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Sri Sri Durga Puja at Ramakrishna Math Barasat

Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ”To look upon God as Mother is the purest and the highest form of Sadhana” (Matribhav shuddha bhav, sadhanar shesh katha). Why did he say that? Because Mother’s love is the most unselfish and unconditional form of human love. For a child, mother is all sufficient: apart from giving birth, she provides everything that the child needs – nourishment, protection, warmth, comfort, training, education. To look upon God as Mother is to make God all-sufficient in one’s life. It is a very natural, intimate and purest form of relationship.
The Divine Mother is regarded as having ”Ten Great Wisdom Forms” (Dasha-mahavidya). These ten Goddesses are:
1. Kali 2. Tara 3. Tripura Sundari 4. Bhuvaneshwari 5. Bhairavi 6. Chhinnamasta 7. Dhumavati 8. Bagalamukhi 9. Matangi (Saraswati) 10. Kamala (Lakshmi)
Sri Sri Durga Puja was first celebrated at Belur Math in 1901. Since then it is been celebrated year after year, although for a few years after the first celebration in 1901, Pratima [Image] worship was not done. In this connection it should be mentioned that Durga Puja was conducted on a small scale, without the image, by the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna during the early years of Ramakrishna Math at Baranagar. It was Swami Vivekananda himself who started the first Durga Puja with the image at Belur Math.
A few days before Durga Puja in 1901, Swamiji had a vision of Durga Puja being done at Belur Math. More or less at that time, Swami Brahmananda saw in a vision Mother Durga coming across the Ganga from Dakshineshwar to Belur Math. Swamiji asked Raja Maharaj to make preparations for Durga Puja immediately, although only a few days were left to begin the Puja.
The main problem was to get a clay image for worship. Enquiries at Kamartuli—the street in Kolkata where artisans make clay images—revealed that there was a single beautiful image of Durga in a shop. The person who had ordered it had not turned up, and so the artisan agreed to sell it to the monks.
Apart from the image, a lot of other things had to be collected for the elaborate ritualistic worship. Under able direction of Swami Brahmananda everything was done well at short notice.
The first Durga Puja at Belur Math was conducted in a huge Pandal (decorative shed) on the open ground to the north of the old shrine. The invocatory worship on Shashthi (the 6th day of the lunar month) was on 18 October 1901. The Pujari was Brahmachari Krishnalal and the Tantradharak was Isvar Chandra Chakravarty, the father of Shashi Maharaj. Sitting under the Bel tree (which now stands in front of his temple) Swamiji sang Agamani songs welcoming the Divine Mother.
The householder disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and orthodox Brahmins of nearby area had been specially invited, and thousands of people, irrespective of the distinctions of caste or religion, attended the three-day festival. On the night of Navami, ninth night, Swamiji sang many songs in praise of Divine Mother, some of which used to be sung by Sri Ramakrishna.
When Swamiji decided to celebrate Durga Puja at Belur Math, one of the first things he did was to seek the approval of Holy Mother Sarada Devi who was then staying at Baghbazar in Kolkata. Swami Premananda went to Mother, and Mother whole-heartedly approved the proposal. On Shashthi day She came with other women devotees and stayed at Nilambar Babu’s garden house nearby. Mother attended the awakening ceremony that day and attended the Puja on all the three subsequent days. …
Navaratri and Durga Puja
The nine days from the first day after the new moon (known as Mahalaya) in the Indian month of Ashwin to the 9th day constitute the festival of Navaratri which is observed all over India. During this period, the Divine Mother is worshipped in some form or other. The majority of Hindus who cannot conduct such worship at home visit Mother’s temple in their locality after taking bath and putting on new clothes. The tenth day is known as Dassera. In the northern parts of India, on this day the life of Rama (known as Ramlila) is enacted in public. In many parts of India, on this day weapons, implements, instruments, etc are worshipped. [In Bengal, this worship of tools and implements takes place on another special day known as Vishwakarma Puja.]
It is during this period of Navaratri that Durga Puja is celebrated in Bengal. The celebration of Durga Puja is a unique feature of the socio-religious culture of Bengal. In no other part of India does the worship of Durga affect the lives of the people so deeply as it does in Bengal. Festivities begin from Mahalaya and go on for nearly a month. During this period, people put on new clothes, worship the Divine Mother at any of the beautiful Durga pandals put up in different parts of the city or town, and enjoy feasts.
Several mythological legends underlie Durga Puja festival. One of these is the legend that every year during the Navaratri, Goddess Uma, who is identified with Parvati the divine consort of Shiva, comes to the home of her parents – Himavat and Menaka. In Bengal this legend has been universalized into the belief that the Divine Mother visits the homes of all her children during the three days of Durga Puja. Agamani songs are songs which vividly depict the maternal love and deep concern of Menaka for her divine daughter. They are sung to welcome Mother Uma into homes. They also reflect parents’ love for their married daughters.
Swami Vivekananda was fond of Agamani songs because of the tender feelings expressed in them. On the Shashthi of the first Durga Puja at Belur Math, Swamiji sang Agamani songs such as, Giri Ganesh amar shubhakari etc. The tradition of singing Agamani songs continues in Ramakrishna Math Barasat.
Every year from the first day (pratipada) after Mahalaya to the sixth day (Shashthi) Sadhus and Brahmacharins gather at the main temple of Sri Ramakrishna at dawn and sing Agamani songs in chorus. [At night, after Arati, they conduct Kalikirtan.]
Ayi Giri Nandini and other Agamani songs are sung by the monks and devotees of Ramakrishna Math Barasat Starting from Mahalaya till Navami. On the day of Dashami after Shanti Jal ‘ekbar birajo go ma’ is sung.
During the nine days of Navaratri the book Chandi is recited everyday morning. This recital is done along with worship of the Goddess Chandi. In Ramakrishna Math Barasat this is done from the 6th day (Shashthi) at a corner of Durga Mandap itself.

