THE MATSYAPURANA

Arjun Chaudhuri

© Divya Adusumilli

© Divya Adusumilli

OF NALINIBALA DEBI

This is a story that began taking place on a September afternoon last year, through a random conversation making its way across the plain back of a half hour.

It is also a story that is mainly about, and one could say so without much doubt, another particular afternoon in a different age, a different time almost entirely distanced from the time in which we are telling this story. An age when there was very little to be wondered about, generally speaking, and a time when lost homes were commemorated through replication; of rituals, of familial cultures and many other things, but we will come to that part soon enough.

And this is also a story that has very few characters of import other than a goddess and her extended family. The only other character in this tale, the one who connects very well to the aforementioned goddess by way of playing the role of a manifold mother is that of a woman named Nalinibala Debi, my great grandmother. She was, I could say, a legendary character in her own time. Her fame as a loquacious and jolly woman, besides her wonderfully simple but profound spirituality has now been lost to most of the family at large. Except for a few of us among all the numerous family units across the world who, in their own small ways, try to remember and keep in touch with our diversely placed pasts.

Tales about Nalinibala’s penchant for unrestricted friendliness with anyone and everyone were family legend at a point of time. She would want to talk to almost everyone who came to the house, and this would include the milkman, the fish seller, the Manipuri woman who would come to sell muri every weekend and even the Vaishnava beggar pausing from his kirtan singing at the front door of the house during the afternoon. I once heard my father tell the following anecdote about his grandmother. It so happened that one day in the late afternoon, after the whole household had been fed and the daily mechanism of endless household work had mitigated somewhat, Nalinibala decided to take a walk outside. Palm leaf fan in hand, she set out, on her way pausing here and there to talk to a known face or another. Evening fell and she did not return. By the time it was nine, everyone was worried and rightly so. For Silchar in those days was a sleepy hamlet of sorts. The whole settlement went to sleep before it was barely six in the evening. My grandfather and his brothers rushed out in all directions to look for her. Fearing the worst, my youngest great uncle lodged a report with the sadar thhana, the local police station. Wandering till quite far off, till almost the outskirts of the town, they heard of an old woman who had lost her way back home but was not very worried about it. Someone showed the party the way to where that woman was, and when the searching men reached there, they found Nalinibala sitting there, palm leaf fan in hand, sipping at a cup of tea and cackling along with the women ranged around her.

“I was only making friends with them, you see. And I was sure someone would come looking for me. I could not find my way in the dark, and that place was so unfamiliar”, she had said, Baba told us.

When one of Nalinibala’s daughters asked her later after she had been brought home that night about how she had landed up there, so far from home in the first place, the old lady had replied, as Baba reported, very innocently,

“How does one know where one will land up one day, my dear? I do not know how I landed up in this huge family, so far from where my home once was. Nor do I know where I will go from here. But today, well, I was just trying to make friends.”

My grandmother had attested to this statement made by her mother-in-law when Baba had been telling the story.

“I was there when it happened, you know,” Thhamma had said, nodding her sage, white head with the usual ponderousness that always exuded.

This is, of course, a very true story, though quite unrelated to the one we are telling here at the moment. I have it on good authority since Baba was not one who would make up stories just to be able to tell them, let alone one about his grandmother. And considering how sparing he was with his conversations with us, this one rare narration would have to be true indeed. What follows next is also something which I heard from him as a child, and I hold it all to be true as well. All of it, however, is part of a not so great but quite long story. But this entire story that we are about to tell here is very, very true.

OF RUDRA BHATTACHARYYA

When I first met Rudra-da on a social networking site last year, on that September afternoon I mentioned at the beginning of this story, it was on one of these groups about old time comics and graphic novels. He had posted on that group wall a very familiar looking photograph of a set of hardback anthologies of Hergé’s immortal sleuth-adventurer Tintin. The books were propped up against a yellow wall and placed on a burnished shelf in Rudra-da’s photograph. And I was flummoxed for a moment by an uncanny similarity of his books, and how he had placed them in that photograph, with the location of the same books in my possession and which reposed on my library shelves.

