Shantipur’s Chanduni Bari Durga Puja… 500 years and counting…
Shantipur’s Chanduni Bari Durga Puja… 500 years and counting…
This more than 500-years-old Durga Puja at the medieval-times’ Chanduni Bari, Shantipur, is not only amongst the oldest in Bengal, but also has many classic and astounding features
Five centuries ago, the tutor of Mahaprabhu Chaitanya Dev, who founded the Vaishnav movement of Bhakti Cult in Bengal, started the Shakti Puja of Goddess Durga, a goddess treated as the daughter of the family, and is offered Hilsa fish – till date – as Her bhog(food offering)!
One might ask, what is so strange about that?
The answer is, plenty.
Remember, we are speaking of Shantipur, the main city of Nadia district, which was the epicentre of the Bhakti Cult, directly opposed to the Shakta cult of Durga and Kali Pujas.
The offering of fish, that too Hilsa, to the Mother Goddess, is quite a rarity… perhaps one of the only two very old Durga Pujas in which Hilsa is offered as bhog in West Bengal.
(The other one we know of is in Teen Putuler Pujo in Kalna, Bardhaman district.)
Also, the vahan or mount of this Durga idol is shaped somewhat like a horse, not the traditional lion.
So, this is one of the most unique Durga Pujas anywhere.
Shantipur is a small, quaint, sleepy city in Nadia district in West Bengal.
It’s a city steeped in tradition, famous for Ras Utsav and Dol Utsav, both linked to the cult of Lord Krishna.
But it is equally famous for its Kali Puja and of course, Tant, the traditional handloom Bengali cotton sari.
Many traditional families reside in Shantipur who have been celebrating Durga and Kali Puja since centuries, one of the most prominent being the Chanduni Bari.
It is said that Sri Kashinath Sarbovouma, an ancestor of this family, was the tutor of the 16th century Indian saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
It was Sri Kashinath Sarbovouma who started the worship of Goddess Kali in this house more than 500 years ago.
The Mother Goddess is called Maa Chanduni, and over the years the house (Bari) came to be known as Chanduni Bari, and the neighbourhood came to be called Chanduni Para.
Durga Puja was started in this family even before Chanduni Kali Puja. So it is said that this Durga Puja is not only the oldest Durga Puja of Shantipur but also the oldest Durga Puja of Nadia district.
Going by historical records, the first Durga Puja in Bengal was started by the zamindar family of Dinajpur around 1500 CE.
So, the Durga Puja of Chanduni Bari was started around the same time.
The present day Puja is being performed by the 24th generation of this family.
Not only the family members, but the families of the priests, idol makers, and even the dhakis (drummers), etc., have been continuously associated with this centuries-old Durga Puja.
This Durga Puja at Chanduni Bari is not only the oldest, but also very unique.
After Janmashtami, the day of Nandotshav (the day celebrating Lord Krishna’s birth), the chief priest of the family puts the first clay to the Patt (the bamboo structure for the idol) to initiate the crafting of the Durga idol.
The design of the idol has remained the same for centuries, created by the same families of artisans who have been making these idols for generations.
In particular, the design of the lion (vahan, or the mount of the Goddess) resembles a horse rather than a lion, as I said earlier.
Which of my ancestors conceived this form? I asked around from the several older generation members the very large family.
Was there a divination, a dream in which the Goddess had given a vision of Her idol? I did not receive any answers, for 500 years is too old to stay in the original set of memories.
The rituals start on Shasthi (sixth day of Navaratri).
Early in the morning, the ladies of this family go to River Ganga for a bath and bring along three pots full of Ganga water.
In the evening, they put these pots of Ganga water under a Bael tree and start the Durga Puja rituals.
That night, the ladies do the Boron (welcome ceremony) for Kolabou.
