Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cuttack's Golden Durga Puja

The First Golden Durga Puja Idol in Cuttack
In the Silver City of Cuttack, Durga Puja is unique in more ways than one. While the neighbouring State of West Bengal hosts the autumn festival with theme-based pandals and idols, Odisha’s Millennium City of Cuttack decorates the Mother Goddess with gold and silver. The extravagance is reflected in 150-odd Puja Pandals across the city; while the elite puja committees go for gold jewellery and silver backdrops spending several crores of rupees, their smaller cousins opt for just silver.

The Durga idols are usually 20-ft-high and they are accompanied by even taller backdrops (Silver tableaux). The price rise of gold has never been a deterrent for the Durga Puja Committees in Cuttack who make it a point to decorate the majestic tableaux elaborately with silver filigree work, known as Chandi Medha in local parlance, and idols of Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesh, Kartik, Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati with gold jewellery and crowns every year. Cuttack is known worldwide for its silver filigree craft and filigree artisans who have created several masterpieces with impeccable artistry in the past. Durga Puja is also an occasion for these artisans to showcase their craftsmanship.

While initially, puja committees used to decorate the Goddess and the tableau with silver filigree work and jewellery to create that dazzle, the trend of adding gold to the deity’s idol was started by the Choudhury Bazaar Puja Committee in 2002, which coincided with its golden jubilee celebration. Durga Puja in Choudhury Bazaar began way back in 1956. The organisers made a golden crown of 7.6 kg for Goddess Durga and since then, they have added golden crowns and other jewellery items to the accompanying deities. Of late, the silver tableau is also being converted into a gold one. While the total cost of the Chandi Medha and idols exceeds Rs 15 crore, the puja committee keeps adding some more gold to the entire structure every year.

Subsequently, a group of other puja committees gave a golden touch to their pandals. The Sheikh Bazaar Puja Committee made a 3.5 kg gold crown in 2008 for the deity’s idol that is set against the backdrop of a beautifully carved silver tableau. Over the years, it added gold crowns and necklaces to idols of other deities and even the demon Mahisasura.

At Mangalabag Puja Pandal, not just the Durga idol, the other deities too sport golden crowns weighing at least 2 kg and at Chauliagang Puja Pandal, the Goddess is adorned with a 3 kg majestic golden crown fashioned in the shape of a peacock that is decorated with precious stones. In 2004, the Ranihat Puja Committee prepared a 4 kg gold crown for the Goddess at the cost of Rs 1 crore. While the puja at Ranihat was started a century ago, the committee set up a silver backdrop in 2004.
According to the Cuttack Mahanagar Puja Committee, the apex body of community puja organisers in Cuttack, there are at least 21 puja committees in the city who have silver backdrops and six puja pandals where the deities are adorned with gold crowns and jewellery.

Chandi Medha at Chandni Chowk
The Durga Puja history of Cuttack dates back to several centuries. It is believed that it was Saint Chaitanya Dev who started worshipping the deity during his visit between 1512 and 1517 AD. During his stay at Gadagadia Ghat in Cuttack, he started Durga Puja at Balu Bazaar. Even at Balu Bazaar, a 30-ft-high silver tableau adorns the pandal and the idol here is painted with only organic colours.

The Durga Medha at Chauliagang in Cuttack

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The First Durga Medha in Cuttack at Balu Bazaar

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trips to Roads Less Travelled Wishes All Its Readers A Very Happy Durga Puja

Monday, October 19, 2015

Celebrating Tradition

Madhubani painting of 18-armed Devi Durga by Vibhooti Jha

Durga Puja is is the only time of the year when around 2000 Bengalis of Bhubaneswar come together for community bonding. The Kalibari Durga Puja Samiti, on its part, takes care to offer them a taste of authentic Bengali tradition. For the Kalibari Samiti in Bhubaneswar, this is the 52nd year of Durga Puja celebration. While for the Telugus and Gujaratis in the city, puja celebrations begin with 'Navaratri', it is post 'Panchami' that the festivity starts for Bengalis.
"Our forefathers - Ashutosh Rai Choudhury, Bhaumik Ghosh and Satyaranjan Dey - established the Kalibari temple and puja samiti here at Ashok Nagar in 1964. Every year, we also welcome people of other communities to join us," says secretary of the Kalibari Durga Puja Samiti, S Marik. There are around 500 Bengali families in the Capital City who participate in the week-long Durga Puja celebration, which begins with 'Sasthi Puja' on October 19.