After that I had connected with him, knowing that we shared a common passion for comics (I had trolled through many of his earlier posts about Indrajal Comics, Anandamela, Chandamama and also adverts about Campco Chocolate, Gold Spot-Thums up-Limca and NP Bubble Gum). We spoke about random things in our first online conversation; about our likes, dislikes, hobbies and that sort of detail, besides arguing, at points of time about Tintin and Leo Tolstoy. It seemed at that very first meeting that both of us also had some very different viewpoints about the same things that we loved and were passionate about.

Slowly, as our rapport moved into a more comfortable zone, we began to share details about our families and parents, where both of us were from originally, and where our families came from in East Bengal. This is a thing among Bengalis of a certain cast. Whenever two Bangal Bengalis meet, one of the first things they will invariably ask each other would be the place of origin of each of their families – as in “where in East Bengal?” followed by questions like “Which district? Which village?” and so on, and so forth. Rudra-da and I exchanged details about these points from the past quite easily when we discovered that his father had originally been born in Badarpur, a town not very far from Silchar, my hometown.

Quite naturally, by way of mutual revelations, I came to know that Rudra-da’s family had originally belonged to Brahmanbaria, the same place in East Bengal where my ancestors had migrated from, and which is now a district in what is presently east-central Bangladesh, in the Chittagong division. In times when Bengal was the name of that whole land, the place was known as the district of Tipperah, and it had been, as far as my knowledge of pre-independence territories in this part of the subcontinent goes, under the rule of the Maharaja of the Tipperah kingdom until, of course, it was annexed. And that was where this story began to unravel, the winding of the spool of this thread of destiny having happened for several decades before the two of us, Rudra and I, became friends on that September afternoon.

I insisted that I would address him as ‘dada’ since he was, technically speaking, older than me by at least four long years, even though, spiritually speaking, we were of the same age, but that is a different matter, entirely. He was embarrassed then by my forthright manner, I suspect now. But that sort of thing has never deterred me from fashioning bridges out of nothing, between people, between me and other people, between me and other things. And so, Rudra-da and I continued telling each other of how our families were descended from singularly un-Bengali stock, his from sampradayika Brahmins from Mithila, mine from Kashmiri merchant-migrants who became tax collectors in the kingdom of Mithila and from there fled to Bengal during the mid-fifteenth century.

Slowly and slowly a lot of minute details began to emerge, until one day Rudra-da told me the story of how one of his ancestors had been a well known translator who had worked on a number of well known texts relating to funeral observances and to the autumnal festival of the goddess Durga. That ancestor, named Ishanchandra Bhattacharyya, Rudra-da told me, was renowned even now in pundit circles for his glossaries on at least a number of the Shakta upapurana texts that had been prevalent in Bengal during the last upsurge of the Shakta cults in that region, and also for that man’s being an associate of the well known compiler of the Brhattantrasara, Krishnananda Agamvagish. That bit of information, almost casually delivered in Rudra’s carefree manner, lit off a spark of recognition that led me to delve deep into whatever resources I had at hand. It seemed that I had found some sort of narrative about my family’s hoary past, and that apart from the usual things I had heard and been told by my great uncles and great aunts. Ever the inquisitive seeker, I had to find out what exactly it had been; this connection that I had discovered my family had once had with Rudra’s.

“I will find out more about this, Rudra-da,” I had told him during one conversation, the one we had before he left for a month long project at London.

“How will you find anything out? Even my father knows very little about that sort of thing. They left that land long ago, so much time….” he had replied.

“I have my ways, you know. I will surely find out what I want to know,” I had boasted then, in spite of having no idea whatsoever about how exactly I would achieve that.

“I just know this one thing. My ancestral village was called Pattawn. That’s all my father told me,” Rudra-da had continued, “do you think you can trace that out?”

