Dhaka Diary: Immersing in the Durga Puja

Paying homage to Goddess Durga. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

You must go see the Durga Pooja, “said Reza.
No, you don’t go. It’s too hot, humid and crowded and you are still coughing,” said Lisa.
Go, you have one life, live it to the full,” said the bearded guru.
Join me at 11 am, and we’ll go to Dhaka University. It’s not so crowded” said Shumon.
Don’t take a lot of money with you, there are a lot of pickpockets,” warned the Guru
Always, take a bottle of water,” said Zaman . … plenty of advice for me sitting on the fence, wondering should I go to the puja should I stay.

In Bangladesh, Durga Puja is the biggest Hindu festival, and today, 17 October, is the last day of the festivities. Many throng to temples and then carry the statues of their beloved goddess Durga  to a river or waterway for the last ritual immersion in water.

My  new untraveled path has many dragons and beasts  and  a few have been keeping me largely indoors in Dhaka.  So what better day  to slay my inner dragons and venture out  in one of those ubiquitous rickshaws than  this day  when thousands rejoice at Goddess Durga’s win over the evil Maheshasoora the demon.  The day for paying homage to the warrior Goddess.

My knowledge of Durga is scanty.  I turn to a friend who says Durga literally means fortress in Sanskrit and is sought after for victory in life or in any given task. The feminine principle in Hinduism she is associated with dynamic movement while the male principle is associated with the still silence of enlightenment.

DrikNews quoting the Bishuddha Shiddhanta Panjika, the Hindu religious almanac says “this year the goddess Durga arrived on earth in a palanquin and will return on an elephant. Though the palanquin symbolises rough weather, the departure on an elephant indicates a good harvest.”

More searching on the Internet and I discover that Durga is an extraordinary powerful goddess in the Hindu pantheon of gods. She is the Mother Goddess and as such it is believed that she has  manifested herself as Goddess Mahasaraswati, Goddess Mahalakshmi and Goddess Mahakali.

Interesting  also to note from Wikipedia that these  are the active energies (Shakti) of Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra respectively and without these goddesses the male gods will lose all their powers and would not have the energy to lift a finger!!!..There’s more — the three forms of Durga further manifests in three more forms each, and thus emerged the nine forms of Durga, which are collectively called Navadurga or Nine Durgas.  Thus it is this Navadurga that are famously worshipped during the Autumn Navaratri or Durga Puja.  

As we ride the rickshaw to the Dhaka University grounds to see the festivities, I ask Shumon “Will people mind If I take their photographs”.  He laughs and replies “Not unless they have a beard and a cap,” and then adds “I studied at a Madrassa for my HSC for two years but I love to learn about other religions.  I go every year to the Durga Puja.

Red is the colour of the day. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Goddess Durga statue is beautiful, voluptuous as all goddess are and dressed in red.  The red apparently is to signify that she is always busy destroying evil and protecting people from suffering.  Most devotees have a touch of red in their clothes – some more than others.  She is astride a tiger in most of her statues and is another symbol of the unlimited power she posses.

Then there are the eighteen arms — I think many of us women have wished for just one more pair so you could do the multitasking we are supposed to do as mothers and working women.  Here Durga’s hands represent the combined power of the nine incarnations.  In this statue, I see her with the trident and the evil demon cringing at her feet.  All the weapons she carries in her hand such as a mace, sword, disc, arrow, and trident convey the idea that one weapon cannot destroy all different kinds of enemies. Different weapons must be used to fight enemies depending upon the circumstances. And these enemies are not physical ones but they are our attachments to possessions (thanha in Buddhism), avijja (ignorance), ego etc which must be destroyed.

The five days of the Puja are known as Shasti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and  Dashami.  “Each day is special in its own way and today is Dashmi, and the day of the Sindur Khela,” says Shumon.  I am embarrassed about how little I know of Durgha puja although therer is a big Navaratri puja in Sri Lanka. “Today is when married women pray to the goddess with vermilion, betel leaf, sweets and smear each other with Sindur as they bid farewell to their Devi,”  says Shumon adding that only married women can have the red smear in their hair. 

Sindur smears. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

There are bells to be rung, sweetmeats and colourful bangles to be bought and even a bubble blower that delights the child in many of us. 

Bubble blowing. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Better job mantra. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Making a little money on the side. Photograph©Chulie de Silva



13 thoughts on “Dhaka Diary: Immersing in the Durga Puja

  1. Keep up the good work in Bangladesh Chulie. Be on the lookout for a friend of mine – Gamini Kudaliyanage. He is on a two-month World Bank Project in Bangladesh. Hope you will run into him.

  2. It’s marvelous to read about and see your photos of the experiences you are having in your new adventure. You are so intrepid and we are so envious of you. We are all looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Nice blog entry. You seem to be having a blast of a time in Dhaka – savoring different experiences and living life to the hilt – cough or no-cough. Continue enjoying your sojourn and keep up the travelogue and snapshots of your time in Bangladesh. I enjoyed the read and pictures of a wonderful autumnal holiday.

  4. I so agree with Malcolm; was looking for the right word and “intrepid” is perfect. You are fearless and adventurous. I feel so lucky that you share your experiences. Can’t wait for your next adventure.

  5. Thanks for the Durga enlightenment. Now that I see that she symbolizes the power of 9 (women) and subsumes Brahma and Vishnu and Rudra/Shiva I will go do my own pooja! Don’t feel intimated about taking pics; you are good at telling the entire story and bringing it to life for us.

  6. I always knew. Chuls will conquer Bangladesh with her head, heart and hands. Intrepid, fearless, adventurous and a true Sri Lankan. Always connecting to things back home. Keep conquering! J

  7. Good stuff Chulie. I have never paid attention to the Durga festivities in Sri Lanka, till I read your post. Must tag along, with someone for the next one in Colombo.

    Frankly, there was nothing wrong with the pictures either.

    Was your wallet intact? Did you buy anything?

    Big hug, tc

  8. Hi Chulie! Inspite of living in Dhaka for 20 years, I’ve never been to see the Durga Puja at Dhaka University. Great photos – I have been missing out on so much! Hope you are having fun trips in and out of Dhaka 🙂

  9. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Bangladesh: Images Of Durga Puja

  10. Lovely to know that your spirit of adventure has been only heightened… thank you for letting us experience some of the adventure through your vivid images and write up.

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