The Social Binder

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The buzz in the air, the hustle bustle and the inexplicable sense of urgency amongst commuters… it doesn’t take you long to figure out that it’s a festive atmosphere. The festivity has a charm which turns the otherwise unorganized localities into decorated ones with the illuminated streets, eye-catching monstrous gates along with the creative pandals and crowds dressed in their best new fineries.

It is one of the major occasions where one is allowed to blatantly show off with their new clothes and purchases in their social circles. Durga Puja is nothing short of a phenomenon, an extremely popular religious festival undoubtedly !!! A Hindu festival that revels the victory of good over evil, it also acts as a celebration of family values as well as social ethics, a medium to bring together diverse communities that seldom congregate otherwise.

Legend suggests that between 1512 and 1517 AD, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had visited Cuttack and it was him who started the first Durga Puja at the BinodBihari temple. But, the first recorded Sarvajanik (community) Durga Puja in Odisha is said to have been started in the year 1832 in the Kazibazaar area of Cuttack by both Oriya and Bengali employees of the East India Company. It is also believed that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, whose birth place is Cuttack, had organised Durga Puja with great pomp and show to unify youngsters in British India, exactly like Lokamanya Bal GangadharTilak had celebrated Ganesh Utsav in Maharashtra. Also, some information sources state Durga Puja was started about 125 years back by the Odia Bazar Puja Committee. The committee had two main members from the Muslim community, SardarAdu Khalifa and Saikh Jamu.

Durga Puja has turned more into a socio-cultural event rather than remaining a mere religious festival. Be it Cuttack or Bhubaneswar, there is a whole new level of excitement in every corner of the city much before the festival with construction of theme based majestic pandals, sculpting of beautiful Durga Maa idols, with an assemblage of delicate silver or gold filigree work ornaments constituting the backdrop of the idol. Gigantic ornate gates, setting of fairs, arrangement of sparkling rice light strings on alley, arrangement of food stall and live shows etc.; the pandals of every locality wear a distinct look which captivates the imagination of the visitors.Last year in Bhubaneswar, the pandal at Rasulgarh, showcased the usage of reused glass bottles, bangles, and mirrors while the one at Satyanagar, used dried banana leaves to highlight the eco-friendly theme. Similarly, in Cuttack, the theme of the Khannagar pandal depicted the harsh life of Indian Soldiers at inclement posts while the Pithapur pandal showcased a replica of the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial.

Recently there has been a rise of the pandal enterprise. Otherwise barren patches of land transform with blinding lights, deafening music and a sea of devotees during Durga Puja. Some of the‘must see’ pandals in Cuttack are at Badambadi, Khannagar, Dolomundai, Bajrakabati and Malgodown, Pithapur and in Bhubaneswar the pandals at Rasulgarh, Jharapada, Shaheed Nagar, Nayapalli, Baramunda, Unit- 1 Market and Old Station Bazaar are the ones to watch out for. Our basic social fabric is based on communal harmony. During this Puja there is no community, caste or class barrier. Odisha has set an example of communal harmony with hundreds of Muslims helping Hindus to celebrate the Puja. Muslim workers decorate the pandals of deities with their gold and silver filigree ‘medhas’. The Muslim artisans and Puja committee members form the backbone of Odisha’s Durga Puja celebrations.

The Durga Puja in Manikagoda village of Khordha district is unusual and exceptional as the Muslim village head sits as the ‘Karta’ in the Puja. The priests perform the rituals and the Muslim karta wears the sacred straw ring ‘Batu’ in the finger. At the end of the Puja, the deity is taken to every door in the village including the houses of Muslims and Dalits. Biraramachandrapur is a highly regarded Sanskrit Pitha with a primarily Brahmin population, situated in the Sakhigopal block of Puri district, with the Muslim dominated Ahmedpur village adjacent to it. During Durga Puja, the local chief not only puts a turban on the head of a Muslim Sardar but the Muslims play a major role during the Durga chariot’s movement on Vijay Dashami. The local people call Ahmedpur as ‘Amrutpur’ (land of nectar), for its love and devotion.

