When we speak of Rasyatra (Rash festival), we think of the full moon which normally falls in the month of November (Kartick purnima) after Lakshmi Puja. That Rashyatra is celebrated in different parts of the state and also in Kolkata. It is a three day festival and on each day, normally at night the idols of Radha Krishna are taken from the temple to the rasmancha where rasmancha exists. Fairs are also held in some areas like Khardaha, Belur, Cossipore, to name a few.
But there is another Rashyatra which is held normally in the Bengali month of Chaitra, (Chaitra purnima) popularly known as Baladev er Rashyatra. In Kolkata, Choto Rashbari of 93, Tollygunge Road is one such place where this three-day festival is held. It is built by Pyarilal Mondal and Monimohan Mondal way back in April 1847. There is also an octagonal Rashmancha made of mahogany wood, which is currently been renovated and is used this year, thanks to the temple trustees, after a gap of several years, according to Sri Tapan Mondal
Choto Rashbari or Harihar Dham is a temple complex of a nabaratna, two pancharatna and ten aatchala Shiva temples by the side of Adi Ganga, which at a point of time served as a major pilgrim route. Although the principal deity here is Gopalji, but Shyamsundarji is also worshipped. The idol of Shyamsundar is made of kashti pathar (touch stone). It was originally brought from Bawali in South 24 parganas. Although a Grade – I heritage under Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the temple currently is not in a good shape and requires urgent restoration. The courtyard is chequered with Italian marbles; but due to age, those marbles have lost their shine; but still then reminds us of the bygone days.
A frequent visitor, I was invited by one of the trustees of the temple to the recently held Rashyatra. This year (2019) it was held from 19th to 21st April. I was present in all the three days and witnessed the festival. Though much of the previous glory has gone, but whatever remains is enough. When I visited the same festival a year ago, I was told that both the chariot and the rasmancha will be renovated. The chariot was renovated and used in the last year. Likewise this year, the rasmancha was used. Inside it the idols of Shyamsundarji and Gopalji were placed and along with eight sakhis and, on each day of the Rash festival, the idol of Shyamsundarji is coloured. On the first day is the Balaram besh (white colour); on the second day is the Rakhal besh (black colour, the original colour of the idol) and on the third or last day it is the Gouranga besh (saffron colour).
The puja along with arati is performed by the priest, Sri Pankaj Chakraborty. This time in the evening during the festival period the temple precints was resounded with the kirtan and shehnai. Previously shehnai was played in the nahabatkhana situated a little away from the temple. The playing of shehnai and kirtan added a new dimension. The kirtaniyas and the shehnai players are playing here for generations. A number of people mainly local residents were present in the evening. After the arati, the bhog was dedicated to the deities and then served to the people as prasad.
After nine at night, the idols of both Shyamsundar and Gopalji were taken back from the rasmancha to the main temple; and the idol of Balaram was placed inside the mancha.
Being a frequent visitor of Choto Rashbari, I was told that there existed rare pictures of Krishna lila; but this time I got a chance to view them. I was simply mesmerised. Sharing some of the pictures here will simply tell you the level of artistic work during those days. A visit to Choto Rashbari will enable you to witness this with your own eyes.
I am thankful to Sri Tapan Mondal and Sri Pankaj Chakraborty.