People all over the country celebrate Durga Puja with full of enthusiasm and it has even expanded beyond its religious atmosphere. Methods of celebration and rituals vary from state to state because of difference in culture in different parts of the country. But, the past tradition and practice are followed everywhere combining with historical beliefs.
In Maharashtra, Durga Puja is an occasion for entertainment. During the nine day festival, puja is performed every day without removing the flower garlands that is put on the deities each day. All garlands are removed together after nine days. Young girls are invited to play games, dance and sing. There is a game in which they draw an elephant using rangoli and the girls play guessing games. After that, meals of their choice are served.
In West Bengal, Durga Puja celebration lasts for five days. It starts from the Mahalaya day, one week before the commencement of actual celebrations. It is believed that on Mahalaya day, Durga was given the task of abolishing evil and that is why the familiar posture of the Goddess releasing her fury on the defeated demon. As per legend, Ram sought the blessings of Durga during his war with Ravan. He performed puja to the Goddess at an unusual time which was not the customary time for worship. Hence Durga Puja is also known as ‘Akaal Bodhon’, which means ‘untimely invocation’.
In Punjab people strictly follow the customs and traditions of Durga Puja. They worship Goddess Durga and perform the aarti at home. Fruits or a full meal is taken once a day. Some people take only milk for seven days before they break the fast on ashtami or navami. Drugs, alcohol and non-vegetarian food are completely avoided. When the fast is finished, the devotees feed beggars and also worship little girls having the magic charm of Mother Goddess.
In Gujarat, Navratri is dedicated to Amba mataji. Images of mataji are worshipped in some homes as per the accepted traditional practice. Temples will be flooded with devotees from morning till night. The major attraction is the performance of Garba or dandia-ras, the popular folk-dance of Gujarat, which is performed throughout the nights on these nine days in streets and open grounds.
In Kerala, Durga Puja is an auspicious time for the beginning of formal education for children of 3-5 years age. Puja celebrations in the temples continue for all ten days, of which the last three days are most important. On Ashtami, Ayudha Puja is performed, when all tools are worshipped. It is a traditional custom not to use any tools on this day. On Navami day, books are kept for puja and Goddess Saraswati is worshipped.
In the Kottayam district of Kerala, thousands of devotees come to the Saraswati temple during this period to have a dip in a holy pond whose source remains a mystery. Heavy rush of devotees are seen at the famous temple at Thekkegram in Palghat district, where there are huge mirrors instead of deities. Here a devotee bows before his own reflection, which reminds us that God is within everyone and not separate from us.
Though Hindus belong to a minority community in Jammu and Kashmir, they celebrate the puja festival with full spirit. However, nowadays the situations are not favourable for celebration. Lord Shiva and Serawali Ma Durga, the one who rides the tiger, are their favorite deities. Both Hindus and Muslims accept the importance of Navratri festival. Normally the Hindus perform the puja at their home. Adult members of the family observe fast on water, and fruits are consumed in the evenings. During the puja days, the people grow barley in earthen pots with a belief that if there is a good growth in the pot, it will bring them prosperity throughout the year.
It is a very important ritual for the Kashmiri Pandits to visit the temple of guardian goddess Kheer Bhawani every day on this nine-day period. On the ninth day of Navratri, they perform an aarti at the temple and after that people break their fast. Ravana’s effigy is burnt on Dussehra day and the devotees also visit the Hari Parbat temple.