Autumn heralds the homecoming of Goddess Durga from her heavenly abode in Mount Kailasha. There are several mystical stories about the arrival of the Goddess on earth. But Devi Durga at the Joypur (or Jaypur) Rajbari in West Bengal appears before devotees from a bank vault.
This foot-high pure gold idol, weighing around 950gm, stays locked for 360 days in the bank and makes a public appearance only during the last four days of the ten-day Durga Puja celebrations.
The goddess is open for public view for the next four days -- Saptami, Ashtami, Navami, and Dashami.
The members of the Singha Deo family, the erstwhile rulers of Purulia, follow the centuries-old rituals to worship the golden Goddess, who has two hands instead of the traditional ten.
The advent of the Golden Goddess
King Kashinath Singh (1830-1880), the eighth generation of King Joy Singh, started worshipping the golden deity of Durga in 1867. The reason behind this was that once during a ritual, ‘Kola Bou’ (banana bride) was burnt.
Kola Bou, or Kolabau, is the wife of Lord Ganesha and is considered a manifestation of Goddess Durga. Kola Bou is symbolised by a bunch of eight plants – turmeric, wood apple, pomegranate, arum, rice, Ashok, colocasia and Sal – tied to the trunk of a banana (plantain) tree. She is given a ceremonial bath on Saptami and is draped in a white saree with red border, after which she transforms into a goddess.
An order was placed with the goldsmiths of Benaras (Varanasi or Kashi) for designing the ‘Mahamaya Murti’, which is similar to the idol in the Annapurna Devi temple of Varanasi.
He also tendered 1.5 ‘man’ (about 60 kg) of silver to make the Chalchitra – the backdrop.
Celebrating the Goddess
Boro Rajbari exercises a typical custom. On the day of Shasthi, the ‘Pranprathistha’ – consecration -- is performed with hymns and other rituals. On Saptami, the door of the Golden Goddess is opened for the devotees from 10 in the morning till the day of Dashami.
Kumari Puja – worship of teenage girls -- and veneration of weaponry is carried out on Asthami when ‘bhog’ (holy food) is served to the deity and the Brahmins are also fed.
In the bygone era, cannons were fired to convey a message to the masses that the Sandhi puja (evening prayer) was over and one could end their fast. On the day of Navami, naivedya – a custom of offerings to the deity along with the ritual of sacrifices -- is executed.
With time, the tradition of sacrifice has changed and animals have been replaced with vegetables.
An unusual custom can also be observed here as some chang fish (a small freshwater fish) are charred on an earthen plate, which is exhibited before the deity first and then is displayed for the public. It is followed by Aparajita Puja for the destruction of the demonical energies.
On Dashami, the door is closed after the customary rituals.
“Durga Puja in Bengal is organised at every nook and corner. However, some pujas are special and have their own significance. The Rajbari Durga is one such puja. I have been visiting the Rajbari (palace) every year because Maa’s (mother goddess) sheer blessing drives me here to have her darshan (sight),” says Phulmani Tutu, a devotee.
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“This goddess seems to have some mystical influence. My prayers have never been turned down,” says Sukurmani Hansda, another devotee.
Joypur is named after King Joy Singh. He had a princely estate in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh in 1666 but fled after Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb imposed jizya tax on non-Muslims who lived in states governed by Islamic law.
Singh along with hundreds of people moved to the Manbhum region under Chotta Nagpur Plateau. He conquered the area after killing Khamar Munda, the head of the Munda tribe, and established his estate.
Khamar Munda was an ardent devotee of Goddess Shakti. He owned a ‘Khara’ - a sword of the Goddess believed to have supernatural powers.
The ‘Khara’ was worshipped until the fire incident after which the Khara worship was replaced with worship of the golden idol.
“Our family has been serving the Devi for generation after generation. Earlier my grandfather performed puja and then my father Bishseshwar Acharya followed the custom. Now, I have been conducting the rituals since 1976,” says Gurucharan Acharya, the royal priest.
According to Gurucharan, the 5-feet long Khara (sword) is made of iron weighing about one kg. It is placed in front of the goddess and is venerated too. “The golden divine-being is decked with a crown of gold, a diamond embedded golden necklace, ‘Daker-Saaj’ (embellishment) made of gold besides garlands of flowers,” he says.
“Six armed guards with AK-47 rifles are deployed round-the-clock for four days to guard the idol,” says Acharya.
About 50 years ago, a dozen burglars barged into the palace with the motive of stealing the golden goddess. “However, it was her divine grace that the looters couldn’t trace the idol. Instead, they took away gold jewellery worth one kg and four kilos of utensils made of silver. It was then that police advised us to shift the goddess to the bank vault as it could be a life-threat to keep it in the palace,” says Singha Deo.
(Partho Burman is a Kolkata-based award-winning journalist. He writes inspiring human interest and motivational stories.)