India Celebrates Durga Puja
The fiveday Durga Puja begins Saturday, forming part of the Navratri, nine nights of Hindu fasting and worship.Durga Puja honors the female deity Durga, who is depicted as a warrior, symbolic of power and rage. Durga is revered across much of India, but perhaps most in West Bengal, the state governed by India most outspoken female politician, Mamata Banerjee.Devotees believe that Durga came to earth and defeated the shapeshifting demon Mahishasura, slaying him with a spear whilst astride a lion.Huge, painted mud and straw statues of the deity are made for the festival. The idol is often cast with ten arms, with each hand clasping a different weapon. The towering height of the statues is intended to indicate the triumph of good over evil.Sacrificial animals and hot foods are offered during Durga Puja in order to stimulate her vengeful violence, according to Chris.J. Fuller in his book, The Camphor Flame Popular Hinduism and Society in India. The writer describes Durga as ferocious and quickly angered.During Durga Puja, devotees submerge the statues of Durga in rivers and lakes to symbolize her return to mud from which she was made. Kolkata Hooghly River is a focal point during this part of the festival.Durga Puja is carried out with different customs depending on the state.Bengalis, particularly women living away from home, often return to families during the festival.