Conscious Durga Pooja Made Simple: What You Need to Know
October is here with the smell of Autumn, and for Indians, it’s festival time!!!!! This month on most years, if not every, sees the celebrations of two of the biggest festivals of the country - Durga Puja (or Navratri), and Diwali. Durga Puja is only a week away, and here we are helping you decide upon a few switches that you can make for a sustainable, zero-waste, conscious, eco-friendly festive season. But before that, let us first know how widely and variedly this festival is celebrated across India.
The backstory and essence
Navratri is grandly and piously celebrated predominantly in the northern, north-western, and western regions of India. The people worship the nine forms of Goddess Durga, one each day. They keep fasts and have sattvic meals devoid of meat. The festival ends on the tenth day, which is also called Dussehra when people with great pomp and vigour, burn effigies of Raavan, the evil king of Lanka. This is so because, this day also coincides with the day on which Shri Ramachandra of Ayodhya, vanquished Raavan of Lanka, his wife Devi Sita’s captor, according to the Indian epic Shri Ramayanam. It is said that Shri Rama worshipped Devi Durga for these nine days and asked for her blessings before he faced Raavan on the battlefield, and on the tenth day, he won the battle with the blessings of the supreme Goddess Devi Durga. From this, many conclude that Shri Rama was the first one in India to celebrate Navratri, that is, worshipping Devi Durga to receive her blessings (termed as Akaalbodhan, or the worship at a different time than the original, as the original Durga Puja is said to be the one which comes in April or the Hindu month of Chaitra, the puja being called Basanti Puja). So basically, this festival is to imbibe the virtues of Shakti (power) and Abhay (fearlessness).
In the eastern part of India, predominantly in Bengal, the story is slightly different and has got a more familial turn. Here the same theory of Shri Rama worshipping Devi Durga for her blessings is followed, but the people here have added their own empathetic feelings about the Goddess to this festival. To them, Devi Durga is their own daughter, who lives in Kailash with her husband Shiva, the Mahadev. In this side of the country, it is thought that the Goddesses Devi Lakshmi and Devi Saraswati are Devi Durga’s daughters (not her counterparts), whereas the Gods Shri Ganesh and Kartikeya are her sons. All of the four children return with their mother (Devi Durga) to their maternal home (Bengal), where they stay for 9 days and return to Kailash on the 10th, with the Visarjan (idol immersion). So, the people of Bengal have related the festive homecoming of their own daughters during the autumn festive season, to the festival itself, which speaks volumes about the virtues of Indian culture and ways of life, and how it has always deeply missed, loved, and hailed her daughters.
But wait, there is another part!
Be it Navratri of northern India or simply Durga Puja of Bengal, Devi Durga is always, invariably, the representation of Shakti - the force of nature. She is depicted to be created by the combined forces of all the Gods when they were unable to fight the evil Mahishasura, the demon who was out to destroy all that came in his path. Mahishasura was blessed by the creator Brahma, that no man could defeat him. So the only one who could do so, had to be a woman! And hence, the creation of Devi Durga. She confronted the demon and killed him, in the process, releasing his evil spirit, allowing him to redeem himself. This is accepted by all factions of worshippers of Devi Durga across the country.
This festival is, therefore, also the celebration of women in our society and their power in the face of situations where even men fail to win.
So how can it be a zero-waste affair?
It can be, just in the way we have always been minimalistic, for ages. We just need to be mindful of our actions, and devote our festive time to spirituality, familial love, and consciousness, rather than mindless festive dumping and increasing our carbon footprints for no reason, while leaving our lands and waters polluted. Here are just a few things which we can do.
1. Burning effigies? Find a better way.
While Navratri is already a very eco-friendly festival, we should restrict ourselves from burning too many crackers, or other inflammable substances during Dussehra. Instead, the act can be replicated virtually, with all the people of a community joining in, and celebrating the victory of good over evil on a giant screen! That way, we come closer to the co-inhabitants of our localities, act on our human instincts of love and cooperation, and feed on to our social nature as a biological species. That is exactly what the Dussehra celebrations intend, according to what I have realized - they symbolize the strength of united humans - powerful human communities, being victorious over the evils of society! Also, do not forget to check out our festive incense cone collection, which is 100% natural, vegan, chemical-free, and of premium quality, to elevate you to a greater spiritual experience this Puja.
2. New clothes? Be mindful!
Durga Puja is the biggest festival in West Bengal, and everyone who can afford or wants to, buys new clothes, to be worn at this festival. This is symbolic of worshipping the supreme Goddess in a new skin and heart - a washed and a pure one. This is a beautiful thing for the psyche and our mind - wearing new clothes for a fresh start. But where are these clothes being sourced from? How much does their manufacturing process affect the environment? Are these clothes sustainable? These are the primary questions each one should ask themselves when they head out for the pre-Puja shopping. And to have a zero-waste Puja, one must buy only ethically sourced, organic, sustainable clothes, which do not come under fast fashion. It is best if we refrain from useless shopping, and instead revamp our old clothes. That way, we will have newer styles and lesser footprints!
3. Idol Immersion? Keep an eye out!
This act has been a major environmental pollutant in the recent past, for many years. However, now the administration has been proactive in maintaining safety protocols, and cranes and other vehicles remain parked at the immersion sites, which are usually natural and artificial ponds, which swiftly pick up all the idols getting immersed in the water and restrain them from polluting the water. The ponds undergo extensive clean-up drives in cities mainly, (where there are larger numbers of Puja Pandals and hence greater chances of water pollution upon immersion) after the Puja is over, and all the items which lay strewn in the water after the cranes have picked up the bigger things, are retrieved and disposed of. The process has become better over the years, and from personal experience, it can be stated that the ponds are in much better condition now. The administration is trying hard, and credits should be given where it is due. What we can do as individuals, is to inform the administration if there has been a lag, and push them into action in that case, or side up with our Puja Committees to see that the whole process is sustainably done and maintained.
4. Do not litter.
The streets of Bengal show two different faces before and after the Durga Puja. The roads remain strewn with discarded items - from jhalmuri packets to handkerchiefs, plastic packets, and water bottles to other miniature items. We must keep in mind that these are the places we reside in, and this is the nature that sustains us. What’s more, this is the nature whose representation we are worshipping during the Pujas - it’s all about her! So let us be mindful, and dispose of our wastes only into designated dustbins, and if not available, carry them home in our bags and pouches that we inevitably carry, and then mindfully segregate them and dispose of them.
5. Bring your own items, be mindful of what you eat.
The Durga Puja festivities in Bengal are a lavish food affair, with the entire population feeding on all that they love. From Biryanis to kulfis, and luchi-mangso to kebabs, topped up with mishti doi and rosogollas, the major part of the Bengali population swears by delectable food during the Durga Puja. If you are on a vegan zero-waste journey, you can choose to avoid meat and other animal-based foods; and if you are sustainable enough in your mindset, carry your own items, like spoons and water bottles. If you have to collect khichuribhog from the pandals, bring your own tiffin boxes and plates, to save the earth from being dumped with plastic containers and styrofoam plates. There is a lot that we can do at every step, without cutting out on the festivities, only if we are mindful enough!
So there goes our sustainable to-do checklist for a zero-waste Durga Puja. How much do you resonate with us? Let us know in the comments.
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Wish you all a very happy Durga Puja! May the Mother Goddess be with all of us! :)