Durga Puja is the biggest festival of the Bengalees and is celebrated in almost every corner of the globe where there is presence of Bengali community. This five-day festival is not only celebrated in the barowari pujas of the city of Kolkata; but it is equally worshipped in many households – from north to south. Some of the pujas of the bonedi families of Kolkata are very old and are meticulously performed with all rituals till date.
In almost all the family pujas the idol of Goddess Durga is prepared in the thakurdalan following certain rituals and after the puja it is immersed in the water. But in a few families there is no immersion of the Goddess as Maa Durga is worshipped round the year. One such family is the Haldar family of Baghbazar. The house is just opposite to Gauriyo Math in 17/1, Kaliprasad Chakraborty Street, Kolkata-700003.
This beautiful idol was found by one of the ancestors of the Haldar family at a fisherman’s hut at Sahebpur in Orissa. Krishnadas Haldar dreamt that the goddess lay buried underground in that hut. Next day excavation started and came out this idol of touchstone. The idol is remarkably intact till date. I was told that the puja in Baghbazar was being held for more than two centuries.
Here the puja is unique in many aspects – it is one of the oldest Durga Puja – this year (2019) it will be celebrating its 449 year according to historians and bibliographers. Secondly, the Goddess is carved out of kasthi pathar or touchstone. Here Maa Durga is worshipped alone and without Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartick and Ganesh. Thirdly, the idol is south-facing from the day of Mahalaya till Dasami; and on the evening of Dasami the goddess is again turned to its original position ie, from south to west and continues there for 355 days. Isn’t it unique? Fourthly, an oil lamp by the name of jaag pradip is lit from the start of the puja and continues to lit for the next five to six days. The puja here is performed following the Vaisnav rituals. When I visited the house this year on the day of Mahalaya, I was told to remove any leather items if at all I am carrying – be it a leather strap of the wrist watch or a belt or even your purse. It sounds rather peculiar. When I want to know the reason behind this, I was told by Dr. Mukherjee who was accompanied by his maternal uncle and aunty that as leather is connected with animal; and as animal sacrifice is not performed here, it is a strict no no.
I was pretty lucky to enter inside the sanctum and witnessed the Goddess in my own eyes. The idol is little above two feet in height and carved out from a single slab of touchstone and weighing about 25 to 40 kgs. Maa Mahisasuramardini is standing on a lotus. The Goddess is accompanied by Jaya and Bijoya and on the top is the image of Mahakal. The goddess is coloured (angaraj) once in every 12 years. A close look at the idol will reveal the exquisite craftsmanship – the ring in the little finger of the left hand is distinct till date. I was told that similar idols can be found at the Indian Museum at Kolkata and at the Institute de Chandannagar; but this idol is simply remarkable.
The puja is performed here with great pomp and splendour. Many people crowd this area during the days of the festival. The bodhan is held on Panchami, followed by the arrival of the dhakis. The next day is Sasthi when the womenfolk of the household greet Maa Durga without observing fast or even taking veg food; instead they have fish meal.
One of the remarkable feature of this age-old puja is that of the nabapatrika (kalabou) snan. The ritual is performed at early morning at the Baghbazar ghat and is carried on two big and decorated umbrellas – a rare sight to witness. When it returns at around 9:30 in the morning, it is wrapped up in a new saree and placed beside the idol. After that the Saptami puja starts.
Mahastami has two important parts – the Mahastami puja itself and the Sandhi puja. Puspanjali or paying homage to the goddess normally in fasting is an important feature of the Durga Puja. Sandhi Puja comprises of 48 minutes – divided into 24 minutes each – the first 24 minutes belong to Astami and the rest 24 minutes belong to Nabami. At the exact juncture of 24 minutes is the balidaan or the sacrifice. During Sandhi puja the goddess is worshipped as Maa Chamunda.
A normal feature of Sandhi puja is 108 lotus and equal number of oil lamps which are lit making the ambience beautiful. But in Haldar family, the lamps are arranged in different forms – in conch shell, or even in the form of a lotus or simply a design. Its a remarkable sight to witness. The fruits that are dedicated to the goddess are uncut. Kumari puja is the attraction of Nabami. A girl is worshipped in the form of kumari and there are a number of things to note – the chosen girl should be in fasting since morning and until the puja is over; she should be bathed in the holy water and dressed in a new saree and wearing jewelleries. Her feet should be smeared with aalta (coloured water). Another feature of the Nabami puja is the aarthi ( a ritual of worship in which light from oil lamps is offered to the goddess) and hom (a ritual where offerings are made into a sacred fire).
Dasami here is not of pain rather a different form. The ritual of biswarjan is performed here by changing the water in the ghat (pitcher) which is placed during the pujas. As said earlier, the goddess is not immersed here rather the direction of the idol changes from south to west and continues there till the next Mahalaya. The womenfolk of the household plays the popular sindur (vermillion) khela, a familiar ritual of the Dasami.
To visit this puja get down at Baghbazar and walk towards Gauriyo Math. The house is just opposite to the Math.
Reference and picture courtesy:
Dr Partha Sarathi Mukherjee. The Haldar bari happens to be his maternal uncle’s house.
Date of posting: 1st October, 2019.