ROY BARI- BEHALA
Durga is perhaps the most widely worshiped deity of Shakti. Maa Durga's divine characterization include entire Devibhagavatham is dedicated to her. Durga means one who is difficult to approach. However since she is the mother of universe she is the personification of tender love, wealth, power, beauty and all virtues. Durga Puja is celebrated in Bengal since the Medieval Period, also known as the period of Mughal Empires. In 16th Century the Durga Puja was held in the Court of Rajshahi and in Nadia District in 18th Century. However, in 18th Century it became popular. The Zaminder families of the city are quietly carrying on with their traditions, some of which started hundreds of years ago. By mid of 18th Century, the national festival of the Bengalis became an occasion for the rich Babus of Kolkata to flaunt their wealth. It became a religious splurge among the Babu's of Bengal, to measure the supremacy of one over the other. The first Durga Puja seems to have been celebrated by Bhabananda, the ancestor of Maharaja Krishna Chandra of Nadia, in or about 1606. The household Durga Puja held by the descendants of Roy Bahadur Ambika Charan Roy is conducted even today in a highly traditional style. The traditional household Durga Pujas gained prominence because of their deep and passionate devotion to Goddess Durga.
At the dawn of the 17th Century, Gajendra Narayan Chattopadhaya, the treasurer of Emperor Jahangir's capital, Adi Saptagram received the esteemed honour of Raja with the title '' Roy Chowdhury’’. He was honoured with various gifts from the emperor. When Emperor Jahangir changed his capital from Adi Saptagram to East Bengal, Raja Gajendra Narayan Roy shifted to Halisahar and later to Madhya gram in North 24 Parganas and resided there. It was here that Raja Gajendra Narayan Roy and his descendants started the annual worship of the Goddess Durga and the Goddess Annapurna. The daily worship of Lord Sri Sri Ishwar Narayan as the deity of the Estate was also established in his household. The Lord is also known as Narayan Shila.
About the year 1742 with the terror of the Bargi attacks, a section of the Roy family together with their deity the Narayan Shila, fled from their establishment. Crossing the ''Maratha Ditch'' made by the British, they made their way towards the outskirts of Calcutta, they landed in Behala. The Roy family establislled themselves in Behala in 1756 and started the worship of the Goddess Durga which is continuing till date.
A distinguished scion of the Roy family was Ambika Charan Roy with esteemed qualitilies in the field of art and literature. Honoured with the title of Rai Bahadur, Ambika Charan graciously spent his time in benevolence and increased his family property with dexterity The Goddess Jagatdhatri appereared to the virtuous Brahmin devotee Ambika Charan in a dream and according to the wishes of the' Goddess, he started Jagatdhatri Puja which is performed every year till date.
The third son of Ambika Charan Roy, amongst the four, Amarendranath, built his own house in 1930 with the name ''Amarendra Bhavan’’.
The late Sailen Roy, the only son of Amarendranath Roy, worshipped the Goddess Durga annually in his own residence. Feeling the need to continue the ancestral worship, both Goddess Durga and Goddess Jagaddhatri are worshiped in “Amarendranath Bhavan'' by Sailendranath Roy’s since 1976.
At present, the two sons of the late Sailendranath Roy, Sri Subir Roy and Sri Gautam Roy, shining examples of devotion and spirituality, perform the Durga Puja and Jagatdhatri Puja every year, maintaining the traditional customs with great pomp and splendour.
TRADITIONS OF THE ROYS
The Roys are very particular in maintaining their tradition in a perfect shape. There was a practice in the prior generation of collecting seuli flowers in a white new cloth or sari under the seuli tree. It laid under the tree the night long. One these Puja days, the flowers were collected fresh and were offered to Durga Maa before they were fallen on the ground.
Another traditional way of maintaining their rites is of the collection of bathing water of Maa. It was collected in a quite authentic way. Overnight, strays of cotton, soaked in water was laid in the garden. Dew fell night long and this fresh collected dew was used for the bathing of Durga Maa. This bathing water of Maa and the bathing water of their Narayan Shila are partaken in as “Charanamrito”.
The other notifying tradition which is being sustained for generations to till date is of maintaining a documented profile of every minute detail which is very truly called as “Kheror Khata.” Previously it was done by the elder generations and now Roy’s eldest daughter-in-law, Smt Nilanjana Roy is carrying on this tradition in the same manner, in much more modified and compact way. Kheror Khata is a hard binding copy where one can find the corroboration of all the details of the Durga Puja. Starting from the Janmashtami to the Bijaya Dashami, every detail of the ledger balance and accounts is documented in a very clear and proper way. Previously, the Sarkar Mashais of this family did this job with “doyat- kalam” (fountain pen with ink) with the accounts of ana, pie and ganda (measurements of units in previous time). Now, keeping the same quantity, only the currency has changed. It’s a book where the particulars of “alpin to elephant” are maintained.
