In Hinduism, Mother Durga represents the embodiment of shakti, the divine feminine force that governs all cosmic creation, existence and change. It is held that Durga emerged from the collective energies of all of the gods, including Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, to vanquish the demon Mahishasura who could not be defeated by any god or man. She is thus the compassionate savior of all of the gods and the universe. Durga exists in a complete state of self-sufficiency and independence from the universe and everyone and everything in it (in Sanskrit, Durga means “the impenetrable” or “the inaccessible”). At the same time, she is also regarded as the mother of Ganesha and Kartikeya, and is thus seen as the demon-fighting form of Shiva’s wife, Parvati.
Durga is honored with extreme fervor during the annual Navratri festival, which marks the beginning of autumn and occurs typically in September or October. Navratri means “nine nights” in Sanskrit, and on each day of the festival, nine different forms of shakti or Mother Durga are worshipped. In West Bengal, this festival occurs primarily on days six through ten of Navratri. On the tenth day, Durga’s victory over evil is celebrated as Vijayadashami in Bengal and Dussehra in Hindi (in North India, Dussehra also commemorates Rama’s vistory over the demon Ravana as described in the Ramayana). Durga Puja also celebrates the annual visit of Durga and her children to her ancestral home, and her reunion with Shiva on Vijayadashami.
The last six days of Navratri, which is known as Durga Puja or Durgotsava is the largest festival of the year for Bengali Hindus. In the months leading up to Durga Puja, highly decorated, life-sized idols of Durga that depict her slaying Mahishasura are created by potters out of clay. In large open spaces around West Bengal and other places in India and abroad, elaborate pandals, or temporary temples made of bamboo and cloth, are created to house the idols. The idols are worshipped for five days and then carried in magnificent procession to a local river for immersion, symbolizing Durga’s reunion with Shiva. The five-day period of worship is a time of personal introspection and bodily purification for devotees, with many avoiding meat, alcohol, onions, wheat and grains. The end of Navratri and Durga Puja further marks an auspicious time for starting new activities or business ventures.
Each year, we at Varthur Bengali Association (VBA) celebrate Durga Puja as a flagship event of the association. This 5 day event is marked by variety of activities across all the 5 days. We welcome everyone to come and be part of this celebration.