CULTURE: Demons slain but without bloodshed – Changing face of Puja sacrifices in the hills

CULTURE: Demons slain but without bloodshed – Changing face of Puja sacrifices in the hills – where vegetable momo’s have far outsold and almost replaced old pork or buff ones as making more sense both in health and economic terms ?!!


Ramakrishna Mission Ashram in Jalpaiguri on Ashtami. A large number of devotees watched the puja on the ashram premises on Friday. In Kumari Puja, a girl who has not yet reached puberty, is worshipped as the Devi or the goddess. When Durga Puja was performed at Belur Math — the headquarters of the Mission near Calcutta — for the first time, Swami Vivekananda worshipped several kumaris or girls. Since then, Kumari Puja is performed on Ashtami at all the centres of the Mission where the Durga Puja is held. Offerings made to the goddess are given to the Kumari too, and finally an aarti is performed as part of the ritual. (Biplab Basak) - the birth of new age spiritualism ?!!



Darjeeling, Oct. 15: The gusto is still there but Dashain celebrations have changed with times and some forms of rituals done away with altogether.

One old ritual that has slowly faded is the sacrifice of black buffalo and goat for Goddess Durga — once an integral part of the festivity. Animal activists are happy but many old people recount with nostalgia the times when they fasted on Maha Ashtami — or the eighth day of Dashain — and offered sacrifices through Kal Ratri.

While goats were sacrificed as maar on Ashtami, black buffaloes, symbolic representation of the demon Mahisasura, were sacrificed on Navami, the ninth day of Dashain.

“Earlier, every village used to organise maar. While the Brahmins used to sacrifice goat on Ashtami, the rest of the Nepali-speaking people stuck to black buffalo as maar on Navami. Modernity has seeped in the way the Goddess is worshipped and the sacrifices are no longer there,” said 70-year-old Tika Poudel from Kalimpong.

In fact, maar is slowly vanishing from the villages too. In Darjeeling, it is still organised at Dali where a buffalo is sacrificed on Navami. “The tradition is almost 100 years old but we have scaled down the event. There will be no public viewing and the maar is being organised only to honour local sentiments as people believe that a calamity will take place if this practice is stopped,” said an organiser of the event without wanting to be named.

Old timers recalled how during the fast on maar, a fair like ambience was created in the villages. Once the maar was completed, a feast used to be organised at the spot of the animal slaughter. “These days people prefer to slay a goat in their houses and the community celebration has vanished,” said an elder.

Many believe that the maar has slowly faded with the introduction of idol worship in the hills. “Originally, the Nepali-speaking people used to worship a khukuri as a form of shakti (power) that symbolised the Goddess Durga. However, idols started making their way up the hills from the 1950s onwards and slowly the maar tradition, which was there even a couple of years ago, vanished,” said Sanjay Thapa, an elder.

Not that people have done away with the Shakti Puja of this form altogether. Nowadays, a khukuri tied with red cloth and splashed with vermillion is worshipped as Shakti and kept in the puja rooms of individual families.

In fact, GNLF president Subash Ghisingh had introduced Shakti Puja in the hills when his party held sway but the leader himself flip-flopped and later started worshipping an 18-hand Durga idol. Usually the Goddess with 10 hands is worshipped.

The vanishing traditions of the Darjeeling hills, however, continue to be performed in Nepal. Sacrifices continue, much to the chagrin of animal right activists, who have called upon the people to use vegetables like pumpkins instead of slaughtering animals.

In aarti glow, communal amity cemented at pandals – harmony & equitable distribution the key in a secular India  ?!!


The pandal built by Jhankar Club in Malda. (Surajit Roy) – the original borders of Royal Bengal ?!!



Islampur/Cooch Behar, Oct. 15: The bond between the communities is always strong, the villagers claim, but it becomes all the more evident only during the Pujas.

For residents of Kotgach in Chopra block of North Dinajpur or those at Gitaldaha on the India-Bangladesh border, Durga Puja is an occasion for different communities to come together.

Kotgach has only 15 Hindu families. Muslims who are in a majority in the locality actively participate in the celebration and work shoulder to shoulder with the Hindus to prepare the festivities.

“Barring pushpanjali (offering flowers to the deity), people of both the communities jointly take part in every ritual during the Durga Puja,” said Rafikul Islam, secretary of the Durga Puja committee in Kotgach. “Right from the collection of subscriptions to immersion, the Hindus and the Muslims work together.”

Khokon Das, president of the committee, echoed him. “On Dashami, a fair known as Debir Bazar is held in our village. People swarm the fair to buy goodies, share food and to exchange greetings. We have never felt any divide between Hindus and Muslims. No villager would be absent from the celebration during the celebrations. Like the Puja, we Hindus throng in large numbers a fair held during Muharram at Amtala, our neighbouring village.”

Rafikul, while elaborating on the initiative of the Muslim community, said: “Hindus are minorities in our village. Hence, as the majority community, we feel it is our responsibility to preserve and protect their culture and religion. Durga Puja is the Hindus’ main festival and over the years, it has turned into an annual event for every villager, irrespective of his or her religion.”

Anwarul Haque, the minister of state for health and the Chopra MLA, appreciated the communal harmony in the village. “These initiatives are the proof of the strong bond between the two communities which cannot be broken by any means. We want it to continue and see more such initiatives in future,” he said.

Same is the story at Gitaldaha, 55km from Cooch Behar, where Hindus and Muslims strive to make puja celebration a grand success.

“There is nothing new in Muslims’ participation in the Durga Puja celebration here. Villagers in Gitaldaha collect subscriptions and share food together. This has been the practice for decades and even today, right from the decoration of pandals to the arrangements for cultural events, Muslims come forward for every task and consistently work to make the Puja a success,” said Sumitra Burman, the pradhan of Gitaldaha I panchayat. Bilkis Begum, the upa-pradhan of the panchayat, has said Muslims take part in even aarti competition and share dais with Hindus at cultural events.

Sirajul, a Class X student of the locality, said he and his friend Sariful had been practising for the past one month for the aarti contest to be held on Dashami. “We had participated in the contest last year, but could not be among the top three. We are determined to win the first prize this year.”


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