Durga Puja is an occasion for reunion and rejuvenation, and a celebration of traditional culture and customs. Apart from that, it is the ceremonial worship of the mother goddess and one of the most important festivals of India.
It is a ten days ritual which entails fast, feast and worship. And the last four days - Saptami, Ashtami, Navami, and Dashami - are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur in India and abroad, especially in Bengal.The ten-armed goddess riding the lion is worshiped with great passion and devotion.
Durga Puja festival is celebrated from the sixth to tenth day of a bright lunar fortnight in the Bikram Sambat Calendar month of Ashwin. This period falls in the fortnight corresponding to the festival is called Devi Paksha ("Fortnight of the Goddess"). Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya , the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Paksha, "Fortnight of the Forefathers"), and is ended on Kojagori Lokkhi Puja ("Worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night.
Durga Puja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. Thus, Durga Puja festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil. In Bengal, Durga is worshiped as Durgotinashini, the destroyer of evil and the protector of her devotees.
Durga Puja is widely celebrated in the Indian states of Assam, Mithila (ancient) region of Nepal, Bihar, Meghalaya, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal. It is a five-day annual holiday. In both West Bengal and Tripura, which have a majority of Bengali Hindus, it is the biggest festival of the year. In Assam due to the presence of a huge number of Bengali Hindus and quite a large number of Assamese Hindus of Shakta sect of Hinduism (Assam is predominantly Vaishnavite Hindu populous state), it is one of the biggest religious festivals, as the biggest festival is Bihu which is secular in nature. Not only is it the biggest Hindu festival celebrated throughout the state, it is also the most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali Hindu society. Apart from eastern India, Durga Puja is also celebrated in Delhi, Punjab, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Karnataka, Maharashtra and in many other places. Durga Puja is also celebrated as a major festival in Nepal where 82% population is Hindu, and in Bangladesh where 10% population is Hindu. Nowadays, many diaspora Assamese and Bengali cultural organizations arrange for Durgotsab in countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Netherlands, Singapore, Bahrain, and Kuwait, among others. In 2006, a grand Durga Puja ceremony was held in the Great Court of the British Museum.
Durga Puja also includes the worship of Shiva, in addition to Lakshmi, Saraswati with Ganesha and Kartikeya, who are considered to be Durga's children. Worship of mother nature is done, through nine types of plant (called "Kala Bou"), including a plantain (banana) tree, which represents nine divine forms of Goddess Durga. Modern traditions have come to include the display of decorated pandals and artistically depicted sculptures (murti) of Durga, exchange of Vijaya greetings and publication of Puja Annuals.
The Durga puja has been celebrated since the medieval period and has evolved and adapted to the world as time passed. A considerable literature exists around Durga in the Bengali language and its early forms, including abhinaya (11th century), Durgabhaktitarangini by Vidyapati (a famous Maithili poet of the 14th century), but the goddess Durga was not fully integrated into the Hindu pantheon, primarily in Bengal, in the 16th century. Early forms of Durgotsavs (Durga festivals) were primarily private worship in personal residences with the use of musical instruments such as the mridanga, Mandira, and smash ya.
Durga puja mood starts off with the Mahishasuramardini – a two-hour radio program that has been popular with the community since the 1950s. While earlier it used to be conducted live, later a recorded version began to be broadcast. Bengalis traditionally wake up at 4 in the morning on Mahalaya day to listen to the enchanting voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick on All India Radio as they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi Path).
It is a popular belief that Devi arrives and departs in some form of transportation which predicts the lives of people for the coming year. There are various forms like Palki, Nouka (Boat), Ashwa(Horse), Gaj (Elephant),etc. each having its own significance. For example, the departure by horse signifies devastation as was the case in early days after any war. Coming by boat signifies natural gifts like a good harvest.
Ritual drummers – dhakis, carrying large leather-strung dhak –– show off their skills during ritual dance worships called aarati. On the tenth day, Durga the mother returns to her husband, Shiva, ritualized through her immersion into the waters -Bishorjon is also known as Bhaashan and Niranjan. Durga Puja commemorates the annual visit of the Goddess with her children to her parents' home, leaving finally on the Dashami to be re-united with Shiva. This leaving ceremony is symbolized by the immersion of the sculptures on Dashami.