For most of the Bengalis across the world, this could be a chant that we keep on saying, silently throughout a year. The reason isn’t rocket-science. September always brings that also well-known essence in the air – Maa is coming home. The celebration of Bengali’s biggest festival, Durga Puja is about to begin.
And then there is the age-old debate – what’s more enticing to us, the common people?
A community puja with all it’s open show of grandeur and festivities, long serpentine lines of crowd, waiting to see a glimpse of their favorite Puja pandal or the other side – a traditional, family durga puja, deep rooted in unique customs and rituals, mostly closed door to the larger mass but people can visit them, without making too much of fuss.
Once such world lies not too far away from Kolkata – in the town of Guptipara in Hooghly district. A world where a ‘বনেদী’* (Bonedi) Durga Puja which started around mid-1580s, is now held at nearly 400 year old remnants of history. A history that dates back to the era of Mughals, a family whose lineage goes back to the times of Ballal Sen and yet amidst the reverence and traditionalism, you find people across all ages, tangled in the long leaves of the family tree, come together to celebrate the Puja.
Guptipara is mostly known as the place where “বারোয়ারি” (community) started with Bindhyabashini Pujo and it is still performed with equal enthusiasm. But it’s here that centuries old Durga puja is celebrated at the ancestral home of the Sens, by turns, through their four “শরিক” (branches) of the family.
In the sixteenth century, Shri Ram Chandra Sen left Khulna in today’s Bangladesh, and came via the naval route, aboard his fleet of fourteen vessels and dropped anchor near Guptipara, on Ganges river. He started living around this place and later around 1582, his successors started offering puja to Goddess Kali and Goddess Chandi. As turn of events would take place, couple of years later, instead of Chandi Puja, Durga Puja was started in this family. That marked the beginning of the centuries old celebration of Maa Durga. As per the age-old custom, the “কাঠামো” puja happens on Janmashtami which essentially marks the start of the rituals. The other unique thing about this traditional puja is the absence of Owl as the vahana for Goddess Lakhsmi. The reason is pretty unique – just behind the “ঠাকুরদালান”* (Thakur-dalan), there is ancient attic where actually a white owl stays and the family traditions, coming across since centuries, offer puja to the same Owl as the vahana for Goddess Lakhsmi. Such little nuances and age-old family customs makes these traditional pujas so much interesting for us.
welcome to this world
The entrance to this old house brings you to the wide ‘ঠাকুরদালান’* (Thakur-dalan) which has been maintained quite effectively. The long corridors that runs around the ‘ঠাকুরদালান’, the ‘কড়িকাঠ’* (Kori-kath) reminds you of the times lost in the pages of history. The ‘ঠাকুরদালান’ in itself has three arches which leads to the place where Durga idol is built and thereafter, puja is performed.
Here is the Saptami puja happening in ‘ঠাকুরদালান্’.
The family priest “Shyamalda” in action, performing aarti. Unique thing as with traditional pujas is that this priesthood generally gets carried forward over generations.
The next big attraction is the ‘সন্ধিপূজা’* (Sondhi Puja) where members of the family come forward and light the 108 lamps or ‘প্রদিপ’ (pradip) on the traditional “ডালা”.
While the rituals are performed, I generally look out for the odd little things without which the puja is incomplete.
The Holy Sacrifice. Ages back, the custom was to bring a goat, even a buffalo under the sacrificial machete. But since last few decades, it’s only Ash Gourd which is given a symbolic sacrifice. The machete, though, shines with its original glory even after so many years.
And how can Nobomi pujo be complete without the “ধুনুচি নাচ”.
Slowly the time passes by and while catching the myriad reflections of the Puja that just went by, it’s time for ‘কাঠামো পূজা’* (Kathamo Puja). As per the custom, once the ‘দশমী পূজা’* (Dashami Puja) is over, then the priest performs ‘কাঠামো পূজা’* (Kathamo Puja) to welcome Goddess Kali.
After the ‘দশমী পূজা’ (Dashami Puja), it’s time for the ladies of the family to perform ‘দেবী বরণ’ (Debi Boron). Here female members of the family applies vermillion to Maa Durga and her children and prays that Maa returns next year to her ‘paternal’ home.
The irony about Dashami is that painful wait for another year begins but that doesn’t lessen the celebration, even in bidding goodbyes. The mirror image that one will carry till Maa is back next year. So let’s bring out the camera!
And the goodbyes are brought in first through ‘সিঁদুর খেলা’ (Sindur Khela). Ladies, across generations, come together and apply vermillion on each other. While it is surely an age-old custom, but now it has bridged the barriers between old and new, customs and fashion for all to enjoy.
The Final Journey
Every ritual is completed. Every prayer has been said. It’s time for the final journey.
Since time from documented history, the immersion journey is carried by 12 carriers or ‘বেয়ারা’* (Beyara) from the Bauri community. New cloth is handed over to them by the young ones of the family. The custom says that each of the 12 ‘বেয়ারা’ will have to wear this new cloth and then carry Maa Durga on their shoulders (tied to couple of bamboo poles) in her immersion journey. The speed, vigor and the immense strength that the ‘বেয়ারা’ shows, is astonishing to say the least.
It’s time to leave her ‘parental’ home and leave for her husband’s place.
The prayers, one last time. This one is special as once Maa has left the home, this is where the twelve carriers offer their prayers to Maa, before setting off for the last mile.
And the final journey begins – on the earthen roads, through the jungles, through paddy fields till the final mile.
The day is ending…
The Immersion – Historically, the immersion used to happen in the Ganga.
Ages back, Ganga used to flow through this area shown below but slowly the Ganga river path moved away and as it is now today, a stagnant water-body is all that remains.
The 12 ‘বেয়ারা’ carrying the idol, performs the customary seven rounds with the idol and then immerses the idol deep into the water.
All that remains now… is the parting shot.
Can you visit this puja?
The doors are open during the Durga Puja and through Govt. and private conducted tours, people always come to see this family Durga Puja. However, at the same time, the family wishes that all visiting people, while enjoying the ambience of this place, respect the privacy of the family.
NOTE: All images used in this blog are the sole property of the owner Rahul Roy. Copying, reproducing, altering, modifying these images for personal or commercial or any other use without prior consent of the owner is strictly prohibited.
*বনেদী – of high lineage, distinguished
*ঠাকুরদালান – big hall where the idol is placed and puja is performed
*কড়িকাঠ – wooden beam of joist
*দশমী পূজা – the last prayers offered on the final day of the festival
*কাঠামো পূজা – worship and offering prayers to the wooden base on top of which clay idol is built
*বেয়ারা – people who carry the idol on their shoulders