Ma aashchey! The Goddess has arrived!
Puspanjali (flower offering ritual) is at an early hour today. We will call out, please come down quickly.
Where are the dhaakis (drum beaters)?
When will the bhog (prasadam) be ready?
What’s keeping you boudi (sister in law), come fast?
Pandal hopping to visit the other pujas in the locality is one thing. An altogether different feeling when one is residing in the same premises with Ma Durga being worshipped in the pandal erected for her. Right from the time the idols arrive in open trucks, the euphoria is strong and palpable – in our hearts and the drumbeats alike.
As a family, we are blessed to have the Ukilpara community puja held at our home every year. Fondly named as Daga badi puja, it is held in the front lawns of Daga House, Jalpaiguri with a lot of reverence and gaiety.
It all began half a century ago
Mr. Chakravarty, our neighbor, reminisced with nostalgia writ large in his voice. He began, “Since the last 70 years, we have all been an integral part of this puja. The tea industrialists of Jalpaiguri held a common puja at bardhan prangan in the pre-Independence days. The Rahuts, the Banerjees, the Mukherjees and other tea houses organised this puja under the banner of Bardhan Sangha.” He added, “Two decades later, due to a fallout among the organisers, the Ukilpara residents decided to have their own puja. Thus began Daga badi puja during the times of Shri Ramanand Daga, a renowned philanthropist and businessman. He was your grandfather-in-law.”
I listened to him in silence. There were many questions that sprung up in my mind. Who designed the first idol? What did the first pandal of 1950 look like? Did the rituals take place in the front lawn or another section of the house? Were palanquins used to ferry ladies from other tea families to Daga badi? Did the ladies of the house wear veils while offering flowers to the deities?
I knew these questions had to wait as our neighbour had already moved on to another trivia about the organisers.
He continued, “The navami kulo was taken by Shri Ramanand Daga and in the later years by Shri Haridas Chakravarty and Shri Jugal Daga.” Before I could ask what the kulo was, he explained, “On day 10, before the immersion rituals, an earthen pot with a coconut wrapped in red cloth on the top, is placed in the puja room at your home. As is done every year, this year too, the old kulo will be immersed and a new one installed in its place. This kulo is very revered and a part of the daily puja rituals on all days during navratri.”
I remembered the echoes of the drums and khartals when the kulo arrived in the house last year. The head priest, along with ma and other senior members of the neighbourhood, led the tiny procession from the pandal to our puja room on the first floor. The energy of those moments reverberates loud and clear even though a full year had passed in between.
The preparations begin a month in advance
Almost a month before the festivities begin, the bamboos used for constructing the pandal are felled in our lawn. Thereafter, craftsmen, electricians, decorators, priests, caterers, organisers, cleaners and others take over. My office overlooks the frontage and I have a ring side view of the flurry of activities that go on each day.
Kids have a field day playing cricket, hide-and-seek and other games with our pet in tow. People whom I have never seen before keep walking in and out appraising the developments. There is no end to the events that take place all day until the devi arrives. It’s a wonderful feeling to see the neighbours feel at home in our premises.
The main celebrations begin on the sixth day of the puja. Beginning early morning, the dhaakis take over with their drums calling out to the neighbours to come to the pandal. The aura of the gods leave us spellbound on the night of her arrival, awestruck the next day, and beady-eyed on the day she departs.
In between, thousands of worshippers and revelers throng the pandal to offer their prayers and enjoy the dhunchi dance. They mingle or sit around, before moving to the other puja pandals down the road.
One of the main highlights of the Daga badi puja are the dance recitals performed by the dhaakis. Their energy is superlative in every sense of the word. They drum and dance till they drop. The beat of the drums keeps increasing progressively and they move in tandem leaving onlookers amazed.
What makes the Daga badi puja stand out
One of the most awaited part of the festival is the preparation and distribution of bhog on saptami, ashtami, navami and dashami.
“It’s delicious!” recalls Mr Anil Daga and Mr Rajkumar Daga, sons of Shri Ramanand Daga (my uncles-in-law) rather fondly. They have many more anecdotes and stories to tell of the years spent in Jalpaiguri during the pujas. It’s always so fascinating to hear family members speak of this much-awaited annual event in their own ways.
One element that strikes me is that with every passing day, the expressions of the goddess changes. With constant prayers and worship, there’s a new radiance that keeps appearing on her countenance. Her eyes speak volumes.
The idols are traditional in design and set on stage in a simply designed pandal. There are no modern concepts or fancy frills to talk about. Most people I know in Jalpaiguri talk about the beauty of the idols more than anything else.
The attraction of what I behold lies in the reality and simplicity of what comes to the fore – rather than the extravaganza and flamboyance that most noted community pujas are known for in Bengal. Therefore, it’s no small wonder that the best idol prize has been awarded to the Ukilpara puja committee several times in its journey so far.
A time to bid goodbye
Come dashami or dussehra, and the mood becomes somber. Sindoor khela is an auspicious and beautiful moment for me and all other ladies who keep coming to the pandal with their offerings.
The ritual on this day involves the offering of vermilion and other holy items along with a prasad to the goddess. Dashami is her last day on Earth. Before the goddess departs, she is bid a teary goodbye with wishes of a happy marital life with her husband.
Dusk brings with it the organisers once again. The idols are loaded on the trucks with loud chants of “bolo Durga mai ki jai” mixed with loud drum beats. The immersion procession preps to take its chalked route before the idols are made to touch the waters of Karla river.
The saddest part is seeing the trucks leave one by one from our main door. The lights are dimmed. Loneliness lingers loud among the faraway beats of the dhaakis. Suddenly, the grounds flush with people and buzzing activity, stand barren and bare. With the lights and speakers removed hurriedly, the pandal looks like a ghostly structure standing against the stately Daga badi.
What remains is a lighted diya in place of where the gods stood for five long days.
May this show go on forever!