Durga Puja (or Durgostava) is celebrated days 6-10 in Ashvin (Ashwin) month across much of South Asia. It is celebrated to commemorate the goddess Durga’s victory in her ancient battle against the asura Mahishasura. Many devotees do not realize that it coincides with the more ancient festival called Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement), which began 3500 years ago and is celebrated on the 10th day of the seventh lunar month in the Hebrew year. Both of these festivals are ancient, both fall on the same day (of their respective calendars. The Hindu & Hebrew calendars have their extra leap-month in different years, so they do not always coincide on the Western calendar but they both always occur in September-October), both involve sacrifices, and both commemorate great victories. The similarities between Durga Puja and Yom Kippur are astonishing. But the few differences are equally remarkable.
Day of Atonement Introduced
We followed Sri Moses leading the Israelites (Hebrews or Jews) out of slavery and receiving the Ten Commandments to guide the Israelites in Kali Yuga. Those Ten Commands are very strict, impossible for a person enticed by sin to keep. These Commandments were kept in a special box, called the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was in a special temple called The Most Holy Place.
Aaron, brother of Moses, and his descendants were the priests that offered sacrifices in this temple to atone, or cover, the sins of the people. Special sacrifices were offered on Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement. These are valuable lessons for us today, and we can learn much by comparing the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) with the ceremonies of Durga Puja.
The Day of Atonement and the scapegoat
The Hebrew Vedas, from the time of Moses gave precise instructions about the sacrifices and rituals of the Day of Atonement. We see how these instructions begin:
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.Leviticus 16:1-2
The two sons of Aaron the High Priest had died when they disrespectfully entered the The Most Holy Place Temple where the Presence of the LORD was. In that Holy presence their failure to fully keep the Ten Commandments resulted in their deaths.
So careful instructions were given, including the only day in the whole year when the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place – the Day of Atonement. If he entered any other day he would die. But even on this one day, before the High Priest could enter into the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, he had to:
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.Leviticus 16:3-4
On Saptami day of Durga Puja, Durga is invoked into the idols by Pran Pratisthan and the murti is bathed and dressed. Yom Kippur also involved bathing but it was the High Priest who was bathed and readied to enter into the Most Holy Place, not the deity. It was unnecessary to invoke the LORD God – his presence was in The Most Holy Place all year round. The need instead was to be prepared to meet this Presence. After bathing and dressing the Priest had to bring animals for sacrifice.
5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.Leviticus 16:5-6
A bull was sacrificed to cover over, or atone, for Aaron’s own sins. Bull or goat sacrifices are sometimes performed during Durga Puja. For Yom Kippur the sacrifice of the bull to cover the priest’s own sin was not an option. If he did not cover his sin with the sacrifice of the bull the Priest would die.
Then immediately after, the Priest performed the remarkable ceremony of the two goats.
7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering.Leviticus 16:7-9
Once the bull was sacrificed for his own sins, the Priest would take two goats and cast lots. One goat would be designated as the scapegoat. The other goat was to be sacrificed as a sin offering. Why?
“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.Leviticus 16:15-16
What happened to the scapegoat?
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.Leviticus 16:20-22
The bull sacrifice was for Aaron’s own sin. The sacrifice of the first goat was for the sin of the Israelite people. Aaron would then place his hands on the head of the living scapegoat and – symbolically – transfer the sins of the people onto the scapegoat. The goat was then released into the wilderness as a sign that the sins of the people were now far removed from the people. With these sacrifices their sins were atoned for. This was done every year on the Day of Atonement and only on that day.
The Day of Atonement and Durga Puja
Why did God command this festival to be celebrated this day every year? What did it mean? Durga Puja looks back in time to when Durga defeated the buffalo demon Mahishasura. It commemorates an event in the past. The Day of Atonement also commemorated victory but it was prophetic in that it looked forward to a future victory over evil. Though real animal sacrifices were offered, they also were symbolic. The Bible explains that
It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.Hebrews 10:4
Since the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement could not really take away the sins of the priest and the devotees, why were they offered every year? The Bible explains
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins.Hebrews 10:1-3
If the sacrifices could cleanse the sins away, then there would have been no need to repeat them. But they were repeated year after year, showing that they were not effective.
But when Jesus Christ (Yeshu Satsang) offered himself as a sacrifice it all changed.
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,Hebrews 10:5-7
but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’”
He came to offer himself as sacrifice. And when he did
…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.Hebrews 10:10
The sacrifices of the two goats were symbolically pointing to the future sacrifice and victory of Jesus. He was the sacrificial goat since he was sacrificed. He was also the scapegoat, since he took all the sins of the worldwide community and removed them far from us, so we can be cleansed.
Did the Day of Atonement cause Durga Puja?
In the History of the Israelites we noted how the exiles from Israel began arriving in India about 700BC, making many contributions to learning and religion of India. These Israelites would have celebrated The Day of Atonement every year on the 10th day of the seventh month. Perhaps, just as they contributed to the very languages of India, they also contributed their Day of Atonement which became Durga Puja, the commemoration of a great victory over evil. This fits with our historical understanding of Durga Puja, which began to be celebrated around 600 BC.
When the Day of Atonement sacrifices Terminated
The sacrifice of Jesus (Yeshu Satsang) on our behalf was effective and sufficient. Shortly after the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (33 AD), the Romans destroyed the Temple with the Most Holy Place in 70 AD. Since then Jews never again offered any sacrifices on The Day of Atonement. Today, Jews celebrate this festival by observing a somber day of fasting. Just as the Bible explains, once the effective sacrifice was offered there was no need for the annual sacrifice to continue. So God stopped it.
Images in Durga Puja and Day of Atonement
The Durga Puja involves invoking an image of Durga so that the deity resides in the murti. The Day of Atonement was a foretelling of the coming sacrifice and did not invoke any image. God in the Most Holy Place was invisible and thus there was no image.
But at the effectual sacrifice, the one that the many Days of Atonements for hundreds of years beforehand had pointed towards, there was an image invoked. As the Bible explains
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.Colossians 1:15
At the effectual sacrifice, the image of the invisible God was invoked and was shown to be the man Jesus.
We have been going through the Veda Pustahakan. We have seen how God had given several signs to reveal his plan. At the beginning He foretold the coming ‘He’. This was followed by the sacrifice of Sri Abraham, the Passover sacrifice, and also the Day of Atonement. There remains the Blessings and Curses of Moses on the Israelites. This would set in motion their history, scattering Israelites all around the world, even to India, as explained here.