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The process of drawing the image of eyes on the day of Mahalaya which is the last moon before puja. Mahalaya brings the news that durgapuja is coming very soon.
Mahalaya precedes Durga Puja when all the members of the family remember their ancestors. This ritual is called Tarpan. Various shlokas are chanted early in the morning in almost every home as well as in the puja mandaps. The week that follows the Mahalaya is called Debi-pokhsha. The puja actually starts on the day of saptami or the seventh day from the full moon, and goes on till dashami or the tenth day. All mothers keep a fast on sashthi, the day preceding saptami, to pray for the well being of their children. The eighth day or ashtami is a day for vegetarian diet. Sandhi-pujo is also held on that day. Finally, the day of navami arrives which is the last night for the Mother Goddess to stay in her father‘s home. The next day, the day of dashami, she goes back to her husband‘s house. People bid a tearful farewell to her and present great barans with candles, fruits and garments.
In "Ramayana", Lord Rama supported by Hanumana and his monkey army reached Lanka,the land of demons to rescue his wife Sita from the ten-headed king Ravana. Rama prayed to Devi Durga for her blessings to defeat Ravana. The Goddess demanded hundred Neelkamals (Blue Lotuses)from Rama. Rama started travelling and searching the whole world to gather hundred blue lotuses, but he failed. He could collect nintynine Neelkamals. Then Rama offered his one eye to Devi Durga which resembled the Blue lotus. Devi was pleased on his devotion and blessed him for the battle. The battle was started on the day of "Saptami". Ravana was finally defeated after a long aggressive fighting and was killed at the time of "Sandikhshan"(the transition period of "Ashtami" to "Navami"). He was cremated on "Dashami". Since the period of this worship is not in conventional period of time(spring/Basanta) this worship is called AKALBODHON(Akal means not in time).
Fifteen days from the new moon to next full moon. This is the time to do auspicious things, some people believe that. The Bengali depicts the image of Devi Durga as "Dashapraharana-dharini" means each of her hands carrying ten different weapons gifted by other gods to kill the demon,"Mahishasura". The Goddess astrides a lion with one leg on Mahishasura. Devi is accompanied by Sri Ganesh and Laxmi on her right side and Saraswati and Kartick on her left side.
The Essentials of Durga Puja :
Specific items are needed for each day of Durga Puja. There is a detailed method to worshiping Goddess Durga that are mentioned in the scriptures. Items which are needed for the ritual worship of the goddess should be collected beforehand so that the ritual is performed smoothly. The list of essentials of Durga Puja are:
Items needed for Kalparambho (the ritual performed before the commencement of the Puja and Mahasana) :
Food Offerings :
Panchashasha (grains of five types - rice, mung or whole green gram, til or sesame, mashkalai or any variety of whole black leguminous seed, job or millet), panchagobbo (five items obtained from the cow - milk, ghee or clarified butter, curd, cow dung and gomutra ), curd, honey, sugar, three big noibeddos (food offerings), one small noibeddo, three bowls of madhuparka (a mixture of honey, curd, ghee and sugar for oblation), bhoger drobbadi (items for the feast), aaratir drobbadi (items for the aarati), mahasnan oil, dantokashtho, sugar cane juice, an earthen bowl of atop (a type of rice), til toilo (sesame oil).
Water Offerings :
Ushnodok (lukewarm water), coconut water, sarbooushodhi , mahaoushodhi, water from oceans, rain water, spring water, water containing lotus pollen.
Puja Items :
Sindur (vermillion), panchabarner guri (powders of five different colours - turmeric, rice, kusum flowers or red aabir, rice chaff or coconut fibre burnt for the dark colour, bel patra or powdered wood apple leaves), panchapallab (leaves of five trees - mango, pakur or a species of fig, banyan, betal and Joggodumur or fig), pancha ratna (five types of gems - gold, diamond, sapphire, ruby and pearl), panchakoshay (bark of five trees - jaam, shimul, berela, kool, bokul powdered in equal portions and mixed with water), green coconut with stalk, three aashonanguriuk (finger ring made of kusha).
Cloth Offerings :
Gamcha or a piece of cloth to cover the pot, a dhoti for Vishnu, a sari each for bodhon and Chandi.
Decorative Items :
Ghot or a pot, kundohnaari, a mirror, four arrows, tekatha or a triangular frame of wood, horitoki flowers (myrobalan), chandmala (garland with circular decorations), aashon (a mattress of jute or hay).
Items for Bath :
Water camphor and perfumed sandal wood paste. soil - extracted from elephant tusks, from the teeth of the pig, from the horns of the ox, from the bank of rivers Ganga and Saraswati, from both the banks of a river, from a place where four roads intersect, from palaces, from the ant hill, from the mountains, from the gates where the whores stay, Vishnu toilo (oil) etc.
