Royal families of Odisha continue to celebrate Durga Puja with complete adherence to its unique rituals
IN a red saree and decked up in golden ornaments, Goddess Kanak Durga looks resplendent in the illuminated temple on the premises of recently renovated Nilagiri Palace. Every autumn, the palace that was constructed in 1750s in Balasore district is decorated like a new bride to welcome the Mother Goddess.
Not just Balasore, Dussehra is a special occasion for royal families elsewhere in Odisha as Goddess Kanaka Durga is considered their presiding deity. Although times have changed, the royals have kept alive the annual celebrations in adherence to its unique rituals. The scale of celebrations, however, has come down from a fortnight-long festivity to a nine-day or a five-day affair.
In Nilagiri Palace, where the presiding deity’s temple is over 200 years old, the festivity is a five-day affair and the specialty here is the ‘Bali Nayaka Khela’. Nilagiri King Jayanta Chandra Harichandan Mardaraj says the ‘Bali Nayaka Khela’ has been continuing in the palace since the 1780s when the Goddess Kanaka Durga is brought out of the palace temple and placed in a mandap in the courtyard, which serves as the festival ground. “The Bali Nayaka is actually a Kalisi (god man) who plays a game of hide and seek with hundreds of devotees present at the courtyard. The one he touches has to offer a pumpkin as sacrifice to the deity on Astami,” he says, adding that it is believed that the soul of the presiding deity gets into the body of Kalisi during the act. The palace temple had a tradition of sacrificing buffalo during ‘Astami’ with a belief that it would stimulate her violent vengeance against the buffalo demon but since it turned out to be an expensive affair, the buffalo was replaced with goat over a decade back. At present, a pumpkin is offered as sacrifice to the deity after the Supreme Court ruling against animal sacrifice. “The celebrations here are influenced by West Bengal due to the proximity of North Odisha to the neighbouring State,” says Mardaraj, who concludes the festival by offering ‘purnahuti’ after the ‘Nabami’ puja.
It’s an elaborate nine-day celebration at Aul Palace near Bhitarkanika. Aul King, Braja Kishore Deb, says the celebrations begin from the day of ‘Sunia’, which is also considered a New Year’s Day by Odias. The day is considered auspicious as it falls on Bhadraba Shukla Paksha Dwadashi (the 12th day of new moon fortnight in the month of Bhadraba that is between August and September), a day that commemorates the famous incarnation of Lord Vishnu as a vamana. It is also the day when Lord Vishnu is believed to change side during his slumber, as a sign of his being just on the surface of wakefulness. Such a state of the Lord suggests that there is a good time approaching and hence, it is favourable to begin any important activity.
“On the day of Sunia, a procession is taken out by 25 people including members of Bania, Brahmins, Praharaj, Napita, Nahaka communities and royal family heads, from the Kanaka Durga temple inside the palace to the 500-year-old Lakshmi Varaha temple at Aul panchayat. “In the Lakshmi Varaha temple, they offer 108 pieces of small gold plates to the deity and after a puja, the plates are brought back to the presiding deity’s temple in the palace. Later, Lord Ram and Sita are worshiped in the Dadighara (seat of power in the palace). It is also the day when soil for construction of Mrunmayee murti of Devi Durga is collected from five different sources,” he says. This marks beginning of construction of the idol in Medha Ghara (construction house). On Saptami, ‘Chakhyudnana’ is done and on the day, the idol of Kanaka Durga is taken to a small house close to Medha Ghara and she is worshipped there till Durga Puja concludes. Prior to that on Sasthi, ‘Bela Barana’ is done and on Maha Astami, ‘Sandhi Puja’ is done.
Another specialty of Aul Palace is the Dussehra ‘darbar’ that is organised on the day of Dussehra, which is attended by members of royal family and locals. “Weapons are worshiped in the day and in the evening, a function called Lakha Bindha’ is held when a wooden fish is placed and people have it hit it with bow and arrow. In olden times, this was considered as the day when warriors began month-long practice of use of arms to be prepared for war,” he adds.
Celebrations are equally unique in Dhenkanal Palace. However, the puja here is held for 16 days outside the palace at the Devi Mandir, located 500 metres away. Apparently, the Devi Mandir was constructed in the early 20th century as a replica of the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. Interestingly, the temple inside the palace has idols of both Lord Krishna and Kanaka Durga. “My great grandfather started following Vaishnava Dharma in 1860s and since Lord Krishna is worshiped alongside Devi in the temple, we do not observe Bali Pratha in the palace. Hence, all the rituals of Durga Puja including sacrificial offering is done in Devi Mandir. The Puja begins with Paikas (warrior clan) of Chandrasekharpur village including a Muslim Paika of Gundicha Pada taking Goddess Kanaka Durga in a procession to Devi Mandir,” says Amar Jyoti Singhdeo, Dhenkanal Prince.
On the Nabami, three pumpkins and a variety of Pithas are offered to the Goddess as sacrifice and then distributed among people as Bhog. The Goddess is escorted back to the temple by Paikas of Kandabindha village and She is carried on their shoulders by Paikas of Mangalpur and Talbarkote villages.
At Jeypore, members of the royal family no longer organise puja but tribal heads celebrate the festival exactly the way the royalty did. Royals organised Durga Puja in the Kanaka Durga temple of the palace till 1952 but they stopped the practice after the Jeypore estate was merged with Odisha province. According to legends, King Vijaya Chandrakshya used to conduct rituals at the palace temple on Dussehra and then went round the Jeypore town on an elephant. He was followed by village headmen and tribals carrying lathis that signified deities. The celebrations concluded with ‘yagna’ and cattle sacrifice at the festival ground.
Today, tribal heads of Bhumiya, Gond, Gadba, Soura, Didai, Durua, Kondh, Koya and Bonda tribes take out lathi procession from village altars amid beating of drums and traditional folk musical instruments and walk to the ground in Jeypore where Dussehra is celebrated.