Pitrpaksha, a ritual started by Karna (Mahabharata), is a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors through food offerings. It started this year on 1st September and ended on 17th September.
By Monidipa Dey,
Pitrpaksha, a ritual started by Karna (Mahabharata), is a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors through food offerings. It started this year on 1st September and ended on 17th September. At the end of it started the Devipaksha, which was celebrated with great fervour in West Bengal as Mahalaya, with people doing tarpan and paying homage to their forefathers. It also signified the arrival of Devi Durga, the coming of the mother goddess to her home on earth. At one time all Bengalis would ritually wake up on the day of the Mahalaya at 4 am to tune into their radios and listen to ‘MahisasuraMardini’, a recording of strotra and song recital performed by Birendra Krishna Bhadra along with many others, which would mark the beginning of their beloved Durga Pujo. While many still follow the 4 am schedule, now there are the other options of listening to it later in the day on YouTube, or seeing Mahisasuramardini as a dance drama on TV channels.
From the two well-known Durga-stotras in the Mahabharata and Aryastav III (in Harivamsha) we get a clear picture of the various aspects associated with the Devi. From being a mother, a daughter, and a sister, to a deity who is highly revered and worshipped, the characteristics attributed to her many and varied. Among the various devi-stutis found in the Puranas, the most important ones are found in the Devi-Mahatmya section within the Markendeyapurana. In the last few verses where the devi speaks, she tells of reincarnation, the various forms that she takes in different births in order to protect the three worlds (trailokyasya hitharthya) and kill the evil forces (danavas).
इत्थं यदा यदा बाधा दानवोत्था भविष्यति ।
तदा तदाऽवतीर्याहं करिष्याम्यरिसंक्षयम् ।।
“Whenever trouble arises due to the advent of the demons, I shall incarnate and destroy the foes. “
(Markandeypurana, 91.51: Eleventh Chapter of the Devi Mahatmya: last couplet of Narayani stuti).
Devi Durga, the sister of Vishnu (Surabhedagama), a part of Adi Sakti, is described in the scriptures as with four or more arms, three eyes, and of a dark complexion. She is beautiful, dressed in yellow clothes, bejewelled, and wears a karanda mukuta. When shown with four hands, her front left hand rests on the hips in a katyavalambita pose, while the back left hand carries the sankha. The right front hand is in abhaya mudra and the back right hand carries the chakra. The devi stands on a lotus seat, or on the head of a buffalo, or is seated on a lion. A snake forms her breast band, and a red drape covers the upper part of her body. When depicted with 8 arms, besides the sankha and the chakra, the devi is shown with weapons, such as sula, khetaka, khadga, pasa, a bow, and an arrow.
The two most popular forms of Devi Durga are:
In this form the devi possesses ten arms (which can go up to 18 arms), and like Durga she is also associated with the colour red. She wears a jatamukuta with a crescent moon in it, is youthful, bejewelled, and has beautiful eyes. She is generally depicted with 10 hands carrying pasa, khetaka, ghanta, parasu, and ankusa in her 5 left hands; and bana, trisula, khadga, chakra, and saktyayudha in her five right hands. Below her is shown the Mahishasura, and the devi is shown in the act where she is just about to kill him. Often Mahishasura is depicted as just a buffalo; sometimes he is shown with a human body and a buffalo head; and sometimes he is shown as a human emerging from the dead body of the buffalo. Once devi Katyayani kills Mahisasura, thereafter she is known by the name Mahisasuramardini.
Here Devi is generally described as possessing ten hands, three eyes, a jata mukuta with a chandra-kala in it, her eyes are like the blue lotus, and her skin is like that of an atasi flower. In her right hands she carries khadga, chakra, saktyayudha (a spear), bow, and trisula. In her left hands are seen ghanta, parasu, khetaka, pasa, and ankusa. At her feet lies the cut head of a just killed buffalo, or the Mahisasura is seen coming out of the body of the buffalo with a sword in hand and her trisula is plunged deep inside his neck. Devi’s right leg rests on the lion, and her left leg placed firmly on the Mahisasura.
During the Durga Puja that is celebrated with great pomp in many states of Eastern India, which includes West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam, the devotees mainly worship the Mahisuramardini form of Devi Durga.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. Views expressed are personal.)