Items needed for the Shashthi Puja of Goddess Durga :
Food Offerings :
A stem of wood apple with fruits, green coconut with stalk, an earthen bowl full of atop, three bowls of madhuparka, sesame seeds, curd, honey, clarified butter, sugar, three big noibeddos, one small noibeddo, bhoger drobbadi, aaratir drobbadi, grain, fruits, one dozen bananas with a single stem, white mustard seeds.
Puja Items :
A pot, four arrows two ashonanguriuk, panchapallab, pancha ratna, panchashasha, panchagobbo, tekatha, dubba grass, sindur, swastik pituli, conch shell, kajol (corrilium), gorachana, yellow thread, chamor, a fly-whisk made of yak's tail used for fanning, earthen lamps, panch pradip for arati.
Cloth Offerings :
Gamcha to cover the pot, a dhoti for the wood apple tree, a sari for bodhon, one sari for amontron.
Decorative Items :
Myrobalan, flowers, chandmala, adibas oil, turmeric, soil from the bank of river Ganga, perfume, stone, gold, silver, copper, iron, mirror and alta.
Items Needed for The Saptami Puja of Goddess Durga :
Food Offerings :
Sesame seeds, myrobalan, flowers, two earthen bowls full of atop, green coconut with stalk, wood apple leaves, white mustard, madhuparka (40 or 22 bowls), honey, sugar, noibeddos (40 or 22), one main noibeddo, fruits, items for bhog.
Puja Items :
Jute ropes, red thread, alta, four finger rings, four yadnyopaveet, a pot, a mirror, a tekatha, sandalwood, mashkolai, hibiscus flower, small noibeddo, one big earthen lamp, panchapallab, pancha ratna, panchashasha, panchaguri, vermillion, items for arati, items for the yadnya - sand, wood, dry khorke grass, cowdung, kusha grass, ghee, 108 bel leaves and a bowl.
Cloth Offerings :
Clothes for the Pundit, a piece of cloth, gamcha for arati, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, sari for nabapatrika, one sari for the main puja, saris for Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, dhoti for Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, clothes for nine planets, clothes for peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, chandmala, a nosering, iron, conch shell.
Plants and Flowers Offerings :
Flower garland, belpatra garland, Banana plant, turmeric plant, colacassia plant, wood apple stem, pomegranate stem, a stem of Jayanti plant, arum plant, rice plant, ashoka stem, twigs of white aparajita plant, two banana stems.
Items needed for the Ashtami Puja of Goddess Durga :
Food Offerings :
Fruits, items for bhog, items for arati, 40 or 22 bowls of madhuparka, honey, sugar, curd, ghee, 40 or 22 noibeddos, four small noibeddos.
Cloth Offerings :
One sari for Durga, new clothes for Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, nine planets, the peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, Jaya, Bijoya and Ram.
Puja Items :
One dantakashto, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, one nosering, iron, two conch shells, a box of vermillion, flowers, a garland, belpatra garland, one chandmala, one ghoti.
For Sandhi Puja :
Flowers, gold ring, a bronze bowl for madhuparka, a small sari, main noibeddo, one small noibeddo, one plate, one pitcher, iron, one nosering, one pillow, a mat, a chandmala, 108 earthen lamps, items for bhog, and items for the arati.
Items needed for the Nabami and the Dashami Pujas :
Food Offerings :
Betel leaves, pan masala, 40 or 22 bowls of madhuparka, honey, sugar, curd, ghee, 40 or 22 noibeddos, four small noibeddos.
Cloth Offerings :
Clothes for Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, the nine planets, the peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, Jaya, Bijoya and Ram, one dantakashto , one sari for the main puja.
Puja Items :
Flowers, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, one ghoti , one nosering, iron, two conch shells, a box of vermillion, flower garland, belpatra garland, a chandmala, one plate, items needed for the yadnya (fire sacrifice), bel leaves, gift for the Purohit.
For the Dashami Puja :
Perfume, flowers, durba grass, basil leaves, bel leaves, incense sticks, an earthen lamp, noibeddo, curd, murki, sweets and items needed for arati.
The Nabapatrika :
Popularly known as Lord Ganesh's wife, Kolabou in reality has no relationship with Ganesh. Our scriptures call her Nabapatrika. Interestingly enough, Nabapatrika was actually a popular ritual performed by the peasant folks for prosperous harvest. As idol worship was not common then, people worshipped Mother nature. It was during the autumn (Sharat), the time for reaping crops ("Amondhan"), peasants worshipped Goddess Nabapatrika for good harvest. Later when Durga Puja became a popular festival of "Sharat", all the nine holy rituals of the Nabapatrika, were added to the ceremonies of Durga Puja. Infact Nabapatrika represented the primitive form of Durga Puja. This primitive form of worship is still prevalent in some places.
