The golden Goddess who appears from a bank vault at Joypur Rajbari during Durga Puja

The golden Goddess who appears from a bank vault at Joypur Rajbari during Durga Puja

The golden Goddess who appears from a bank vault at Joypur Rajbari during Durga Puja kola bou 30stades

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.

Escorted by men-in-uniform armed with AK-47 rifles, Devi Durga arrives at Boro Rajbari in Purulia district of West Bengal, about 312km from Kolkata, from the nearby SBI Bank locker on Shashthi (sixth day of the festival).

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.

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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.

Royal priest Gurucharan Acharya, whose family has been conducting the Puja for many generations. Pic: Partho Buraman
Royal priest Gurucharan Acharya, whose family has been conducting the Puja for many generations. Pic: Partho Burman  

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. 

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Since Kola Bou was accidentally burnt during the Joypur Rajbari celebrations, King Kashinath believed it might spell doom. So, for the welfare of his populace, he decided to build a Devi idol in gold.

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.

Kashinath Singh offered one ‘ser’ (a unit of measurement, which is now obsolete; the equivalent of 933.10gm) of gold coins issued during the era of Mughal Emperor Akbar to the goldsmiths.

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

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Shankar Narayan Singha Deo, descendant of King Joy Singh, with his rifle at the Rajbari. Pic: Partho Burman 30 stades
Shankar Narayan Singha Deo, descendant of King Joy Singh, with his rifle at the Rajbari. Pic: Partho Burman

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.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 devotees visit Joypur Rajbari for a glimpse of the Goddess every year. People also come from Jharkhand for her ‘darshan’.

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.

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The Joypur Estate once used to sacrifice 200 goats and a buffalo. However, now, cucumbers, white pumpkins and sugarcanes are sacrificed. 

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. 

While the gold idol weighs 950gm, the silver chalchitra was made using 60kg silver. Pic: Partho Burman 30 stades
While the gold idol weighs 950gm, the silver chalchitra was made using 60kg silver. Pic: Partho Burman

On Dashami, the door is closed after the customary rituals.

After the doors are closed, the Santhals and the Mundas perform group dance and play tribal drums along with music for the victory procession.  

“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.

Historical Background

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. 

Shankar Narayan Singha Deo holding the 'khara' which was once owned by Khamar Munda. It was taken over by King Joy Singh in 1666 after defeating Munda. The 'khara' is also worshipped during Durga Puja. Pic: Partho Burman 30 stades
Shankar Narayan Singha Deo holding the ‘khara’ which was once owned by Khamar Munda. It was taken over by King Joy Singh in 1666 after defeating Munda. The ‘khara’ is also worshipped during Durga Puja. Pic: Partho Burman

Khamar Munda was an ardent devotee of Goddess Shakti. He owned a ‘Khara’ – a sword of the Goddess believed to have supernatural powers.

“Joy Singh took the custody of the sword and began its worship. The sword has been revered by seven generations of the family,” says one of the descendants, Shankar Narayan Singha Deo.

The ‘Khara’ was worshipped until the fire incident after which the Khara worship was replaced with worship of the golden idol.

The custom of Durga puja has remained unchanged for 355 years, including the royal priest family.

“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.  

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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.)

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