History & Culture

The spirit of Bengal

Probal Ray Choudhury

Probal Ray Choudhury  

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Probal Ray Choudhury, professor of culture education, on the tradition of Durga Puja.

Speaking on ‘Kalau Asvamedha: the Autumnal Festival of the Great Goddess in Vangadesa,” at Arkay Convention Centre, Chennai, Probal Ray Choudhury, took us on an in-depth journey into the history and fervour associated with Durga puja. During the talk organised by Tamil Heritage Trust, he said that in Bengal, Durga puja celebrates the annual homecoming of the goddess.

The speaker is an assistant professor at Amrita Viswa Vidyapeetham, Cultural Education and Indic Studies in Coimbatore.

He elaborated on how Devi Uma, who was married to Siva and sent to Kailasa, comes to earth once a year during the puja with her four children.

He spoke of how in Bengal, Durga, mother of Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati, is celebrated in special ceremonies on the seventh, eighth and, ninth day of Navarathri.

Later during a conversation, the speaker said, “Our family, for the past 400 years, has been celebrating the puja in a traditional manner.”

With co-author Devarshi Roy Chowdhury, Probal has written the book ‘Bara Bari: The Abode of the Savarna Ray Choudhury Family at Barisha,’ besides working on another book, “Kalighat, Kolkata and the Savarna Ray Chaudhuris.”

“There are other Navarathris too, but with time, in Bengal Vasanth Navarathri lost popularity and Sharadhiya Navarathri gained prominence,” he pointed out.

The professor-researcher explained that Bengali Ramayana depicts Rama as performing Durga puja to gain victory over Ravana. Called ‘Akala Bodhana’, reference of Rama’s puja is found in Krittibas Ojha’s Bengali Ramayana.

Displaying the Krittibas Ramayan painting depicting the goddess appearing before Rama and saying “You have to perform the worship with 108 lotuses,” the speaker narrated the legend.

After offering 107 lotuses, short of one, Rama is ready to pierce his eye to place as the 108th lotus, at which point the Devi appears and stops him. She blesses him with victory.

Probal Ray Choudhury revealed several Durga paintings in all her splendour such as a Kangra painting which shows her slaying the demons and devas paying obeisance; a bejewelled Mahishasura mardini; the puja at a palace in Nadia where a canon would go off before the puja began; a vintage photo of a royal household in Bengal with Durga decked in silver (the idol is decorated with silver or gold as the case may be) and a photo of Durga Puja in Probal Ray Choudhury's house in 1920, The huge idol is taken to the Ganga on two boats and at a gun salute the boats separate immersing the idol of the goddess.

The speaker said that there are no Durga temples while the idols are made every year and immersed. Other photos revealed how the idols are made from clay from the Ganga and how the eyes are painted.

The speaker is founder secretary and chief executive since 2004 of the Saborno Sangrahalay, an evolving centre for India Studies in Kolkata and co-organiser of Barisha Rathayathra Utsav — a three-century-old heritage chariot festival of Bengal.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 4:13:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/The-spirit-of-Bengal/article14425915.ece

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