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The 500 year-old Kali Puja at Chanduni Bari, Shantipur

The 500 year-old Kali Puja at Chanduni Bari, Shantipur

Chanduni Ma of Shantipur
Eldest Daughter in law putting first clay to patt
Artisan making straw structure of idol
The clay idol being prepared
The clay idol being finally prepared +16
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Shantipur is the cradle of the Bhaki Cult propounded by Sri Chaitanya Dev. The 500 year-old Kali Puja at Chanduni Bari, Shantipur is more than an annual ritual; it’s an emotion that binds an extended family which has stepped into its twenty-fourth generation

The sleepy semi-urban conclave of Shantipur in Nadia district erupts in frantic celebrations during Kali puja, where Goddess Kali is worshipped with a lot of fanfare.

Here in Shantipur, nobody finds it odd that Kali puja is celebrated with such fervour in the very cradle of the Bhakti Cult, which is diagonally opposed to the Shakta cult of Kali puja.

Many traditional families of Shantipur have been celebrating Kali puja since centuries, one of the most prominent being the Chanduni Bari (i.e. house of Chanduni).

Kali puja is a much-awaited occasion for the members of this family as it’s an opportunity to connect with their roots and bond with other members of the extended family. Not only the family members, but the idol makers, and even the dhakis (drummers), etc., have been continuously associated with this centuries-old Kali puja for generations.

The emotions associated with this joyous occasion have bound the extended family together along with the other people in the community associated with this unique Kali puja.

Genesis

How the family started to worship Chanduni Ma reads like a fairy tale. Though there is no documented proof, this story has been handed down from generation to generation.

The myth has it ; twenty-four generations ago, one day young Gopinath was busy worshipping Narayan Shila (Lord Vishnu). Suddenly a little girl approached him and asked for prasad (leftover after the deity has partaken of the food offering).

Gopinath told the little girl that he would be able to give her the prasad once he had completed his worship. But the little girl was adamant and Gopinath got annoyed and shooed her away. Afterwards, Gopinath searched for that little girl, but she was nowhere to be found.

Gopinath was very upset, and recounted this incident to his mother. That very night the little girl came in his dream and asked Gopinath to construct a panchamundirashan (an altar inside which is interred five skulls) and to worship Goddess Kali as Chanduni Ma on Kartik Amabasya.

Next Day, Gopinath told his mother about this dream and requested her to make the idol of Chanduni Ma. Eventually his mother relented and made the idol, and Gopinath constructed the panchamundirashan under a banyan tree near his house and started worshipping Chanduni Ma.

Gopinath’s younger brother Kashinath, who is credited with starting the Durga puja at what is now known as Chanduni Bari, was the tutor of Gauranga. Later known as Mahaprabhu Chaitanya Dev (1486-1534), Gauranga founded the Vaishnav movement of Bhakti Cult in Bengal.

After taking sanyas (renunciation), Gauranga had come to meet his tutor the same year the worship of Chanduni Ma was started. So, this puja was assumed to have been started more than 500 years ago.

Present day

The small makeshift temple where Gopinath first worshiped Chanduni Ma has now transformed into a much bigger brick-and-mortar temple; the mighty Ganga which once flowed very close to Chanduni Bari has now shifted some five kilometres away.

But one thing that did not change was the family’s tradition and their reverence for the Mother Goddess.

On the tenth day of the Durga puja festivities, while devotees are busy celebrating Vijaya Dashami (the victory of good over evil that marks the occasion), the Chanduni family has already started their preparations for the eagerly-awaited Kali puja.

Since Gopinath’s mother was the first person to prepare the idol of Chanduni Ma, every year the honour of initiating the idol making process goes to the eldest daughter-in-law of the family. So, even before the Durga idol is immersed in river Ganga, she conducts the ceremony of putting the first clay on the patt (the bamboo structure for the idol) for making the idol.

Eldest Daughter in law putting first clay on the patt
Eldest Daughter in law putting first clay on the patt

The eldest son of the extended family conducts the worship, but there is an active participation of all members of the family and neighbours. Chanduni Ma is not just Kula Devi (family deity); She is a belief, She is an emotion!

The year around, every member of this family and the families in the neighbourhood start their day by praying to Chanduni Ma and putting homer bali (sand and ash from fire offering during Kali puja) on their forehead before leaving the house for work.

Devotees believe that this homer bali is very auspicious and could protect the individual from harm and even bring them good luck.

Many of the members of the extended family now live in other parts of the country or the world, but try their best to be in Shantipur during the Kali puja. Especially the sons of this family make it a point to show up during this occasion.

Over the years, there were many instances of sons of this family even offering to quit their jobs when confronted with the choice of either keeping their job or coming home for the Chanduni puja. So, we can very well understand how important this occasion is for the family.

This means that each year during the Kali puja, more than 200 family members converge in this particular locality in Shantipur, which became known as Chanduni Para, and the house is well-known in the city as Chanduni Bari.

Chanduni Ma has been able to bind even distant relatives from generation to generation… something we rarely see nowadays!

The Rituals

The Kali (Chanduni) puja at Shatipur Chanduni Bari has many a unique feature, just like the Durga puja.