Shashthi : the 6th day

This is a very important day when ritual preparations are made to begin the Durga Puja proper. These preparations are mainly three: Kalparambha, Bodhan, Adhivas and Amantran.
Kalparambha : This ritual is done early in the morning. It is mainly an act of making the samkalpa or ”sacramental intention”, the firm determination to conduct the Puja properly during the three days. The ritual consists of installing the ghata, water-filled copper pot, at a corner of Durga mandap and offering worship to Durga and Chandi.
Bodhan: This rite is performed at the Sandhya or dusk. The word ‘Bodhan’ literally means ‘awakening’. As already mentioned elsewhere, the Hindu mythology holds that all gods and goddesses go to sleep for six months during the southward journey of the Sun. Autumn (Sharat), during which Durga Puja is done, falls in the middle of this period. Hence it is necessary to first of all awaken the deity Durga. We have already mentioned that the awakening of Durga was first done by Sri Ramachandra who wanted to propitiate the Goddess before fighting Ravana.
The ritual of Bodhan consists in installing a water-filled copper vessel at the base of the Bel (Bilva) tree situated at a seperate corner of the Durga Mandap of Ramakrishna Math Barasat and praying to the Divine Mother to awaken.
Adhivas and Amantran : These rites follow Bodhan. Adhivas means ”invocation”. Through Bodhan the Devi has awakened: now the awakened Devi has to be invoked in the Bel tree or branch of the tree. Adhivas is also a ritual of sanctification. 
The actual ritual consists of the following main steps.
1. Devi Durga and the Bel tree are first worshipped
2. Twenty-six sacramental things (mangalik dravya) are sanctified by touching Devi Durga and the Bel tree with them.
3. To ward off evil effects, a red coloured thread is tied around the altar where Puja is done.
The above ritual is followed by Amantran which literally means “invitation”. Through this rite the Devi is invited or entreated to accept the Puja the next day (Saptami).
After this, Devi is worshipped with five items and Arati is done to Her.