Kolabou, literally meaning the banana-tree wife of Lord Ganesha, a key to Durga Puja itself. It is not just a banana plant that is dressed in a sari, though outwardly it looks like that. The proper name for Kolabou is Navapatrika, or nine plants, which are inside the sari-clad banana tree.
These are the seeds of nine essential plants that represent the fertility cult of Durga Puja and continuity of life.
Everyday, starting Saptami till Navami (seventh to ninth day of Navaratri),the priest first worships Gopal (Baby Krishna), then they invoke Chanduni Maa, and only then do they worship Goddess Durga.
This is also an exception in this family’s Durga Puja tradition, for usually, it is Lord Shiva (the consort of Durga Maa) who is invoked first.
Another uniqueness of this family Durga Puja is that there is no Sandhi Puja, which is supposed to be one of the main rituals of Durga Puja.
(Sandhi Puja is a 48-minute ritual to mark the precise time when Durga Maa slayed Mahisasura, the demon king.)
It is said that in the past, whenever Sandhi Puja was organised during this family’s Puja, there was some obstacle or the other, prompting the ancestors of this family to abandon this ritual altogether.
The bhog is also unusual.
There are eight types of fried vegetables with khichudi (a serving made of rice and lentils), along with plain rice, daal (lentils), two types of curry, and dessert.
Most importantly, pakakolar bora (ripe banana fritters) and chaltartok (elephant-apple chutney) is compulsory.
All these bhog offerings are prepared by the ladies of this family.
Another unusual feature of this Puja is that Ilishmaach (Hilsa fish) is offered as a bhog to Durga on Navami, the ninth day of the Puja.
The reason for this was that way back, during the Durga Puja there was once a flood in the city, and vegetables were not available, but there were plenty of Hilsa fishes in the river Ganga, which used to flow quite close to Chanduni Bari at that time.
So, the family offered fish to the Goddess and this practice was continued by future generations.
Another reason to offer fish to Goddess Durga is that She is treated as the daughter of this family, and among Bengalis, there is a practice to offer aamish(non-vegetarian food), especially fish, to their married daughters when they come to visit their parents’ homes.
The New Beginning?
On the final day of Durga Puja (Dashami), the Goddess is offered only pantaa bhaat (a rice-based dish prepared by soaking rice, generally leftover, in water overnight) and illish tok (a chutney made of Hilsa fish).
The reason is rather emotional; as this is the day that, mythologically speaking, the Goddess leaves for her in-laws’ house, and everyone is in grief, but they cannot let her go without food.
So they pack some food for her, as most Bengali families would do for their own daughters.
On this day, the entire family recites hymns for world peace and welfare for all, and then the ladies of the family do boron again(farewell), and request the Goddess to come back next year.
In the noon, beharas (palanquin bearers) carry the idol to river Ganga for immersion on their shoulders.
The Durga Puja festival usually ends with celebrations of Vijaya Dashami (which symbolises the victory of good over evil), to be almost forgotten till the time comes for the next year’s Puja!
But not in Chanduni Bari. .
This is because, before immersion of the Durga idol, the eldest daughter-in-law of the family puts the first clay to the Patt of Chanduni Maa, thus initiating the process for preparation of the idol of Chanduni Maa.
For in essence, the Mother has not really departed, as Durga and Kali are different forms of the same Primordial Power!
Vijaya Dashami is postponed till the immersion of the idol of Chanduni Maa after the Kali Puja.
Thus passes another year for the family members of Chanduni Bari, and the present generation waits eagerly for the next Pujas, as their forefathers had been doing for over five centuries!
As I will wait for bringing to you glimpses from Chanduni Bari’s festal, much revered, and unique puja of Chanduni Maa! But that’s for another day…
(With inputs from Supratim Purkayastha)
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Born in Purulia, brought up in Dhanbad and now settled in Hyderabad, Somali is an MBA by education. She has worked as a customer service professional, and currently works in a real estate firm. She loves travelling and meeting people. Somali writes occasionally on topics that are close to her heart.