“I may well just try, now. Let me see what happens,” I had replied.

OF ISHANCHANDRA BHATTACHARYYA’S MATSYAPURANA

One evening the week after that conversation with Rudra, as I was browsing through my small collection of old manuscripts (most of them were photocopied from copies of the original texts, or from the original texts themselves), something led me to the Durgapuja manual of rituals used during the annual festivities in our family. The book I had was a copy of another copy of the original text, in this case. Which had been a very old one, with very early nineteenth century typeface, its pages almost cracked with age, and those cracks showing themselves sharply against the stark white of the photocopied pages I held in my hands. I had, a couple of years ago, copied it from another copy itself. I had not, of course, seen the original book myself, and had no idea at all about where it was now.

As I turned those spiral bound pages, something, a small bit of text it was, in a corner of one of the prefatory pages caught my eye. Curious, I started reading that part of the note and came across something nearly very startling. The text I had in my possession had been compiled, as the pages from the half title to the colophon stated, by one Chandidas Bhattacharyya of Bikrampur, the village of his residence being Hashara, the printing and publication having been completed in 1423 Bengali era at the Kripananda Press in Calcutta. That was a lot of time, I realised, for the book to have remained in circulation. I was pleased with myself at that moment for having made the copy while I still had the chance.

I continued reading, for a couple of more pages in which the compiler had spoken of the finer differences of the manual in hand from other manuals about the Durgapuja that were prevalent in many parts of East Bengal and in some part of West Bengal as well. Apparently, it was this manual, Chandidas claimed, that was originally referred to by Vidyapati in his seminal work on the autumnal worship of the goddess Durga, the treatise named the Durgabhaktitarangini. Something seemed very familiar about the resources that Chandidas Bhattacharyya had stated in his preface. I started reading once again from the very first line, though, instead of going straight to that part of the preface that had acquired my attention in the first place. The preface began thus –

“This book,” he wrote “has been brought to behold the light of the day by the divine grace of the all-merciful Mother of the Universe, the Supreme Goddess Durga, and it is at Her blessed feet that I surrender all my faults and all the appreciation that this volume might acquire from the learned readers.”

After the usual sort of benedictions and extended utterances, the pundit had written some more about the original texts that he had used while compiling his manual. The manual, he wrote, was “Matsyapuranokta” (literally, “as said by the Matsyapurana”) and was to be followed by all those who had been residents at one time of the region around Brahmanbaria, some parts of Srihatta (Sylhet) and Tripura (Or Tipperah). The source text that he had used was the Matsyapuranokta Durgotsavavidhi compiled by the pundit Ishanchandra Bhattacharyya of Bejoynagar, in the district of Brahmanbaria. At the end of the preface, he had concluded his statement with these words:

“I deem all the erroneous portions in the following pages to be the outcome of my own shortsightedness and lack of wisdom. All the greatness that this book will hereafter acquire will be due to the departed Sri Ishanchandra Bhattacharyya’s vast learning and expertise. I salute him and his wisdom, the Matsyapuranokta Durgotsavavidhi that he has compiled and at the end, I salute the great Goddess for bringing me this blessing of learning. Chandidas Bhattacharyya. 1422 Saka era. Ashvin. Mahalaya.”

I was very excited, of course, at this apparent discovery. It was indeed a very well fitting falling into place that this entire matter was turning out to be, I felt. A random connection on a social networking site, a series of coincidences that followed after that, a set of old, nearly century old linkages, and all of it attested by simply one small bit of writing in an old, old text. All of it somehow seemed too fictional to me at that point. I could not bring myself to accept the succinctness of the situation. A slight doubt about all of this being able to fall into pieces at some other discovery, possibly of some non-linkage that would dissemble all the building up anticipation, or disassemble all the linkages that we, Rudra and I, had managed to build between ourselves.