Another signifying feature of the Roys is the “Arghya”, the blessing of Debi Maa, be of Maa Durga or of Maa Jagaddhatri. The Arghya compromises of 108 grains, 108 malts and 108 durbas, tied up in with red thread in a special way. The separation of the grains and the malts get started to be done since a fortnight. These 408 grains, malt and durbas of each are kept beneath Debi’s feet on Shashthi, Saptami, Ashtami and Sandhi Puja. On Dashami, after the immersion, thakur mashai, who had kept them there, gives these as a blessing of the Almighty to the wives of the family. All of the family members have a strong faith and religious belief on the Arghya. Through out the year, before attending any special or important job like going before examinations, leaving the station or the country or handling any important consignment or even during marriage in house,, they touch the Arghya on their forehead with strong trust and keep it with them till the job ends.
During these days, the ladies play an important and direct role in regards to the attachment with the Puja. The wives are directly involved with the Puja arrangements of bilwabaran, cooking of the Bhog, preparing the naibedya, Arati, helping thakur mashai in several minute details. Being Brahmin ladies, they possess the eligibility of getting themselves involved with all these religious jobs directly. No one can imagine in their wildest dreams even to leave their premise, merriment and responsibility during the days of Pujas. They are busy and happy like anything with the involvement of the Pujas. Even, as long as late Sailendranath Roy’s wife late Pratima Roy and his sister were alive, they handled the Puja with their strength of experiences. Now the batten is handed over to their daughter in laws-Smt Nilanjana Roy and Smt Sanghamitra Roy and their daughters-, Smt Mandira Mukherjee, Smt Parbati Ganguly, Smt Susmita Roy who are flying their flags high with the same tradition and custom. Even the youngest generation of the family which includes Jyotiraditya, Rudraditya and Udayaditya also keep the same pace.
Given above the snap of the place where Maa is worshipped. The task of making the idols is considered as sacred as the actual Puja itself. As such, an auspicious date is chosen for commencing this very significant work. In this family, work on molding the images is begins on the day of Janmashtami. On this day, clay, which is gathered and brought by the potters of Kumartuli, is applied on the structure. Before actual shape is given to the 'murti' of the Goddess, the rough structure made of straw and bamboo dust is worshipped. This is called 'Kathamo Puja'. Potters are fixed in this family for generations .At present, internationally famous artisans Pradip Pal, an eminent artist and the son of Late Kali Pal and Amar Pal carries the work successfully with great care and respect. These artisans of Kumartuli in North Calcutta are famous for keeping alive Roy’s house hold age-old tradition of creating the awesome idols of the Goddess by hand, regard the task of creating the idols of the Goddess, sacred, thus carrying it out with great seriousness and reverence. This is done in a very reasonable price and in spite of his ill health this year the potter still performed his duty with full attention. Actually, this family is very thick and thin with this family in aspect of moral responsibility.
On this auspicious day, the craftsman, who does the “daker Saaj”, takes the token of advance. In early days, Debi Maa used to had the “bullen’s Saaj”. It’s a special craftsmanship of golden wires with minute and splendid works of metal and beads were sewed and engraved. These artificers generally belonged to Krishnanagar, Nadia. But with the time, though the Roys wanted to keep this tradition of bullen, but this special artistry is carried on no more. No skilled labour is there with this prowess. So this has been replaced by a good artwork of golden Daker Saaj. She along with her four children is worshipped in”ekchala”. Her lion has also a special significance. It bears resemblance that like of the “pot-Chitra” of Kalighat.
Tarpan gets started in this family from the “pitripaksha”. Tarpan is held by the two brothers Sri Subir Roy and Sri Gautam Roy, till the early morning of the Debi Paksha in their thakur dalan in the first floor. Narayan Puja and Chandipathh starts from Debipaksha till these Puja’s days.
RITUALS OF THE PUJA
The drum-beats are an integral part of the Durga Puja. This special variety of the drum, known as 'Dhak,' enthralls the hearts of the premise with its majestic rhythm right from the day of 'Shashthi.' This drum is held on the shoulder with the beating side in the bottom and is beaten with two sticks, one thick and another thin.
Today's most authentic form of the Durga is that of a ten handed goddess modeled out of clay astride a lion. Each of those hands carry a separate weapon in them except two, which holds the spear which has been struck into the chest of the demon, Mahishasura. The four children of the Goddess had also been added to the iconography - Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge, Kartick, the God of beauty as well as warfare and Ganesh, the 'Siddhidata' or the starter of everything in good sense.
