Durga Puja (September-October) symbolises the commemoration of good over evil. Life comes to a stand-still in the city of Cuttack as crowds pour over the Puja Mandaps to enjoy the festivities. On the day succeeding Vijaya Dasami, the last day of Dussera, the images are taken in a spectacular procession for immersion in the river Kathajodi.
Saraswati Puja is usually held in January-February and it is also known as Vasanta Panchami (fifth day of Spring) and it marks the end of Winter and advent of spring. Saraswati is the goddess of learning and as such this festival is celebrated most ardently by the school and college students to pray for success in their academic pursuits. Thousands of clay idols are worshipped in the academic institutions, in public places and in homes. The next day the idols are taken in procession to rivers, ponds and seas and immersed. This immersion of idols is a common feature of all the festivals in which they are installed for worship. In some places the immersion cakes place on the 3rd, 5th or 7th day of the worship.
Ganesh Puja (August-September) is also a festival of students mostly, but adults participate in it eagerly as tire god, son of Sival is the remover of all obstacles the path of success in ones endeavours. Ganesh has the head of an elephant supposed to have been grafted on his trunk after his head was destroyed by theevil look of the god Saturn. He is famed for his intellectual brilliance and so students are attracted to him to achieve similar powers.
Shiva Ratri (February) is one of the most prominent festivals of the Saivites in Orissa. Owing to the presence of a large number of temples of Siva, the festival is celebrated widely. It is also known as Jagara jatra which refers to the night-long vigil kept by the devotees, especially women, to have their desires fulfilled. In many places the celebration of the festival is marked by the organisation of fairs of different kinds. The most notable places for this festival are the Lokanath temple (Puri), Lingaraj temple (Bhubaneswar), Kapilas temple (Dhenkanal) and Nrusinghnath temple (Balangir).
Janmastami, tile birth day of Krishna, is another famous festival observed in the temple of Jagannath ill many temples and maths and also in household shrines. Devotees fast throughout the day and break it only after the symbolic birth of Krishna takes place al midnight. Krishnas birth heralds the hope for the destruction of the demon Kansa and so it becomes memorable as the eventual triumph of good over evil. EM Forster has immortalized this festival in A Passage to India.
How powerful is the cult of Shakti worship in Orissa, both in the Tantric and non-Tantric forms, call be realized from tile festivals or Durga Puja (September-October) and Kalipuja (October-November) which are celebrated with utmost solemnity, gaiety and eclat. The great Mother as the ten-handed Durga is believed to come down from her husbands home on Mount Kailash to her parents abode on the Himalayas every year for three days, tile 7th , 8th and 9th days of the bright fortnight in the month of of Aswina. There site is Parvati, the daughter of king of mountains, but in her incarnation as Durga she is worshipped as the destroyer of the buffalo-demon Mahisasura. In Orissa richly decorated and beautiful made images are installed all over the state and the festival instils a spirit of holiness and sancity into the whole community so much so that people of other faiths participate in it with abundant warmth and sincerity. In Orissa the special feature of Durga Puja is that in the temples it soreads ovet sixteen days unlike on other parts of the country where it lasts for three to none days at most.
It is the same story in regard to Kali Puja which is preceded by Lakshmi Puja on the full moon day after Durga Puja. Lakshmi Puja in public is celebrated in grandeur in places like Kendrapara and Dhenkanal but in the homes she is worshipped on that day for wealth and prosperity.
Kali Puja has another dimension in Orissa. Kali is the destroyer of time or Kala, she too is the goddess of death and destruction having her abode in the cremation grounds. But to the Shaktas she is Parambrahma swarupjni (identical with the Supreme Brahman), creator of the universe, its sustainer and ultimately its detroyer The Markandeya Purana, Devi Bhagavata, Kalika Purana and othrer books describe her as the ultimate Mystery of the Universe. If she is the desroyer of Mahisasura (as Durga), Shumbha, Nishumbha, Chanda, Munda, Raklavirya, she is also the compassionate Mother. The two mudras in her right hands, abhaya (protection from fear) and vara (granting of boons) and the raised blood-smeared sword in one her left hands with the freshly severed head of a demon dangling from the other hand, with three eyes standing for the sun, the moon and fire (Agni) make her a most complex symbol of love, compassion and terror. Like the Durga Puja, Puja is observed all over the stale though not to the same extent.
The Hindu festivals are numerous no doubt, but they do not diminish the importance of the festivals of the Muslims, Christians and Sikhs all of which are celebrated in Orissa in a spirit of camaraderie, almost unmatched elsewhere. Easter, Good Friday and Christmas; Id-ul-Fitre, Id-ul-Zolla and Muharram and Guru Nanaks birthday are observed by the respective communities with active public participation.
It is the contemplation of the beauty, meaning and significance of these festivals both local and national, and the wide response evoked by them among the people that show how the stream of religion continues to flow as a subterranean in the collective life of the Oriya people. The significance becomes overwhelming when one thinks of the perils of dehumanization brought about by a mechanistic view of the universe supplemented by a technotronic culture.