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The 142-Year-Old Durga Puja in Delhi

The 142-Year-Old Durga Puja in Delhi

The Naths of New Delhi have painstakingly kept a 142-year-old tradition alive without any break despite travelling to various places in the country

The COVID-19 that began almost at the beginning of the year, has brought everything to a standstill. It has also cast its lengthening shadow on the Durga Puja this year.

For some, it is simply not a factor though.

Meet the Naths of Delhi who have  been celebrating Durga Puja for an incredibly prolonged stretch of 142 years without any break.

Started way back in 1878, this historic Puja has been a mute witness to some of the upheavals of the world, from  the two World Wars to India’s Independence.

And it is only in fitness of things that the pandemic has failed to enforce a halt to its observance, albeit with a new set of guidelines.

The story of how this landmark Puja had originated is very fascinating.

Sri Jugal Krishna Nath
Sri Jugal Krishna Nath

“Almighty Goddess Durga came to our family on the day of Saptami Puja in October 1878. On that auspicious day, my great grandfather late Sri Jugal Krishna Nath had a miraculous ‘Darshan’ of the divine Mother Goddess Durga in the form of a half-clad village girl on the bank of a lake at Lauta village, Sylhet, now in Bangladesh” says Mr Manash P Nath.

“This exceptional event turned his mind to Supreme Divine Consciousness. He started Durga Puja from the ‘Maha Navami’ Day the same year. Since then, our family regularly performed Durga Puja with utmost dedication and devotion.”

Nath  took over the responsibilities of conducting the Puja from his father, late Jogesh Chandra Nath after his marriage in 1971.

In spite of his frequent transfers, the Puja was performed every year without fail. Nath who performed the Puja in many cities like Delhi, Farakka, Surat and Guwahati,finally settled in New Delhi.

Organizing Durga Puja is not very easy as so many different items are required for the Puja. Having done the Puja in many cities throughout the country, the Nath family found it perfectly easy to arrange the puja accessories in West Bengal and Assam.

The experience in Surat was however, different.

Joggo“Interestingly, during our three year stay in Surat, we arranged Ganga soil from Farakka and drafted the artisan Sunil Pal, to temporarily shift to Surat and start making Durga Idol for us.  Later, he set up his own idol making studio in Surat,” recalls Nath .

Since his childhood, Nath has grown in the ambience of the Puja at his residence and naturally, it became a sort of culture amongst the siblings.

“It is not merely a celebration of five days of Durga Puja but a year-long celebration for us, as we keep on preparing for the D-Day throughout the year arranging the original materials required for the puja. It keeps us charged up the entire year,” he says.

And indeed, various family members travelling to different locations, collect varied things throughout the year.Water from seven seas is needed for Durga Puja.

Nath himself travels to the Middle East, Africa and South Asian region and collects water from four seas. His brother in New Zealand arranges water from the Pacific and his elder brother in the US gets some additional water of the ocean.

Similarly, when he goes to the mountains, he gets mountain soil and ‘jharna’ (spring) water. Saraswathi water from the Falgu river in Gaya is also procured.

The essence of performing the Puja comes from all the customs and rituals associated with it. The Nath family Puja has similar customs and they prefer to stick to it.

Mahasnan Materials
Mahasnan Materials

The ‘Mahasnan’ which is the ceremonial bathing of Maa Durga and ‘Nabapatrika’, requires 19 types of soil -Balmik Soil/ বল্মীকমৃত্তিকা, BarahaDanta Soil/ বরাহদন্তমৃত্তিকা, BaysyaDwar Soil/ বেশ্যাদ্বারমৃত্তিকা, BrisarSinga Soil / বৃষারসিঙ্গমৃত্তিকা, AswaDanta Soil/ অস্বদন্তমৃত্তিকা , GajaDanta Soil/ গজদন্তমৃত্তিকা ,Parbat Soil/ পর্বতমৃত্তিকা , Dev Dwar soil/ দেবদ্বারমৃত্তিকা, Sarobar Soil/ সরোবরমৃত্তিকা, Nadir Ubhay Kul Soil/ নাদিরউভয়কুলমৃত্তিকা , Jagya Sala Soil/ যজ্ঞসালামৃত্তিকা, Raj Dwar Soil/ রাজদ্বারমৃত্তিকা, Chatus Path Soil/ চতুষপথমৃত্তিকা, Ganga Soil/ গঙ্গামৃত্তিকা ,KusMul Soil/কুশমূলমৃত্তিকা , Gusta Soil (Gosala)/ গোষ্ঠামৃত্তিকা (গোশালা), Sea Soil/ সাগরমৃত্তিকা, Nadi Soil/ নদীমৃত্তিকা  , Nad Soil/ নদমৃত্তিকা).

As many as nine varieties of water- Nad Water, Ganga Water, Rain Water, Saraswati Water, Sea Water, Lotus Water, Jharna Jal(spring water), Sarba Tirtha Water, are collected from the original places during the year as and when the family members have the occasion to travel to any city or country.

Kola Bou PujaThe ‘Kola Bou’ which is the ‘NabaPatrika’ made out of nine types of plant is also collected. Dressed like a married woman by the ladies of Nath Family, the `Kola Bou’ is unique in itself.

The `Bhogs’(ceremonial food) cooked by the ladies of the Nath Family, has a unique custom attached to it. On the day of Saptami, seven types of dishes, on the Ashtami , eight types of dishes and on the Navami,  nine types of dishes are cooked for Maa Durga.

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“It is customary for us to prepare sweets before the Puja every year at our residence. But this year, all the neighbours and family members have made Sandesh, Narkel Nadu, Pitha, etc.  and are offering the same to Devi,”, adds Nath.

After travelling and performing the Puja in various parts of the country, the Nath family has finally settled down in New Delhi. And now, they have been observing the occasion at their Vasant Kunj residence for the last 30 years.

Interestingly, the Naths have planted all trees and plants required for Durga Puja including ‘PanchaPalav’ and ‘NabaPatrika’.

“It being our permanent residence, we’ve received support from the friendly neighbours to make it happen every year.”, says Nath. “ The devotional quotient is our only forte.”

With Covid-19 guidelines in place, special arrangements have been made this year to strictly maintain social distancing. And despite the dire times, the mood has not been dampened at all.

Anjali
Offering Pushpanjali to Maa Durga

“We’re getting very good response this year for the online puja which we’re doing live on Facebook and EastIndiaStory.com. We’re receiving registration for online Anjali/ Arati”, insists Nath.

“The online puja will be observed keeping in mind all the customs and traditions”, Nath points out.

Will his next generation be as enthusiastic as him to continue the tradition? “Of course, this is a historic puja and there’s no reason why the next gen will cease observing it,” asserts Nath with an air of conviction.

With inputs from Manash P Nath and Rituraj Nath.

Photographs by Rituraj Nath

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