An artist paints the Durga idol at kalibari Puja Samiti in Bhubaneswar. Pic by Biswanath Swain
Unlike other parts of the city where Durga Puja is more about massive pandals, light decorations, 'Ravana Podi' and firecrackers, the focus here is just on the rituals and community get-together. Although the samiti members never erect an expensive pandal to welcome devotees, the 'Ekchala' idol of the deity is crafted by Bengali sculptors who are roped in from West Bengal. "The money that is earned through sale of 'bhog' during the puja goes into socially-relevant purposes," says Marik.
This year, a host of cultural activities will also be a part of the festivity. There will be a dance drama 'Mahisasura Mardini' on 'Ashtami' followed a competition on blowing conches and Dhunuchi Naach (traditional Durga Puja dance) in the evening. Interestingly, both the 'Navami', 'Dashami' rituals, 'Sindoor Khela' will be observed on October 22 and the idol will be immersed in the evening. 

Marik says Sandhi Puja on 'Ashtami' is the most important ritual of Durga Puja for the community. "During the Sandhi Puja that marks the transition from Ashtami to Navami, usually a period of 45 to 50 minutes, the Goddess is believed to take the form of Chamunda to kill Mahisasura. Intense prayers are done during this period and the Mother Goddess is offered 108 Lotus flowers and as many ghee lamps are lit," he says, adding that the samiti has never deviated from this tradition so far. 
Yet another attraction of the Kalibari Samiti during the puja is the 'Khicidi Bhog' that is offered to the Goddess and relished by devotees after 'Ashtami' Puja. The puja samiti often ropes in cooks from Kolkata to prepare the 'Khichidi', while the other dishes in the fare like 'Luchi', 'Dal', Chutney' and 'Payas' are prepared by Odia cooks from Bhubaneswar.
Apparently, apart from Bhubaneswar, Odisha has Kalibari Samiti only in Sambalpur besides, a Durgabari in Puri that celebrate the biggest festival of the Bengali community.

The Unique Two-armed Devi of Odisha

The Goddess in Biraja Kshetra has only two hands and the prototype of this image is found nowhere else in the country
Odisha is home to several sculptural representations of Mahisasuramardini Durga. One of the rarest representation, though, is of the two-armed Goddess at Biraja temple, also known as Biraja Kshetra in Jajpur district. Here, Goddess Durga is worshipped by the name of Biraja and historians believe this to be the earliest representation of Shakti Cult in Odisha.  

Located in Jajpur town, the present 70-ft-high temple housing the two-armed Goddess was built in 13th century while the idol dates back to the pre-Gupta or Gupta period. In fact, historian Sunil Patnaik says the idol might date back to 2nd century AD. The Goddess in Biraja Kshetra has two hands, in one hand she pierces the chest of Mahishasura with a spear and in other, she pulls tail of the demon.
The Mahishasura is depicted as a buffalo and the presiding deity's right foot presses the head of the animal. She wears a crown that has the symbolism of Lord Ganesha, a Shiva Linga and a crescent moon and a Shivalinga. The prototype of this image is found nowhere else in the country.
Apparently, the perimeter of the Biraja Kshetra is triangular in form and the extreme points of the triangle in western, south-eastern and north-eastern directions are guarded by Shiva Lingams, who are regarded as guardian deities of the Kshetra. Goddess Biraja is seated in the circumcenter of the triangular region. According to the temple management, the temple was renovated by Pratap Rudra Dev of Suryavanshi Gajapati dynasty.
While the temple complex has many other temples of Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Goddess Bagalamukhi and Markandeswar, the added attraction is a holy  pond 'Brahmakunda', which lies to  the northwest and close to the Biraja temple. The pond is so named as it is believed that Lord Brahma had conducted a yagna here.

 Maheswar Panigrahy, Sub-Collector of Jajpur and also the Chairman of Biraja Temple Managing Committee, says the temple sees a footfall of at least 1000 devotees everyday. On occasions like Durga Puja and Savitri, the footfall rises to 35,000 daily.  One of the most interesting aspects of Devi worship at Biraja Kshetra is Rath Yatra of Goddess Biraja, which is held during Dussehra. Her chariot, Shimhadhwaja, carries the deity in a ceremonial procession around the temple compound once a day for nine days.  There is a greater inflow of devotees to the temple from Southern Indian States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu besides, the neighbouring West Bengal.
Panigrahy further says the State Government is now considering to develop a religious circuit comprising the Biraja temple, Baldevjew temple in Kendrapara, Sarala temple in Jagatsinghpur and Akhandalmani temple in Bhadrak. In fact, the Tourism Secretary LN Gupta had recently urged the Union Tourism Secretary Vinod Zutshi to consider inclusion of Biraja temple-Sarala-Akhandalamani-Baladevjew-Lalitgiri- Ratnagiri-Udayagiri under 'Swadesh Darshan' scheme of the Ministry.

Travellers Info

The temple is located at a distance of 125 km from Bhubaneswar and can be approached by road and rail. It has all amenities for tourists and for accommodation, the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) has a Panthasala. Besides, there are the PWD Bunglow and Circuit House in Jajpur town. Best time to visit is between October and January.

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