Saptami Puja

The important point to note here is that a living medium is necessary to invoke the indwelling of a deity. It is through a living medium that Divinity manifests itself. On the sixth day Divinity was invoked in the Bel tree or a branch of it. On the seventh day the Deity is invoked in a group of nine plants known as Navapatrika. The nine plants, which include a branch of Bel tree also, are bundled together, given a ceremonial bath, covered with an orange coloured cloth and installed on a wooden seat on the right side of the image of Durga. This is followed by Mahasnan (great bath) on a mirror, using various materials. After this, consecration and divinization of the image, known as pranapratishtha, takes place. This is followed by elaborate worship of the Devi with sixteen items (shodashopacharapuja). The other deities, attendants and other objects associated with Devi are then worshipped. The Seventh Day’s Puja is concluded with bhog (food offering) and Arati to Devi.

Ashtami Puja

As on Saptami, on Ashtami also, Mahasnan and Shodashopacharapuja are done. In addition, nine small pots with flags of different colours attached are installed and the Nine Shaktis are invoked in them and worshipped. After this sixty-four yoginis are worshipped. Then one crore yoginis are worshipped. This is followed by worship of Nava Durga (nine aspects of Durga) and Goddesses Jayanti, Mangala, Kali, Bhadrakali, Kapalani, Durga, Shiva, Kshama, Dhatri, Svaha and Svadha. Ashtami Puja is concluded with Bhog and Arati.
Kumari Puja : Worship of a young girl, treating her as Devi, is also a part of Ashtami Puja. Sri Ramakrishna has said that the Divine Mother manifests herself more in a pure-hearted girl and that is why Kumari Puja is done. He used to bow down before little girls looking upon them as manifestations of the Divine Mother. When Durga Puja was done at Belur Math for the first time, Swami Vivekananda worshipped several Kumaris. Now only one Kumari is worshipped. The same kinds of offerings made to the Devi are given to the Kumari also, and finally Arati is performed. Even senior monks offer flowers at her feet.
At our Ramakrishna Math Barasat centre  also Kumari  Puja is celebrated following the tradition of Belur Math. 

Sandhi Puja :  

The last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami (a total of 48 minutes between the two lunar days) constitute the Sandhi or ”Sacred Juncture”.  It is considered to be a most auspicious time.  At this time Durga is worshipped as Chamunda (that is, Kali who killed the demon Chanda and Munda).  This Puja is considered to be the highest point in the whole Durga Puja and the most important ritual.
It is customary to perform bali or animal sacrifice at this sacred juncture.  When the first Durga Puja was celebrated at Belur Math in 1901, Swami Vivekananda wanted to have bali done.  But Holy Mother prohibited it and, in obedience to Holy Mother’s injunction, animal sacrifice is never done at Belur Math.  Instead, a banana is ‘sacrificed’ as a symbolic bali.

Navami Puja

As in Ashtami, during Navami also Mahasnan and Shodashopacharapuja are offered to Devi.  In addition, bali and Homa are performed.  In Belur Math for bali white pumpkin and sugarcane are offered.  The Homa (fire sacrifice) is a combination of Vedic and Tantric traditions.

Dashami Puja

In the morning a brief Puja, Shital bhog (cooling food offering) and Arati are first done.  Then the Pujari and Tantradharak circumambulate the altar and perform the visarjan ritual.  In this ritual the Devi, who had been invoked in the Navapatrika and consecrated Image, is entreated to return to Her celestial abode.  The Divine Mother, however, dwells for ever in the hearts of devotees.
In the evening the Image of Durga along with Navapatrika is taken in procession to the river bank and immersed in the river.  The water taken from the spot, known as Shanti Jal is sprinkled on the devotees who embrace one another as an expression of their solidarity as children of the same Divine Mother.  And thus the holy Durga Puja comes to an end leaving joyous memories in the souls of people.

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