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Three important festivals - Navaratri, Durga-puja and Mahanavami, are associated with Devi rituals and all three are alike old, though hardly different from each other. Mahanavami, far from being a regular annual feature, is an astronomical occurrence. Whenever the zodiac has during the night of Ashtami, the eighth day of Navaratri, a specific combination of planets, especially the Sun in the zodiac of 'Kanya', the ninth day, Navami, is considered more auspicious and is observed as Mahanavami. Devi rituals are observed for nine days twice a year and both periods are commonly known as Navaratri, that is, nine nights, obviously because these rituals are performed continuously for nine nights. The first Navaratri consists of the first nine days of the 'Shukla-paksha' or moon-lit half of the month of Chaitra, the opening month of Indian calendar, while the second one of the first nine days of Asvina Shukla, that is, the ninth month of the Indian calendar. Worship of Devi in her manifestation as Durga is a common feature of both Navaratris. During the Asvina Navaratri Durga is worshipped mostly in her Mahishasura-Mardini form. This period of Navaratri has its association with Devi's victory over demon Mahisha. It was on the tenth day, the day after Navaratri, that she was able to kill demon Mahisha. Dashami, the tenth day, is hence celebrated all over the land as Vijayadashami. In many parts including Bihar and Bengal this festival is called Durga-puja.
This 'pata' depicting Devi Mahotsava is unique not only in creating on canvas the vividness and vigour of a festival but also in its remarkable adherence to the ancient tradition of Devi rituals and worship. Texts have underlined how the Devi-Mahotsava is to be organised. It is obviously a public celebration to which masses have open access. These texts prescribe that the shrine of the Devi be erected in the midst of open ground whether in plain or on a mountain top. The shrine of the Goddess should consist of pillars with openings on all sides each to have cubic divisions, preferably sixteen as such number is the most auspicious. Devi image should be conceived with eighteen arms carrying in them various weapons and attributes - skull, shield, bell, mirror, bow, flag, drum, rope, dart, mace, trident, vajra, sword, spear, conch, wheel, antimony etc. The image should be placed on a raised 'pitha' to be well in view from every part of the ground. The Goddess should be riding a lion and killing the demon Mahisha. A male devotee has to be in her constant service and a band of musicians singing and dancing before her.
This excellent Orissa 'pata' renders most of its details as evolved during the long ancient tradition of Devi rituals. Enshrining deity is Mahishasura-Mardini, though conceived in deviation to textual prescription with just ten arms. But in most other things her representation adheres to ancient models. She is riding her lion and killing Mahishasura by her 'shakti', the trident headed spear held in two hands. She carries weapons in all her hands, on right side mace, battle-axe, wheel, arrow and sword and on her left mirror, goad, noose and bow. She has been richly adorned and wears a lavishly inlaid large crown. Unlike his most depictions Mahisha has no horns, though a hind half of a buffalo has been painted behind him to depict his identity as buffalo-demon. Mahisha was a ruler. The artist has hence painted him as wearing a large size splendid crown. In the style of her costume and ornamentation Devi has typical Orissa touch.
The scene, a blend of rituals and festivity, has been laid on a plain mountain top with wide expanse. The official band of musicians is performing ritual dance associated with recitation of hymns related to Devi's exploits in front of the shrine on a specially laid dais. On her right another band is performing horse-dance and on her left the dancing band is disguised as bears. Devotees - men and women, young, old, children, rich and poor, are seen thronging from all sides, some astonished at the performance of the bands of dancers and others with their hands extended towards the shrine in the posture of making offerings. Life-like details of deity, devotees and surroundings, representation of various life-styles, costumes and customs and an adherence to tradition without excluding the present and the colours of the Orissa soil are the outstanding features of the splendidly rendered 'pata'.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.
Of Related Interest:
Durga Pooja (Miniature Painting on Paper)
Durga Puja (Paperback Book)