I debated to myself about the pros and cons of letting this discovery out, of telling Rudra about what I had found. What if this Ishanchandra Bhattacharya was not the one Rudra had told me about? I had been trying to establish a connection between his ancestors and mine through the Durgotsava at Brahmanbaria from more than two centuries ago. But all I had managed to find was this tenuous similarity of locales our families had been resident in at one far point of time in the distant past. What if there was no connection really at all? What if all that I had surmised about was a vague fallacy that some part of my past-obsessed brain had managed to concoct? What if Rudra thought I was a creep? That sort of prestige fail would not do. No, sir. I decided to keep quiet for the time being and let things be as they were.

4.

AND PHOOLTHHAMA

That week passed, and soon it was time for the dark Pitripaksha fortnight to begin. It was the norm in the family to conduct the libation ceremony for the ancestors (which is what almost all Hindus do during this fortnight of ancestor worship) for all fifteen days, beginning with the first day of the moon till the new moon night on Mahalaya, that day of the month of Ashwin when all Bengalis rise early when it is still dark, to listen to a nearly seventy year old oratorio about the goddess Durga’s terrific battle with the buffalo demon called Mahisha, and to drink tepid tea with ‘biskut’ and to walk to the river, if there is a river nearby where they live, and then to walk back. Though this is not all that this special day is. For almost all Bengalis across the world, except for those who have lapsed or nearly lapsed, this morning signifies the beginning of a major religious-turned-cultural festival with all its classist and racist trappings. For exactly six days after Mahalaya starts the four day long Durgapuja ceremonies as it is. Almost all hearts are filled with the joy that comes from this sort of joyous furore. Almost all minds are fixed on the great leap of beauty all around and of freedom and of projected happiness.

A day before Mahalaya, my mother announced at the breakfast table that a few of our relatives from Kolkata and Delhi would be coming over to Silchar for the Durgapuja. One surviving great-aunt, known generally as Phoolthhama by all of us in the family, had insisted on being part of this annual family festival for one last time in her life. “I am old, and I will die soon. I want to see this puja for one last time, this great puja which my mother and my grandmother before her carried on so painstakingly, in spite of so many odds,” Phoolthhama had said to my mother that morning when she had called. My mother was of course very happy at this, and so was I, like my sister and the other family members, because Phoolthhama had always been a very tough nut to crack but also a very jovial, jolly woman who made everyone laugh with her ready wit and her penchant for gossip. I recalled those times she had come to Silchar and when I was a child or a young boy, and I found it difficult to believe that even she, probably the last remaining connection our family had with its past, would soon be no more. She had turned ninety early that year, and had been confined to a wheelchair for most of her time, except for small strolls inside the house. Arrangements for her stay would have to be made very soon since the whole troupe would be arriving, Phoolthhama in tow, in another two days.

Anyway, the puja started duly, with all our relatives and friends having arrived in time for the Kalparambha-puja, the one that takes place on the morning of the Bodhan ceremony, the former being a ritual peculiar to our family, at least given the whole East Bengal context[i]. The whole set of days passed with the usual joy, fanfare, eating, laughter and shouting, kids running everywhere, men and women chatting in separate groups, the men in the outhouse, the women in the mandap or in the family rooms inside the house, my young cousins looking at the young men and women visiting the house as invitees in the evenings, the usual, the same scene all over the place. On Dashami, after the immersion had been completed, I was seated at my armchair in the parlour when Ramu, Phoolthhama’s retainer for the last twenty years, suddenly entered the room, pushing the old lady’s wheelchair before him. I was a bit surprised at this early emergence of Phoolthhama from her afternoon siesta. And she looked spick and span with her coif in place, her face powdered and fresh, her sari in place with not a wrinkle anywhere across the length of it.

“What happened,” I asked, “didn’t you sleep, Phoolthhama?”

“I did, I did. But I wanted to get up early today because I wanted to talk to you,” she shot back at me, “you haven’t done that in such a long time. You have become a big man now. No time for your old thhama, eh? You don’t even visit me when you go to Kolkata these days.”

