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The most celebrated festival in Eastern India, Durga Puja is an event where families come together to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and to pay homage to the most powerful Goddess. Offering prayers and exchanging gifts, an all-night vigil is kept at home along with a public puja. Durga puja in Kolkata has been inscribed on the Intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO in December of 2021.
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Durga Puja (Bengali: দুর্গা পূজা), also known as Durgotsava or Sharodotsava, is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess Durga and is also celebrated because of Durga's victory over Mahishasur. It is particularly popular and traditionally celebrated in the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Odisha, Tripura, and the country of Bangladesh. The festival is observed in the Indian calendar month of Ashwin, which corresponds to September–October in the Gregorian calendar. Durga Puja is a ten-day festival, of which the last five are of the most significance. The puja is performed in homes and in public, the latter featuring a temporary stage and structural decorations (known as pandals). The festival is also marked by scripture recitations, performance arts, revelry, gift-giving, family visits, feasting, and public processions. Durga puja is an important festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. Durga puja in Kolkata has been inscribed on the Intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO in December of 2021.
As per Hindu scriptures, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting asura, Mahishasura. Thus, the festival epitomizes the victory of good over evil, though it is also in part a harvest festival celebrating the goddess as the motherly power behind all of life and creation. Durga puja coincides with Navaratri and Dussehra celebrations observed by other traditions of Hinduism, in which the Ram Lila dance-drama is enacted, celebrating the victory of Rama against Ravana, and effigies of Ravana are burnt.
The primary goddess revered during Durga Puja is Durga but celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity), Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (the god of good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war). In Bengali and Odia traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga's children, and Durga Puja is believed to commemorate Durga's visit to her natal home with her beloved children. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga's journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shasthi), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya Dashami) when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash. Regional and community variations in celebration of the festival and rituals observed exist.