The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Generous to a fault
(From top) Kshetrapal thakurbari puja; Durga puja at Goswami thakurdalan. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

Nityananda Prabhu, a disciple of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, had settled in a thatched hut in Khardah. It is now a humble brick structure known as Kunjabati. His son, Bir Bhadra Goswami, had started the worship of Shyamsundar that subsequently became the presiding deity of this small town that came into prominence along with neighbouring Titagarh once the jute and paper mills became operational here about a century ago.

Besides Khardah, Bir Bhadra Goswami’s descendants are quite well known in the Bagbazar and other areas of north Calcutta. In Khardah, the main line of Bir Bhadra’s descendants (Borobari) occupies a dilapidated building on Mohit Mohan Goswami Road.

It has a large courtyard and a beautiful though crumbling thakurdalan, which, like the rest of the building, has shed most of its plaster cover. Dakshinamohan and Dibyendumohan, the two brothers who live there, say they have to start saving for the next puja right after Dashami. Dakshinamohan says although the quantity of offering to the goddess is much less today, they have tried to keep all the conventions alive.

Durga is carried for immersion to Baburghat on a dola of strings by men of the Handi caste. The lion is horned like a rhino and the kalabou (nabapatrika or banana stalk) wears a than or white sari which is smeared with sindur.

In Mohit Mohan’s time, when they owned a large zamindari, all the people of the village used to be invited, and after a meal, even the low caste guests did not have to remove their plates. This in Khardah where even today many neighbourhoods are named after the castes that used to hold sway there once. Dakshinamohan says the original house extended from one end of the road to the other, and the thakurdalan was located in a part of the house that was sold off long ago. He would be grateful if someone repairs the ancient thakurdalan.

Another ancient Durga puja is at Kshetrapal thakurbari in Bhattacharjeepara. It has the distinction of being one of the oldest Durga pujas in Bengal.

Kshetrapal, Shiva by another name and represented by a small Shivalinga, is the presiding deity of the village of Khardah. What is Bhattacharjeepara today was once gifted by two members of this family to their gurus, the two brothers named Neur and Bheur, who worshipped Jagaddhatri and Kshetrapal as well. Neur and Bheur had initiated the worship of Durga at their home in Khardah.

The puja in the home of the Bhattacharjee family has a rustic touch. The thakurdalan is a simple structure and so is the house at the end of a winding alley. The image of Durga with her family is presented against one backdrop — ekchala. Instead of animal sacrifice a gourd is ritually “beheaded”.

The Bhattacharjees are certainly not rolling in it but the four branches of the family that live under one roof pool in their resources to keep the puja alive. Neither the Bhattacharjees nor the Goswamis are well off today, but when it comes to treating guests their generosity is exemplary.

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