The Story behind Durga puja: history and traditions

Devi Durga is known to be the source of invincible strength. When the Gods failed to protect themselves and humans, Durga was created to save the day.

Ishita Ghosh
New Update
Maa Durga Kolkata

The festival of Durga Puja can be traced to ancient times where pages of mythology have found a place even in modern times. The story behind Durga Puja has been told repeatedly through generations. 

Once upon a time, in the heart of West Bengal, a page from history mixed with mythology comes to life. The time when mortal beings meet the divine woman in all her glory. Devotees all over the world wait for her to descend to Earth. Millions unite to celebrate the festival that evokes happiness and devotion in their hearts. This is a lavish celebration of the nation; This is the story behind Durga Puja.

The air carries a sweet fragrance, and the sound of 'dhak' drums fills the air. Her arrival is imminent. People celebrate the divine femininity, known as Maa Durga. 'Durga' translates to 'invincible,' and Durga Puja commemorates her victory over the demon king Mahishasur. According to scholars, Mahishasur, a buffalo demon, tried to win Brahma with his devotion. Brahma pleased with his gesture, appeared before him. The demon asked for immortality, which Brahma refused. The sly devil then asked for a power that would prevent any male, human, or god from killing him. Brahma accepted his wish making him powerful. Mahishasur began to torture people after gaining this invincible strength, unleashing tyranny. Even the Gods were afraid and left powerless. The Gods turned to Brahma, who turned to Vishnu, the preserver. Vishnu turned towards Shiva, the destroyer. A light emerged from the faces of them and the devas, creating Devi. The battle took place. Mahishasur being arrogant, sent his powerful demons at first. After they failed to defeat her, Mahishasur used his shape-shifting abilities but Durga saw through that and triumphed. After defeating him, she came to be known as ‘Mahishasur Mardini

Durga puja

The festival is celebrated all over the world but is particularly popular in West Bengal. Although it is a ten-day festival, 5 days- Shasti, Saptami, Astami, Navami, and Dashami are the most important days. The origin of the Durga puja is unclear however according to some locals (who wanted to be anonymous), "It was started by wealthy and royal families around the 16th century." There are some 14th-century manuscripts that provide guidelines for the pujas. The ‘Devi Mahatmya’ is recited during the festival. People worshipped Devi Durga in different forms earlier but the present form was developed during the medieval Bengal under Zamindars. Some Indian text versions describe it as a spring festival whereas Devi Bhagata Purana describes it as an autumn festival. According to a local (who didn’t reveal his name), "Versions of Ramayana showed Ram worshipping Devi Durga to have her blessings before his battle with Ravana." In Mahabharata, we witness Yudhishtra and Arjun praying to Maa Durga.

Devi Durga Kolkata

The festival begins with Mahalaya where one performs 'tarpan' by offering water and food to their dead ancestors. It is popularly believed that when people pay respect to their ancestors on this day, they are liberated from their suffering. On this day, Devi starts her journey from Kailash to her maternal home, Earth. It has become a tradition in Bengali households to listen to the 'Mahishasur Mardini' recitation by Birendra Krishna Bhadra on the radio at 4 in the morning on the day of Mahalaya.

Durga mounted on a lion and rode into battle to defeat Mahishasur. Her ten hands hold the special weapons which were given by Gods for her battle. That is how the Devi Durga is worshipped. The idol is made as a ten-armed woman riding a lion and slaying the demon king Mahishasur. She is dressed in exquisite clothing and ornaments. The whole city is decorated for her arrival with her children - Kartik, Ganesha, Laxmi, and Saraswati. Pandals are built all over the city with various themes. The whole city is lit up with colorful lights and oil lamps. 

Durga Puja UNESCO intangible heritage list

IN 2021, UNESCO added Durga Puja to its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is not just a festival, it is a cultural celebration of inner strength, power, and femininity. When every hope was shattered and collapse was inevitable, the Gods turned towards a Woman. The Gods turned towards a Woman when every hope was shattered and collapse was inevitable

Maa Durga Mahalaya 'Mahishasur Mardini' Devi Mahatmya Pandals Birendra Krishna Bhadra ten-armed woman Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.