Durga Puja also referred to as Durgotsava or Sharadotsav is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. It refers to all the six days observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami.
Durga Puja festival is celebrated from the sixth to tenth day of 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 ,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 epitomises the victory of Good over Evil. In Bengal, Durga is worshipped 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 and Bihar, Jharkhand, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura, Meghalaya and West Bengal, where 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 presence of 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, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. Durga Puja is also celebrated as a major festival in Nepal where 82% population is Hindu, and in Bangladesh where 10% population is Hindu.
The prominence of Durga Puja increased gradually during the British Raj in Bengal and erstwhile Assam. After the Hindu reformists identified Durga with India, she became an icon for the Indian independence movement. In the first quarter of the 20th century, the tradition of Baroyari or Community Puja was popularised due to this. After independence, Durga Puja became one of the largest celebrated festivals in the whole world. It is also the largest open Air Art Exhibition in the World.
Durga Puja also includes the worship of Shiva, who is Durga’s consort (Durga is an aspect of Goddess Parvati), 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 represent 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.