The fact that idol making process has already been initiated on the tenth day of Durga puja means that the Mother Goddess has not departed (as Durga and Kali are different forms of the same Primordial Power).

So, for the Chanduni family, Vijaya Dashami celebration is postponed till the immersion of the idol of Chanduni Ma after the Kali puja. The artisans who have been involved in making the Chanduni Ma’s idol for generations prepare the idol with straw and clay, and then colour the idol.

Following the tradition, every year in EkadashiNahabat (music recital) is played at the space in front of the temple on all three days according to prahar (a traditional unit of time).

One day before the puja, Chanduni Ma is decorated with polystyrene; this decoration is known as Daker saj. This decoration has much significance in this puja as people take vows to offer it to Chanduni Ma, but they have to wait for years for their turn as there is a long waiting line of people who have already vowed to offer the same.

In the evening, some male members of the family make the hair of the idol by rubbing oil on them for hours.

On the morning of the actual puja, family members decorate Chanduni Ma with gold and silver ornaments. The Mother Goddess has many pounds of gold and silver ornaments and gold body parts. These riches belong to the Mother Goddess and not to the family.

The seven-foot jet black idol looks stunning with Her flowing hair and all decked out with the jewellery.

The Mother Goddess in all her grandeur is carried from the Chanduni Bari to the temple less than 100 meters away for the ritual called Patt-e otha. But it takes more than 20 minutes to take Chanduni Ma to that temple as nearly half of the city gathers to view this ritual.

Chokkhu daan
Chokkhu daan

One of the family members, it is said, saw in his dream that Chanduni Ma feels hot and thirsty on the way to the temple, so the devotees arranged silver hand fan and silver umbrella for the Goddess’ comfort.

And before entering the temple, She is offered some refreshment like soaked Mung beans, coconut water, watermelon, curd and sweetmeats.

That night, around 12 am, the puja starts at panchamundirasan. Gopal (baby form of Lord Krishna) and other deities are also worshiped along with Chanduni Ma. The eldest son of the family who have received diksha (i.e. a mantra or an initiation by the guru) performs the worship.

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A very interesting feature of the Chanduni puja is its Naibedya (food offering to a deity). All types of fruits are supposed to be offered to the Mother Goddess. Since the festival falls around October-November every year, it’s not possible to arrange all type of fruits.

So sweetmeats are prepared with khoa (a diary product) in the shape of different fruits and offered to Chanduni Ma. Some of the sweetmeats are also in the form of fish and dolls. However, the main sweets Naibedya are Bengali sweets – Goja and pakkanna.

Naibedya displayed in verandah
Naibedya displayed in verandah

All prasads are displayed in verandah of the temple that night. The daughters- in-law in the family who have received diksha prepares bhog (food offering) for Chanduni Ma, which is later distributed to family members and others after the puja.

A rather controversial part of Kali puja is the tradition of animal sacrifice. During the Chanduni puja too, there is sacrifice of goats, sugar cane and wax gourds. Till a few years ago, the number of goats sacrificed was huge, but of late the numbers have come down drastically.

But it is difficult to get rid of this tradition altogether, as people’s faith is associated with it.

After the worship, some members of the family voluntarily offer their own blood to Mother Goddess, which is done through a quick and clean incision into the chest.

A ritual called dhuna purano follows, wherein the devotees take the earthen pots of shimmering embers on their heads.

Lastly, yajna (or home) is performed. As I have said earlier, the leftover ash and sand from this yajna is in very high demand and people scurry to have their share.

Time to bid farewell

The following afternoon, accompanied by sound of drums, the family members take away all sweets and fruits from the verandah of the temple. This ritual is known as Basar Bhanga.

In the evening, female members of the family do Baran (farewell) ceremony and ask the Goddess to return again the following year.

Being taken out for immersion
Chanduni Ma being taken out for immersion with all Her ornaments on

Chanduni Ma, still adorned in all her jewellery, is taken out in a procession to the banks of the river Ganga for immersion. Some people may think this is risky, but Chanduni Ma is much revered and no one thinks of or dares to steal Her jewellery.

Even at the height of the Naxalbari movement in the 1960s and the subsequent years this tradition was maintained.

The procession is accompanied by lights, music and people dancing to the beat of drums. The Goddess is pampered all the way, with people fanning her and taking care of her comfort. The procession is even stopped briefly midway so that the Goddess may rest and take some refreshments.

At some distance before reaching the river banks, the drums and music is stopped to convey the people’s sense of grief as the time has arrived to bid farewell to Chanduni Ma.

At the river bank, family members take out all the ornaments and start for Chanduni Bari. Immersion of the idol is done by Beharas (the palanquin bearers); family members are not supposed to watch the immersion of the idol.

Removing ornament at river bank
Removing the ornaments from Chanduni Ma’s body just before the immersion in the river

The family now celebrates Vijaya with all its gaiety.

Soon it’s time for most of the family members to leave for their respective cities. Many of them experience a sense of loss, kind of a hollow feeling, but they can look forward to the next year’s Kali puja.

The countdown has already begun. After all, Chanduni Ma is very much in their heart and She is an emotion that binds them to Shantipur and to the other members of the extended family!

Also Read: Shantipur’s Chanduni Bari Durga Puja… 500 years and counting…

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