Jhulanyatra, a five-day festival is celebrated in the Bengali month of Shravan (August) every year. This festival is held in different parts of Kolkata; but there are several houses in Central Kolkata where Jhulanyatra is held with pomp and gaeity even today. Some of the household are celebrating this festival for more than 150 years. I was lucky to witness this Jhulanyatra for two years and I am describing here seven of those families who are still celebrating this festival; although there are many families who are still maintaining this age-old tradition.
1. Jhulan Bari of Ramkanai Adhikary of 28, Baburam Sil Lane, Kolkata, is maintaining this tradition for seven generations. Here Jhulanyatra is celebrated in a grand way coupled with five days of classical music programme. The famous vocalist Jadu Bhatta (1840-1883) had performed here and he used to stay here for five days of the festival. It is said that Bishnupur gharana is incomplete without Jadu Bhatta.
The beautifully maintained thakurdalan is the place where the classical music programme is held. According to Shri Utpal Adhikary, family member, Ramkanai Adhikary used to accompany Jadu Bhatta in pakhowaj (a type of musical instrument) on all the days of the programme. Jhulanyatra is being performed here for almost 200 years. Krishnomhan Adhikary, great grandfather of Ramkanai Adhikary founded this thakurbari almost two centuries back and installed the idols of Radha Krishna, Gour Netai and Lord Jagannath. The idol of Krishna is made of kosthi pathar (touchstone) while that of Radhika is made from astadhatu (an alloy of eight metals). The Radha-Krishna idols are placed on a wooden throne. The classical music programme was being celebrated from 1875 onwards and according to Shri Utpal Adhikary the music programme is possibly the oldest classical conference in Kolkata. Many famous artists like V.G.Jog, Aghore Chakraborty, Radhika Prosad Goswami, Shyamal Bose, Joykrishna Sanyal, Jogin Bandopadhyay and many others have performed here. The classical programme is held just after the evening arati is performed. A lot of people witness this music programme for five days.
2. The Jhulanyatra of Sree Gouranga Mandir of 36, Sashi Bhusan Dey Street, Kolkata is being celebrated here for more than 150 years according to Sri Prabir Mukherjee, family member. A deed dated back to the days of Sepoy Mutiny proved that Jhulanyatra of this family is pretty old. The condition of the house is not good though there is no shortage as far as the tradition of this festival is concerned. According to Shri Mukherjee they had lands in Barddhaman, Madhupur and Deoghar; though none of them exists today.
The festival is celebrated here for five days and on each day there is a specific dress (besh) – Rakhal besh on the first day; Jogi besh on the second day; Subal besh on the third day; Kotal besh on the fourth day and Raj besh on the last day. The famous musician V Balsara visited this house at one point of time.
3. Balai Das’ Thakurbari of 3, Crouch Lane, Kolkata is also very old. The temple is founded by Atar Mani Dasi 104 years back in 1915. Though the temple is just over a century old but Jhulan festival is continuing even earlier. Apart from Radha Krishna, there are also idols of Lord Jagannath. The idols of Radha Krishna are beautifully decorated during the five days of the festival. I had to wait for more than one-and-a-half hour to witness this grand decoration.
Like the Jhualan Bari of Ramkanai Adhikary, classical music programme is also held here. I have been told by Shri Dhiman Das, family member, that great personalities in the field of music like Bare Gulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Rabi Shankar, Radhika Mohan Moitra and Dani Babu to name a few have performed here.
Oil paintings depicting the life of Lord Krishna hanging from the wall.
An unique thing which drew my attention here is several very old paintings depicting the life of Lord Krishna hanging from the wall. It was rather difficult to take all the photographs; but I am sharing some of them. Apart from Jhulan, the other festivals which are celebrated here are Janmastami, Radhastami, Annakut, Jagaddhatri Puja and Rashyatra.
4. Srimanta Villa popularly known as Chand Surya Bari of 63, Dhiren Dhar Sarani, Bowbazar, Kolkata was founded by Srimanta Pandit. Chandan Pandit, nephew of Srimanta Pandit started this Jhulanyatra of Lakshmi Janardan Jew 81 years back.
I have been told by Smt. Shelly Pandit, family member that Chandan Pandit had a love for clay dolls. His childhood desire got shape and began the famous Jhulanyatra where there is a provision to witness the rising of sun and moon by a machine prepared by Chandan Pandit himself. And the unique thing is this that the same machine is being used till date. No eletrician is called for the purpose.
The Pandits are actually residents of Khirpai of Midnapore. Lakshmi Janardan Jew is the family deity of the Pandits. The sila is normally worshipped in a thakurghar upstairs (a room for where idols are kept and daily worship is performed). Only during the days of Jhualan it is taken out from there and placed in a mandap at the ground floor. One striking feature is that here no besh in each of the five days of the festival.
The beautiful use of light depicting the rise of both sun and moon have the earned the title Chand Surya Bari. On both the sides you will see the clay dolls prepared by the world-class artisans of Ghurni of Krishnanagar, Nadia district. The artisans used to came here and prepare the clay idols in the baithakkhana (drawing room) of the house. The idols beautifully portray the life of Lord Krishna.
5. Radharaman Dhar Thakurbari of Kolkata is another place where Jhulan festival is held with pomp and granduer. The festival is being celebrated from 1887 onwards. On each and every day of the five-day festival, Lord Krishna is decorated in a separate besh. The idols are placed on a beautiful and glittering throne.
6. Das Bari of Bowbazar area of Kolkata is another house where Jhulanyatra is celebrated. Here you will see the eight sakhis along with decoration by clay dolls and play items. The decoaration is superb and on the top Radha Krishna is placed.
7. Radha Gobinda Jew Sree Mandir of Manicktala is celebrating the Jhulan for 88 years as far as the stone plate of the temple suggests. This Jhulan Bari is close to Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja pandal. A fair on acccount of Jhulanyatra is also held here and it is an unique thing to witness. The fair is crowded with people of all age groups.
Once you enter you will find beautifully decorated Radha Krishna and Salgram Sila. During the days of the festival this temple attracts a lot of visitors from all areas.
I am really indebted to Shri Saptarsi Ghosh and Shri Somnath Chakraborty for helping me to locate the houses together with the temples where Jhulanutsav is held. Apart from that I would like to pay my thanks to Shri Utpal Adhikary, Shri Dhiman Das, Shri Prabir Mukherjee and Smt. Shelly Pandit.
Date of posting: 13th August, 2019.