The usual complaint I got from all of my relatives in that city. I sighed and stood up to go over to her. The maid entered with a couple of cups for me and Phoolthhama. It was teatime, nearly, I realised, or maybe Phoolthhama was having her tea early. I glanced at the clock on the wall behind me and saw that was only three thirty in the evening. But in Bengal and in Silchar as well, that sort of time is dupur, the afternoon, and not bikel, the evening. Evening is after four, or five, or six, till seven. Once it is eight, it is raat, and no longer evening.

“Why are you having tea so early, it is still noon, isn’t it?” I asked Phoolthhama. She did not seem to hear what I had said. Her eyes were fixed on something far away. Following her gaze, I saw her looking at the coconut tree near the gateway guarding the courtyard.

“Do you see that tree, Chetan? It was planted by my mother. Do you know her name?” Phoolthhama asked me.

“Yes, I do. I did the tarpana[ii] ceremony for her as well. No one else does it in the family, so I have to keep track of all the dead people’s names….” I replied.

“Yes, yes. I know. They are all big men now. Big, big men with their big, big paunches. Big, big women with their big, big heads and what not. Look at me, I am ninety, and I can still move about easily. Look! These cows can barely move with all the fat clinging onto them. Why will they do the tarpana ceremony anyway? All they want to do is to eat and be happy,” Phoolthhama’s voice rose steadily, without a quiver.

“Calm down, thhama,” I said, trying to keep her from working up a temper. I had noticed this time around that the usually ebullient Phoolthhama had turned surly and irritable. “What is the matter,” I asked her, “Is there something wrong? Please tell me.”

“Nothing wrong, baba. Nothing wrong at all. I am very happy about whatever I see. All of it is going very well. Just like my elder brother would have wanted. So many known faces gone…” she sighed, and sipped at her tea.

Something prodded the back of my mind just then, and I was reminded of my wee bit of adventure in genealogy the previous month. It suddenly occurred to me that Phoolthhama would know all about the matter. If anyone could tell me anything about that old decades long past, or as I suspected, that centuries long history, then it would have to be none other than her. Since she was the last one of her generation to remain alive. But it would not do well to ask her straightaway. Knowing about Rudra and the rest of it would only serve well to confuse her. So I decided to adopt a more casual manner of enquiry.

“So tell me, thhama. How did the puja start in our family? There always is a story in or around family puja-s. You must know all about the ones in our family, right? From your mother?” I asked Phoolthhama.

“Yes, yes. I do. How the puja used to be held at the old Ambikapatty house once. In those rooms where Bhulu and Nita live now. In that longhouse was the mandap,” Phoolthhama replied, “you know, my mother used to save money from her household expenses throughout the year. And she used to store it in a bamboo pole right next to her Lakshmi-water pot[iii]. Times were difficult then, since my grandfather had fled from Satgaon.”

“Fled from Satgaon? What do you mean?” I asked, mildly surprised. This was not something I had heard my grandmother, or my father tell us ever. I sensed a story coming up, for Phoolthhama was indeed, as we had always known, an expert when it came to telling stories about her own family.

“You don’t know?” she looked at me with a sparkle in her rheumy eyes, and then with a smile, she patted my knee as I sat next to her wheelchair. She continued, “Oh, well, then! I guess I will have to tell you the whole thing now. Call for some more tea, will you, and tell Ramu to put my mobile on charge.”

5.

