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Durga Pooja & Women in Sarees

We have hit September and it's already time to celebrate all the major festivals in India! Definitely no festival is complete without the quintessential Indian drape – the Saree. As we immerse Ganpati and get ready for Maa Durga to arrive, let us quickly explore the traditional drapes that women, especially in the Eastern part of the country, wear in the festival spanning ten days.

Mahalaya – The day when Goddess Durga packs her bags and children and starts for her journey to her maternal home on Earth from Mount Kailash, the abode of Gods. This is the start of Devi Paksha and the end of evil in the form of Mahisasur. In the artisan streets of Bengal, this day is marked as the day when the eyes are painted on all the idols. No artisan can draw eyes before Mahalaya. This day is celebrated auspiciously by remembering ancestors as well as through enacting how the Goddess slayed the demon. On such a day, Bengalis swarm to the streets of Kumartali, where almost all Durga idols are made and sent all over the world. Women in traditional colorful Tant sarees with red borders can be found swarming the beautiful alleys. Cotton Gadwal is another favorite for the day.

Sasthi – The sixth day of Durga Puja. After Mahalaya, once the eyes are painted, the faces of the idols remain covered till Sasthi. After the morning offering, the faces can be revealed. It signifies that Devi with her kids are now on Earth for a vacation. The first day of Pujo is celebrated with utmost zest. The younger generation opts for Kora Silk as well as Linen sarees, while the elders bring out their graceful Tussar in muted colors. The pandal hopping starts and one can see scores of people beautifully dressed in all streets of Bengal enjoying the various Pandals.

Saptami – The day we celebrate our Durga Maa’s win against all odds. As per mythology, Mahisasur had smirked when he knew that Durga was being sent to fight him. He thought he could easily win against a woman. But he never knew the woman was the most powerful of all beings. In the course of the battle, he used all his deception tactics but could not hold ground in front of her. Devi Durga created eight different war partners called ‘Ashtanayika’. All of them are worshipped in the form of nine different plants including Paddy, Banana, Jayanti, Colacassia, Pomegranate, Ashoka, Turmeric, Arum Plant, and Bel on Saptami. Women celebrate with one of their finest possessions – Raw silk, Matka Silk and Tissue Silk in bright colors.

Ashtami – Also known as Durgashtami is one of the most important days of Durga Pujo. On Maha Ashtami nine small pots are installed and nine forms of Durga are invoked in them and worshipped. Many households perform the Kumari puja, worshiping young girls who haven’t hit puberty. I remember I used to get several invitations over the day at my neighbors’ houses. The prasadam served to us was made of finest ghee, milk and sooji. Young girls are adorned with beautiful red Tant sarees. The women take out their best for this day – gorgeous Garad, Jamdani, Tussar silk, Benarasi silk as well as Assam silk. The streets in the Eastern part are lit with beautiful smiles and finest Sarees.

Navami – Starts with the auspicious Sandhi pujo. The time window of the last 24 minutes of Ashtami Tithi and the first 24 minutes of Navami Tithi is known as Sandhi Time. It is believed to be the last day of battle between Goddess Durga and the evil demon Mahishasura. It marks the end of Navratri, the nine-day festival devoted to Goddess Durga. In some parts, animal sacrifice is one of the rituals of the day. This is the day when people want to enjoy one last time before it all ends. On this day, women can be seen wearing elegant Chiffon, gorgeous Baluchari and bi-color Silk Gadwal. The shiny stones and Net sarees are worn by the younger generation.

Dashami – time to bid adieu. This day is marked by a sudden gloom. Our mornings start with the realization that the small window of glory is coming to an end. Our daughter, Devi Durga is going back to her husband’s home. With the final puja in the morning, the ten-day gala celebration ends. As typically depicted in several Indian movies, all women wear beautiful white cotton as well as silk sarees with red borders. The red and white combination is auspicious and symbolizes fertility. Married women play smear Sindoor on Devi’s forehead as they bid a tearful goodbye. The streets are filled with processions of hundreds of idols as they are taken for immersion. The atmosphere is gloomy. As the idols are ceremoniously immersed in the Ganges, we wish for her safe journey back with eyes full of tears and hearts filled with anticipation for next year.

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