This Mahalaya Kolkata is Set For Most Unique Puja in Living Memory

Mahalaya marks the end of Shraadh or Pitr-Pakshma, and the beginning of Devi-Pakshma. It’s unique this year.

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The 2020 Durga Puja of Rajbari in Kolkata shall be etched in the public memory and in the annals of the history.
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Durga Puja is unique this year in Kolkata—the heartland of the puja—because of an unusual astronomical occurrence and the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time in recent memory there will be a gap of an unprecedented 35 days between the Mahalaya and Durga Puja. This gap, generally, is of 6 days.

A rare astronomical occurrence has created this unique situation whereby Devi Durga will be worshipped 35 days after the day of Mahalaya.

Today, 17 September, marks the end of Shraadh or Pitr-Pakshma, and the beginning of Devi-Pakshma. This day of transition is known as the Mahalaya. As per the almanacs and tradition, the usual gap between the Mahalaya and Durga Puja is of only 6 days –the 6th day being the Mahasashthi, the beginning of the Puja. This unusual gap of 35 days is unheard of before.

What Changed For Durga Puja this Mahalaya

In Bengal and elsewhere, all Bengalis and worshippers of Devi Durga follow two competing schools of almanac: Bisuddha Siddhanta and Surya Siddhanta. This year, both the almanacs have agreed on this unusual schedule. This aberration has happened because of the occurrence of a phenomenon called ‘mala mash’ - a lunar month which has two new moons–Amavasya.

According to a particular Hindu belief, no auspicious rites and rituals can be performed in such a month. So, the 6-day gap between Mahalaya and Durga Puja has a divergence of an additional gap of an extra month.

Now, add this unique astronomical occurrence with the pandemic and for the first time since the inception of its Durga Puja in Sovabazar Rajbari, the residents of Kolkata and the public-at-large will not be allowed to enter to witness this historical puja. The Rajbari Puja is the first Durga Puja in Kolkata since the Battle of Plassey in 1757 in the palace of Raja Nabakrishna Deb Bahadur—the erstwhile Raja of Kolkata and Munshi of Robert Clive. This Puja is part of Kolkata’s urban folk-lore.

Why Kolkata’s Rajbari Durga Puja is Special

Though time may have robbed some grandeurs of the Sovabazar Palace, the core of Durga Puja tradition still holds good here. As per the tradition, even today, no Durga idol in Kolkata is immersed into the river Ganga on the day of the Bijoya Dashami, until the idol of the palace is immersed.

Spiritual guru Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, and poet Rabindranath Tagore were visitors to this palace along with many more illustrious individuals. The palace also played host to the imperial India’s rulers, such as Robert Clive and Governor General Warren Hastings during Durga Puja.

William Prinsep and other British painters have immortalised those visits through their paintings.

William Prinsep’s painting depicting European guests being entertained during Durga Puja. 
William Prinsep’s painting depicting European guests being entertained during Durga Puja. 
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The image of the Devi has remained identical since the inception of the puja at this palace from October 1757, for 264 years. Unlike other images of the lion, the Devi of the palace rides the lion that resembles the unicorn. The entire structure comprising Goddess Durga, her four children, along with the Mahisasura, and the unicorn are accommodated within a single compact frame which is called ‘ekchala’.

Durga idol from Sovabazar Rajbari puja
Durga idol from Sovabazar Rajbari puja
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Artisans prepare the image from the auspicious date of Rathayatra and take around three months to give the final touch to the idol. And paints the eyes of the Devi along with all other idols on the day of Mahalaya. Durga Puja of Sovabazar Rajbari is performed based on ‘Brihad Nandikeswar Puran’.

The 2020 Durga Puja of the palace and that of Kolkata shall be etched in the public memory and in the annals of the history because of the restrictions towards the participation due to the pandemic, as also the unique gap of 35 days between the Mahalaya and the start of the actual puja.

(Devasis Chattopadhyay is the author of the book ‘Without Prejudice’, and an expert Corporate Reputation & Brand Management Strategist, and a Kolkata history buff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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