OF NALINIBALA’S MATSYAPURANA

The late sun struggled slowly into its end of the day stupor. Far away, above the tops of the trees in the jail compound, one could see the distant hills grow darker first and then fainter in the descending light. In the verandah were we were seated, Phoolthhama and I, the shadows had started to lengthen. A steady drone of dhak and loudspeakers could be heard from the constant procession of Durga images on the road not far from the house. Downstairs, the household had slowly started to awaken after its post-Dashami tilt. I could hear the men piling away the tables which had been set out in the yard for the post-visarjan feast. The faint remnant odour of all that mathhar dail and shutki pura along with the scaly rich fumes of ilish shiddho lurked all about. I waited to see how Phoolthhama would start talking about that story she had begun half an hour back. She was yet to tell me more, of course. All that I had managed to learn over the last few minutes was that times were not very good when she was a kid, it being World War II and her father’s not so good job at the court besides his inclination for running losses in whatever side business he managed to get started.

“So, the puja here that you see, my boy. There is a certain story behind it,” Phoolthhama slowly began once again.

“Yes, you said that. What was that story, then?” I asked her.

“Nothing much. You see, my grandfather, your great-great grandfather, Chandramoni Choudhury, was a bit of a revolutionary in his own right.” Phoolthhama said.

“But wasn’t that quite long ago? I mean, he would have lived nearly during the Sepoy Mutiny, no? A revolutionary? At that age?” I retorted.

“Yes, hmmm, maybe. I am not sure about dates. But this much I know that he had fled to Silchar after having been hounded by the British officials back in Tripura. He had lodged a number of civil suits against the local British resident, and thus had lost whatever share he had acquired in the family monies. Which was not a lot, though,” Phoolthhama looked at me while saying this.

“But Tripura? You said, Satgaon, isn’t it?” I asked her intentionally, just in order to see if she would get the details right.

“Yes, Satgaon was the name of this village our family used to live in. The district was also called Tripura. In Chittagong. The diwani of that village had been handed to our ancestors by the Mughals long back. The name, I recall, was Bujurg Khan. The man who was our overlord. There used to be a banyan at the spot where the transaction was said to have been effected. It was called Khaner Gaas, and there was a ghost in it, they said,” Phoolthhama continued, “I visited that place when I was a young girl. Only ten years old I was then. But I remember everything so vividly.”

Here, Phoolthhama paused and looked toward the rapidly darkening outside. “What about the puja, then? How did that start?” I asked her again.

“It is said that one of our ancestors once was visited in the dream by the goddess herself. She ordered him to wait for a certain Ishan-sadhu who would visit him next day. That sadhu, she said, would tell him details about how he must conduct her annual puja during the Sarat season. That was how we know the puja at Satgaon started,” Phoolthhama paused here, “but that is all hearsay. No one knows for certain what happened. But something happened later that I know for sure had occurred here in Silchar. Involving the puja.”

“Ishan-sadhu? Was that the man spoken of in the dream?” I asked Phoolthhama.

“Yes. That is what we have been told. Ishan-sadhu. But a similar incident happened when our part of the family shifted here to Silchar. My grandfather died after my father was born. The two other brothers of my father left Silchar to settle in upper Assam. Then my father got married, and we were all born, your grandfather, us, our other siblings. But this incident that I will tell you of now happened long before we were born. Just after my mother had been married to my father.” Phoolthhama said.

“What happened?” I pressed on.

“My mother was a deeply spiritual woman. We have heard that she had been initiated in the Tantrika mysteries even before she had been married. When she came to Silchar as a young bride from Dhaka, she heard stories about the family assets in East Bengal, about the family Durgapuja, and she wanted to organise one in her own house here in Silchar. But my father would not allow it,” she continued, fanning herself with her right hand, “and then, one afternoon a month before the puja that year, she had a dream while sitting in front of the house.”

I waited for her to go on. The story I had sensed was at last beginning to come forth. The evening had receded by then. All the yard’s lights had come on, and the noise from the road had nearly dwindled, except for the dull throb of the dhak. But that would continue until early next morning, I surmised. And I waited for Phoolthhama to continue.

“My mother dreamt of a group of men in white clothes who had come to the gate of the house bearing an image of the goddess on their shoulders. She asked them why they were bringing the image to her house. The men told her that it was on the sadhu’s orders. So she did not desist. The moment she allowed the men to step inside the house, the dream broke, and she found herself seated on the ground right in front of the gate,” Phoolthhama finished.

