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Thursday , May 19 , 2011
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A ritual bond with Buddha

Calcutta, May 18: If Mamata Banerjee follows the family priest’s advice to the T, chances are it is being dictated by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s grandfather.

The most popular version of Purohit Darpan, the authoritative guide on the Hindu way of life, was compiled and edited by Krishnachandra Smrititirtha, the late grandfather of the man with whom Mamata has refused to have any association.

There is no reason to believe that Mamata follows the norms laid down in the book in every walk of life. But her household priest, who possibly influenced her decision to defer the swearing-in by a minute in search of the most auspicious moment, considers the Darpan indispensable.

Amal Chatterjee, the neighbour Mamata turns to for the right planetary conjunctions and the pujas at home, told The Telegraph: “When I first became a priest, I would consult the Purohit Darpan all the time. Now I know most of the rituals and mantras by heart, but I still turn to it when I need.”

Unlike an almanac, which suggests propitious times for various occasions, the Darpan is a compilation of essential rituals for practising Hindus and a guide to make everyday life auspicious.

An entire chapter tells you at what hour to wake up, who to remember first while facing which side, and about toilet hygiene, bathing, cleaning of teeth and tongue — all of which might be relevant to the chief minister-designate ahead of the big day.

Aryachar-Paddhati ba Purohit Darpan, as the book is formally titled, was published by PM Bagchi & Co in 1922. In the foreword to the first edition, Smrititirtha, a priest and a Sanskrit scholar, writes how he had found all existing religious manuals inadequate and resolved to compile one.

Purohit Darpan is the first book that would-be priests have to collect as it is a compendium of all rituals, from the naamkaran to the shradh. But it also has so much on day-to-day life relevant to every faithful householder that the title — which suggests it is only for priests — can be misleading,” says Pandit Jayanta Kushari, the principal of Sarva Bharatiya Prachya Vidya Academy, who also holds workshops for priests at the Sovabazar Rajbati.

But does Mamata know of the unwitting association with Buddhadeb? Only she will be able to tell.

The chief minister knows about the association. He had spoken in public on his knowledge about the Hindu way of life despite being a professed atheist.

“On various occasions, he has said he remembers the Dashamahabidya and the Gayatri mantra. At least once, he had spoken about no one being able to become a priest without taking recourse to his grandfather’s book, which might be close to the truth, though not entirely accurate,” says a north Calcutta priest who did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

Is there any way then that Mamata might avoid Smrititirtha’s prescription?

Chatterjee says he has two other versions of the Purohit Darpan, one penned by Surendranath Bhattacharjee and another whose editor he cannot recall immediately. “The one by Surendranath Bhattacharjee is in tatters now, maybe because it was consulted so much,” he laughs.

Kushari, of the Prachya Vidya Academy, likens the Darpan to Vitamin B-Complex. “It covers a bit of everything. But if you are prescribed B1 or B2 specifically, that is if you look for exhaustive material on one kind of puja, there are more specialised books,” explains Kushari.

Way to go. But Chatterjee is very attached to the Darpan. When Mamata attends her swearing-in on Friday, the man Harish Chatterjee Street calls Pinu-da will be busy with a newborn’s Shasthi Puja, his Purohit Darpan in hand. “I will take one of the three Purohit Darpans with me because I might not know all the mantras by heart,” he says.

Smrititirtha was a “prolific writer”, says 81-year-old Bibhas Bhattacharjee, Buddhadeb’s uncle and Smrititirtha’s nephew.

Instead of the family publication, Saraswat Library, he gave the book to PM Bagchi & Co because it was “a big project”, says Bibhas.

What he thought would take three-four months to complete ended up taking almost three years, with the Sanskrit slokas in currency being corrected in consultation with scholars.

Pointing out the extensive revisions in the chapter on shradh, he writes in the foreword: “…e jatiyo karjyer udyom bangadeshe ei prothom (Such a project has been undertaken for the first time in Bengal).”

The book, in the sixth reprint of the 17th edition now, remains the second most popular title for the publisher, next only to its almanac.

Jayanta Bagchi of PM Bagchi & Co also recalls Smrititirtha’s association with the publication in his grandfather Kishori Mohan Bagchi’s time. “He stayed in Ramdhan Mitra Lane, not far from Hatibagan, near our office.”

Buddhadeb is close to his uncle Bibhas. His wife Arati describes Bengal’s former First Lady as a “very good bouma”. “She takes care of us.”

“There were other Darpans in those days but this (Smrititirtha’s) was accepted as the best edited,” adds Bibhas.

After Smrititirtha, only Rakhal Bhattacharjee, Buddhadeb’s father Nepalchandra’s elder brother, followed in his father’s footsteps of priesthood.

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