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Demons slain but without bloodshed
- Changing face of Puja sacrifices in the hills

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.

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