of energy. Therefore, it is the mother who transmits energy to her baby, both mentally and physically. How the sages of ancient India developed this scientific understanding remains a mystery. Nonetheless, Vedic rituals, passed down by gurus to their disciples, firmly establish the supremacy of Devi or women power. Among these rituals, Chandi-puja, complete with the recitation of ‘Durga Saptashati’ from the Markandeya Purana, holds great significance for those seeking good health, wealth, success, honors, and freedom from jealousy.
Chandi-puja is a compilation of 700 shlokas spread over 13 chapters. Considered as invaluable as the Gita, it is believed that if a critically ill person listens to the Chandi-paath, they may be cured or released from their decaying body and worldly bondages. The mantras of ‘Devi-Mahatmyam’, which exalt Maa Durga, work on a subtle level to inspire and empower. This divine energy principle of the universe is said to have nine manifestations: Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayini, Kalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidatri. Each of these forms is worshipped throughout the subcontinent in various ways.
Durga, hailed as Brahmani and Rudrani, is revered for her prowess, as she was blessed with the powers of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, and many other divinities who wished to see her emerge victorious against Mahishasur. This highlights the advantages of community living and the rewards of a joint family system that believed in assisting a deserving member during dangerous situations and inspiring its members to celebrate life at every opportunity.
The Navaratri celebrations exemplify unity in diversity. The message of quelling evil forces to save mankind has never been more relevant. Each region in the country showcases its unique way of worshiping the warrior goddess. In the northern part of the country, people enjoy the nine days by listening to kirtans and observing fasts at home-grown small temples. In the grand ancient temples of the southern region, the goddess is adorned with various special decorations over the nine days. The western region also worships the warrior goddess with great enthusiasm. West Bengal, particularly Kolkata, witnesses women performing Sindur Khela, a ritual to mark the end of the Durga Puja festival. Finally, in the east, Bengal welcomes Uma as its daughter, who visits her parental home for only four days, bringing along her four children and ‘Navapatrika’, representing newly grown tender leaves. On the sixth day after Mahalaya, which is the moonless night after the Pitru-Paksha (the fortnight of oblations to ancestors), Mahalaya is filled with the recitation of Chandi-paath, extolling their daughter’s bravery and generosity. After four joyous days filled with prayers, rituals, and delightful treats, Durga must bid farewell and return to Kailash on Vijayadasami, the day that marks the victory of good over evil for the entire country.
Through these vibrant celebrations, it becomes evident that the customs and rituals surrounding Durga Puja are deeply rooted in our diverse cultural heritage. They unite people in their devotion to the goddess and in the belief that good will conquer evil. In these times of uncertainty and challenges, the significance of Navaratri and the triumph of good over evil resonates even more strongly. May the celebration of Durga Puja bring peace, prosperity, and joy to all.