The nine plants comprising Nabapatrika are :
Banana plant - "Kola Gaachh"
Colacassia plant - "Kochu Gaachh"
Turmeric plant - "Halud Gaachh"
Jayanti tree - "Jayanti Gaachh"
Wood apple tree - "Bel Ghaachh"
Pomegranate tree - "Daalim Gaachh"
Arum plant - "Maankochu Gaachh"
Rice plant - "Dhaan Gaachh"
Ashoka tree - "Ashoka Gaachh"
Nabapatrika being an important part of Durga Puja, is worshipped during Bodhon. The nine plants of Nabapatrika represent the nine Goddesses, the nine forms of Devi Durga. They are :
The Banana plant represents Goddess Brahmani,
Colacassia plant represents Goddess Kalika,
Turmeric plant symbolises Devi Durga,
Jayanti denotes Devi Koumari,
Bel denotes Goddess Shivaa,
Pomegranate represents Devi Raktadantika,
Ashoka symbolises Shokrahita,
Arum plant represents Chamunda,
Rice plant is for Goddess Lakshmi.
Bathing Ritual :
In the early hours of Saptami, the twigs of white "aparajita" plant along with nine bunches of yellow threads are used to tie the Nabapatrika. It is then bathed. In our scriptures the elaborate bathing ritual of nabapatrika is compared with the coronation of a King. Just like the King is bathed with waters from holy places and oceans, bathing nabapatrika too requires the same. All the nine Goddesses representing nabapatrika are bathed with waters from 8 different holy places. This bathing ritual is accompanied with varied mantras and diverse musical instruments for different goddesses.
The Holy Waters and The Ragas :
The first pot holds the holy water of the Ganges which is accompanied with Malob Raga. The second pot holds rain water which is accompanied with Lalit Raga. The third pot holds water from river Saraswati which is accompanied with Vibhash Raga with Dundhabi beats. The fourth pot holds ocean water which is accompanied with Bhairavi Raga with Bhim beats. The fifth pot holds mixture of Lotus pollen in holy water which is accompanied with Gaur Raga and mahendrabhishek beats. The sixth pot holds spring water which is accompanied with Barari Raga and sound of conch shell. The seventh pot holds water from all holy places which is accompanied with Vasant Raga and sound of conch shell. The eighth pot holds holy water which is accompanied with Dhanshirag Raga and Bhairavi beats.
An Elaborate Affair In The "Babu" Era :
Earlier the bathing ritual of Nabapatrika was an elaborate affair for the Babus. Long processions accompanied with musical instruments and much fanfare was common then. With idol worship gaining ground, nabapatrika slowly lost its importance. The bathing ritual is a small affair now. Water from the Ganges or some nearby pond accompanied with Dhak and Knashi finishes of the ceremony, which was once a very lengthy affair. After the bathing ceremony Nabapatrika is adorned in red bordered white saari and vermilion is smeared on its leaves. Two wood apple fruits ("shriphal" or "bel") are tied round the middle part to symbolise the breasts. Then the whole thing is tied with the stems of white creeper flowers called "aparajita". She is then placed on a decorated pedestal and worshipped with flowers, sandalwood paste and incense sticks. Later she is placed on the right side of Lord Ganesh. This is the reason she is popularly known as Ganesh's wife.
Kumari Puja :
Goddess Durga arrives to her earthly abode with her two children - Kartik and Ganesh, and her two other forms - Laskhmi (wealth & prosperity) and Saraswati (knowledge). We worship her as the Goddess of Shakti who overpowered the evil to establish peace and prosperity on earth. She is also the daughter making her yearly visits at her parents place along with her children for four days. The Goddess is worshipped in various forms during her stay here. One of those forms is the "Kumari", the Virgin form. This mould is the most powerful form of Mahashakti. A girl aged between one to sixteen, symbolising the Kumari form of Devi is worshipped in front of the idol of Goddess Durga. The Kumari form of the Goddess was emphasised as the most dynamic form by the devotees since yester years as Kumari Shakti is the basis of all creations. Our scriptures have emphasised Kumari Puja particularly to evolve the purity and divinity of the women of the society. Diminishing the larger than life stature of the Goddess to someone much nearer and closer is the real reason for this form of worship. Sri RamKrishna had said that Kumari is another form of Devi Durga and he himself worshipped Sarada Ma as Kumari. To imagine the Goddess in the mould of a Kumari is an age old concept. In Mahabharata Arjuna had performed Kumari Puja. The Puranas mention the Kumari form of Chandika. This is also vividly and specifically mentioned in the "Kubjika Tantra".