The Durga Puja spans over a period of ten days in case of traditional and household Pujas, though the main part of it is restricted to four days only. Here in, we get a very illustrative depiction of all the minute details of the Puja rituals along with the Bhog from the eldest wife, now the head of the family in the respect of the “andarmahal and ritual deptt”, Smt Nilanjana Roy.
“Abahan” starts from Pratipada till “Bilwabaran” Another very beautiful custom performed by the priest at dusk on Mahashasthi, is 'Bodhan'. The image of the Goddess, crafted with care, and made of clay, is not yet regarded divine. It is these peculiar, yet highly meaningful practices that make the worship of the Goddess so unique and awe-inspiring.
The main Puja, however, starts on the evening of 'Shashthi', the sixth day after the new moon, generally from beneath a 'Bel' tree (wood-apple) for this traditional family. This is known as “Bilwabaran.”. The house many bel trees .For their household Shiva lingam, everyday a lot of bel leaves are required and for the homa and yagna, bel branches are equally needed. Puja of bel is performed here at first and thereafter homage is paid to the pratima. After Bilwabaran, comes “adhibaas”. As the idol of the pratima is surrounded on its four sides with holy red thread, similarly this tree is done the same. Also after the cutting off the holy thread and the immersion of the pratima, this thread is also cut off. A clay platform is made in front of the tree where She is offered naibedya for these three days.
Another beauteous subject is the depiction of the yantram. Every Sakti Puja has its definite yantram. The Durga yantram is portrayed in front of Maa, by the priest with its five natural colours. No artificial colour for rangoli is used. Vermillion is used for red colour; White colour comes from the dust of rice, yellow from the powder of turmeric, green from the crushing of the leaves of dry-apple and black from the dust of black charcoal. After bilwabaran, the priest fixes up the Debi Ghot on his drawn Durga yantram.
In the wee hours of 'Saptami,' the next day, the Roy family performs their unique and traditional “kalabou baron.” This custom of the Holy bathing is traditionally going on. Unlike other household old Pujas of Kolkata, this family does not go to the nearby pond or Ganges for the Holy bathing of Kalabou. Kalabou, the wife of Lord Ganesha is bathed in a huge tumbler with various sorts of collected water the year through. The bathing water comprises of water from many pilgrimages, holy places, clear rain water, water from many rivers, seas, oceans, Vishnu oil, fragrant body oils, Jaba Kusum oil etc. All the water holders are labeled properly with their sources. In nine “Ghot” or pots, this water is kept and the tantradharak, the assistant of the prime priest performs this job of Holy bathing. Then Nabapatrika is established. Kalabou is thereafter greeted warmly and is offered a new sari. During the Durga Puja, which is partly a harvest festival, a central object of worship is the nabapatrika, a bundle of nine different plants which is identified with Durga. The 'Purohit' performs 'Chakhkhudan', which involves touching the eyes of Durga with 'kajal', the clay image is invested with Holy Spirit and is transformed from a mere clay idol to a figure of divinity. The Goddess is also identified with, pot, containing edible fruits and plants from the nabapatrika together with Ganges water. The pot is set on moist dough scattered with the seeds of five grains. The priest recites a prayer identifying the pot with amrita, the immortal nectar of the gods. Durga as the pot symbolizes the power of growth of the grains and the source of the power of life which gave the gods immortality.
On Ashtami, Kumari Puja is the main attraction. The little girl is worshipped in the form of Debi Durga, after the “pran-pratishtha” by the priest; she is beautifully adorned with new red sari, ornaments, “alta”, oil and other cosmetics. The girl looks very graceful. After the Puja, she is offered with many gifts. Apart from this, anjali is given on all these three days along with the Sandhi Puja.
The main Puja starts thereafter and the prime time is reached in the 'Sandhikshan,' the crossover time between Ashtami and Nabami. Sandhi Puja bears a special significance in Durga Puja. It is that special time when asura was died in the hands of the Almighty Debi Durga. Priest utters the Holy Chamunda mantra. This Puja is held for 45 minutes approximately. Before the Sandhi Puja starts, the total area surrounding pratima is cleaned and washed away carefully and then the arrangement for the Sandhi Puja gets started. The ingredients for the Puja are placed in a special way. There is a huge “barkosh” (a wooden plate for Puja), with its approximate circumference like that of a big cart’s wheel. On it is placed mounted rice of 7 kgs. On the top of its peak, narkel naru (balls of jaggery) is placed in beautiful shape. Some times, it bears the resemblance of Bal Gopal, Ganesha, sometimes boat, elephant, swing (depending on the fact on which Debi is arriving and departing from the Heaven).On the earthen plates and containers fruits, panch-kadai, tender coconut, nuts, beetle, pistachio, sweet curd ,sweets, garam masala , beetle nut palm, ghee rabri etc are offered and that too in huge quantities. 28 tender coconuts are kept cut off in a special method. 108 lotuses are a must in this Puja.