The love and respect for Durga Maa, exhibited by Sk.Jannat Hossain of Nurpur Road, Sk. Kamruz Zuma and Naimuddin Hoda of Arad Bazaar in Balasore, is inspirational. Similarly, Sadhu Nayak, a Catholic Christian of Kandhamal, has been organizing the Durga Puja in Simabadi in Daringbadi block for last 20 years, where Hindus, Muslims and Christians celebrate the festival together with a lot of enthusiasm and harmony. “Puja started here since 1895 with Shiva Parbati and in 1903 the Sarbajanina Durga Puja started in this locality and it continues till date. In earlier times, the Puja celebration was primarily focused on the rituals and on ‘ekadashi’ the idol immersion (SobhaYatra) used to take place without any grand procession. Over the years, several Puja pandals have mushroomed and the pandals have become grander with time. Chandi (silver) and Suna (Gold) backdrops started adorning the pandals. Each sahi (locality) puts in its best effort to make their pandal special amidst an atmosphere of healthy competition and brotherhood. Initially, we started with the Zari Medha created by Kanhu Miyan, followed by Suneli Medha by Banna and then finally Chandi Medha by Japani Singh. The Sarbajanina Durga Puja is for all, we have office bearers and committee members from all communities. Currently, our Vice President of the committee is Sheikh Badshah,” shares Raj Kishore Nayak, President of the popular Sheikh Bazar Durga Puja Committee in Cuttack.

Today, when there is a growing intolerance for the other religion, there is lot that the world can learn from these examples of peace and brotherhood in Odisha during the Puja festivities. Durga Puja is also the time to reconnect with our old traditions and cultural values. Few villages in the state of Odisha have their own unique way of celebrating Dussehra. Village Kusupur organises its annual traditional Dussehra Sabha with traditional sword fighting, fire fighting and other martial art form tournaments just the day after Dussehra. The village has preserved the old custom and tradition alive for more than 106 years,which is exceptional in itself. For this tournament, the ‘Kshatriyas’ come from different districts like Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jajpur etc. and are awarded as per their display of skill and perform live traditional sword and fire fighting including ‘burnati’ and traditional yoga. Organized at the historical Kusupur Dussehra Sabha ground on the banks of river Birupa every year, this festival draws thousands of tourists from across the state.

The Jeypore Dussehra Mahotsav has a similar fervor. The enthusiasm is a reflection of the glorious past of the erstwhile Jeypore kingdom of South Odisha and the festival is a mix of the royal and tribal culture. The practice of tribal villagers coming to the town from different parts of Jeypore such as Narayanpatna, Nandapur, Umarkote and Raighar, carrying their lathis(symbols of deities) in a procession with traditional drums and swords is still prevalent. The ‘Patuara’, a night procession on Vijaya Dashami, begins from the King’s palace wherein the village heads carry the lathis to the Jeypore Dussehra Mahotsav. In current times, there might not be any horses or elephants, but the tradition of lathi and the congregation is still a rage. The tribal Priests, Sebayats and Disaries (village headman) remain prepared to conduct various rituals. In the past, village heads were invited and were felicitated by the king during their procession, known as ‘lathi yatra,’. Currently, Lathi dharis and Sebayats are honoured in the Jeypore Mahostsav. Dussehra in Jeypore is not just about worshipping Maa Durga, the festival has evolved into an occasion for people to reunite.

“In Cuttack, ‘Medha Melan’ and ‘Medha Bhasani’(Bisarjan) is a very important and integral part of the Puja. People from different localities form a large procession accompanied by their locality heads (murabis) with a band and lighting arrangements. Slowly, liquor consumption by the youngsters in the procession became an undesirable yet prevalent practice and it often resulted in disputes and fights amongst various participating groups. This hampered the significance of the Puja and in due course of time, we brought in lot of changes to cleanse the mode of celebrations. Bhajan replaced the melody nights and any form of intoxication or dance was banned during the immersion procession. I urge all Puja committees to adopt these changes so that future generations can enjoy and learn about the tradition and true essence of the Sarbajanina Durga Puja.”, shared Kishore Behera, Secretary of the Sheikh Bazar Durga Puja Committee in Cuttack.

Maa Durga’s blessings and her doors are open for all. Durga Puja is not just a festival but a joyous occasion that integrates diverse communities by binding them with the auspicious thread of our culture and tradition.

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