Selection of Kumari :
The scriptures mention the great care with which the Kumari is selected to be worshipped as the earthly representative of Devi Durga. The qualities required in the girl has to match the dynamism, purity and serenity of the Goddess. A calm, serene and an unmarried girl with a bright disposition between one to sixteen years, who has not yet reached her puberty and is bereft of desire, worldly pleasures and anger is the right requisite for the Kumari Puja. Depending on the age of the girls they are worshipped in the various forms of the Goddess. A one year old girl is worshipped in the Sandhya form of the Devi while a two year old is worshipped in the Saraswati mould of the Devi. A three year old girl is worshipped in the Tridha form of Durga and a four year old is worshipped in the Kalika mould of the Devi. Subhaga and Uma are the forms of Durga for a five and a six year old respectively. Malini form of the Goddess represents a seven year old while Kujjika represents a eight year old girl. Kalsondarbha and Aparajita stands for a ten year old girl and an eleven year old girl. Bhairavi is represented by a twelve year old girl and Mahalakhmi by a thirteen year old girl. Pitnayika, Khetragya and Ambika by a fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year old girl respectively.
Worshipping the Kumari :
Kumari Puja is held on Ashtami or sometimes Nabami. Kumari Puja is performed in Annapurna, Jagatdhatri and even Kali Puja as without Kumari Puja, the yagna remains incomplete. In the dawn of Ashtami or Nabami, the Kumari is bathed in Ganga water and is clad in a red benarasi saari. She is then adorned with flowers and jewelry, alta is applied to her feet and a 'tilak' of sindur on her forehead. The young Kumari fasts the whole day until the puja is over. On a decorated chair she is made to sit before the goddess and a flower from the Devi's hand is placed in her hand. Placed before her are flowers, bel (wood apple) leaves, incense sticks, lamps, 'noibiddo' and other things required for puja. The purohit then chants the mantras and the sound of dhak fill the atmosphere. After the puja the divinity of the Goddess Durga is said to be seen in the girl. It is customary to gift the girl with gold, silver and clothes. To gift the Kumari is considered to be a pious act. Kumari Puja is very much prevalent in Belur Math. In 1902, Swami Vivekananda performed Kumari puja for the first time in Belur. In the premises of the Math, in the mandap, in the presence of Sarada Ma, Swamiji worshipped nine Kumari girls. He offered pushpanjali at their feet, gave them sweets and 'dakshina' (gift). He touched their feet after the completion of the puja. Later with meditation and mantras he worshipped Sarada Ma as Goddess Durga. Kumari Puja, somewhere, is celebrated on the Ashtami, yet somewhere, on the Nabami.
An integral and important part of Durga Puja, Sandhi Puja, is performed at the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day. Sandhi puja lasts from the last 24 minutes of Ashtami till the first 24 minutes of Nabami. During this juncture (the "Sandhikhan"), Durga is worshipped in her Chamunda form. Devi Durga killed, Chando and Mundo, the two asuras at "Sandhikhan" and thus acquired the name of "Chamunda".
Myth behind Durga being worshipped as Chamunda :
While the Goddess and Mahishasura were engaged in a fierce battle, the two generals of Mahisha, Chando and Mundo attacked the Devi from the the rear. Durga appeared to them, a brilliantly glowing woman with her hair knotted on her head, a crescent moon above her forehead, a 'tilak' on her forehead and a garland around her neck. With golden earrings and clad in a yellow saari she emitted a golden glow. Her ten hands possessed ten different weapons. Though she appeared beautiful her face turned blue with anger when she faced Chondo and Mundo. From her third eye then emerged a Devi with a large falchion and a shield. She had a large face, bloody tongue and sunken blood shot eyes. She was Chamunda. With a bloodcurdling shriek she leapt forward and killed them. This moment was the juncture of the 8th and 9th lunar day.
Age old yardsticks for measuring the "Sandhikkhan" (juncture of Ashtami & Nabami) :
Long back devotees in order to perform the Sandhi Puja at the exact juncture used a number of methods. With the last 24 mins. of the Ashtami puja still left, a bronze bowl with a tiny hole was placed in a bucket full of water. The bowl with the tiny hole was made in such a way that it took exactly 24 minutes for the bowl to submerge in the water. The moment the bowl submerged in the water cannon balls were fired announcing this moment of Sandhi Puja. This yardstick for measuring the "Sandhikhan" was very popular ages ago in many "Rajbaris". Many "Rajbaris", including, the zamindar of Sutanuti of Sobhabajar Rajbari fired cannon balls to announce the "Sandhikhan". People around Sobhabajar waited for this indication to proceed with their puja. King of Krishnanagar, Raja Krishna Chandra, was given the cannon of Plassey as a gift from Robert Clive. In Shikharbhum Rajbari a platter with vermillion (sindur) used to be kept in front of the Devi. It is said the foot prints of the Devi could be seen in the platter. This moment indicated the commencement of Sandhi Puja. Sabarno Raychoudhury of Barisha worshipped the Chamunda Devi by burning 'Layta' and 'Pholui' (types of fishes) fishes.