“She was seated on the verandah, you said, but,” I asked her.

“Yes, but when she awoke she found herself in front of the gate. When my father came home, she told him all about the dream. He scoffed at her, of course. But she was adamant that she would organise the puja anyhow. That was in or around 1910, I think,” Phoolthhama said, “that year itself, just a week before the puja, my father brought home a Brahmin priest who had been looking for our family, asking the local people about us for nearly a couple of days. His name was something…..I don’t recall, but my parents used to call him Boro Bhattacharjee. He was a Tantrika, but a householder at the same time. He told my father about a dream he had a couple of weeks ago where he was instructed by the goddess to visit my mother and to conduct the puja in our house according to the Matsyapurana vidhi. He even showed my father the book he had with him. An ancestor of his had written it, it seems. Now, after this happened, my father could no longer refuse the puja to be held. In the face of something this miraculous, how could he have, after all? And somehow, amidst straitened circumstances, that first year, the puja was held in the Ambikapatty house itself. That was how the puja began, at least here in Silchar.”

“And what was the name of the village this priest was from, thhama?” I asked her.

“It was the village of Pattawn, in Bejoynagar. As far as I remember, it was just next to our Satgaon,” she replied and made to shift her position. “I cannot sit here anymore. My knees are aching. I will tell you more about this later, after dinner, about how on Navami night, during the arati, our mother would lose all outer consciousness. It would be a very charged moment then. Even the goddess’ image would visibly throb with spirit. Why, I myself recall seeing the khadga in her hand shiver one year! But now I need to move, baba. Go call Ramu.”

But Ramu had been hovering somewhere nearby, and had heard his mistress call for him. As he made to help her go back to her room, I sat there silently, trying to process all this overwhelming flood of the past that had started to rebuild itself around me.

Next day was Ekadashi, the day when the dhaki and his people leave the house after a ritual last beating of the dhak just at noon. I stood on the balcony waiting for the beat to start. Sujit, one of the household help, came bounding up to where I stood and told me that the dhaki group was ready to leave. As I made to go downstairs, my cellphone starting ringing. It was Rudra-da calling. I answered the call.

“You won’t believe it, Chetan. I have discovered something entirely unexpected. That connection we were talking about before Pujo, you remember? It seems that there might be a story to it after all,” Rudra-da started speaking excitedly even before I could say anything.

In the courtyard, the dhak had already started beating its departure. Durgapuja was over for the year.

 

[i] The “East Bengal” context here needs to be explained a bit. The Durgapuja in East Bengali spaces usually begins with the Bilvashashtthipuja which takes place on the evening of Shashthhi, the sixth day of that fortnight of the goddess, the Devipaksha. In West Bengal, the puja usually commences on the morning of that day, with the Kalparambha-puja, officially called the Shashthhyadi Kalparambha. However, in spite of these generic rules, some old families and institutions in both East Bengali and West Bengali spaces begin their ceremonies on different stipulated days, like the Krishna Navami, the Sukla Pratipad, et cetera. These puja ceremonies go on, as usual, like the rest of the lot, till Vijaya Dashami. The tradition in my family, in spite of the East Bengali association is to begin the puja with the Shashthhyadi Kalparambha, much against the norm in East Bengali culture.

[ii] Literally, “the satiating ceremony” where the manes are propitiated by offerings of water and sesame seeds with the accompaniment of appropriate mantras and gestures. This ritual can be done at any time of the year, but the one spoken of here is specifically done on all fifteen days of the Pitripaksha culminating in Mahalaya.

[iii] The goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, is invoked within a ceremonially installed water pot, ornate and reddened with vermillion and topped by a coconut. Women in Bengal worship this emblem on every Thursday, and refurbish the entire set on the Kojagori full moon day which follows the Durgapuja festival.

 

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