Nabami comprises mainly of Sacrifice and homas. A great gathering is held among all the family mambers during these days.
As Durga Puja is basically Sakti Puja, so sacrifice is a must in this Puja. In early days, goat sacrifice was performed. But during late Amarendranath Roy’s period, animal sacrifice is ceased and now the tradition is going on with vegetable sacrifice which includes sugar cane, cucumber and white gourd in Shashi, Saptami, Ashtami Sandhi Puja and Nabami.
Finally, on 'Dashami,' the tenth day from the new moon, the image is immersed in their household pond. The idol is so heavy in weight that while bringing Her from the thakur dalan to the pond, the staircases, dalan of that particular area are breaking off. It is not so easy to accumulate skilled labours, as they are available in North Kolkata, Kumartuli areas, who can carry this Ekchala pratima for immersion. They perform this task very skillfully and too quite easily. The water, garlands and the flowers of the Devi Ghot is immersed in water and fresh water is gathered in the Ghot and is kept in the thakur dalan for next seven days. Thakur Mashie sprinkles this Holy water as “Shantir-Jal.”
Another special rite of this family is the “Kanakanjali”. As per the mythology, Debi Durga goes back from her maternal house on this day. Before going back from father’s house , She gives rice , money along with other grains to Her mother as if She is paying back in kind , the expenses what was done for Her in these days. In this family, the youngest child gives this offering to the eldest motherly member.
With the arrival of Debipaksha, culinary art plays a major part in relative with Bhog. From Pratipada to Shashthi, there is a wide range of varieties in the menu starting from “ghee-bhat” to “Payesh”. On these days, food is offered to Debi Maa for four times. On the morning, “naibedya” is given with rice, fruits and sweets. At noon, She is offered ‘Khichuri”, five types of vegetable fries, a vegetable curry, fish preparation, chutney and payesh. On the evening, ”sheetal” is given to Her with sweet curd and sweets. Finally, on the night, Maa is offered plain white rice, dal, shukto, 5 types of fries, a vegetable curry, fish preparation, sweet curd and sweets. Unripe jackfruit is a must in the menu of the Bhog. Curry of unripe jackfruit, cauliflower& peas, cabbage also takes place in the menu. “Ghonto” is also a must in these days. It can be of mocha, shak, etc. Fish is cooked separately and offered to Maa in these days though it is cooked and offered to Maa separately from the other dishes.
During these days, the naibedya is dedicated in quite a significant way. A main and big naibedya is given to Maa Durga, one to the bel tree, nine to kalaBou or navapattrika (in nine different bases)and thirteen to others where Lord Shiva, Her children along with their consorts.
In the very early stage, Behala was a mere village. The neighbouring hoods and the people from far and near, used to come and attend the Puja in this house, these days. They had a demand from their inner selves that they will get the bhogs and prasads these days though out. Sarkar Mashais also prepared menu in that manner and they all ate the Bhogs happily. It was a huge number in count. On the last day, late Sailendranath Roy, proud father of Sri Subir Roy and Sri Gautam Roy, gave new clothes to the needy and the old ones. Till now also, many people come from far-off to pay homage to Debi Maa. The Roys still run with the tradition of giving prasads to all whoever comes in the evenings.
RECOLLECTION OF THE MEMORIES
While recollecting the old memories, Sri Gautam Roy had his eyes glittering when he was recollecting of the flavour of a special dish of Shashthi, when he was young. His Mejo Jyethima kamala Debi, used to prepare an outstanding tasty dish of Kochuri and alur dam. The flavour of this dish was strong enough to reach to the people outside the premise when the kochuris were put in deep fry. Though now also, the cook or the thakur prepare the same dish in the same manner (they were taught by the seniors only), as was done before but the taste differs, it’s a great regret to all the present members of the family. In this family alike the potter and priest, cooks are also attached in generations. Helping hands of the cooks come from their native village for these days and become a part of the festivity.
Previously, Holy Ganges water was collected 2-3 months before the Pujas, by the “bhari” and was stored in many big earthen pots and was kept in the western verandah of the thakur dalan and in the kitchen of Bhog. The total Bhog in these days was cooked by this Ganges water.
Also in early days, the rooms allocated for naibedya and Bhog were very restricted. They were kept totally separated from the others. No child was permissible to enter these rooms. And no elder ones used to talk even from these rooms. Sacredness was maintained in such a way. Still now, this practice is maintained in the same way. Now a day, the children get permission to enter only in the room of Naibedya but not in the kitchen where “Bhog “is prepared. But the notifying fact is that- the children of this family, be how much young they are, are aware of the fact that they can enter kitchen of the Bhog or can enter thakur dalan only after having bath and after wearing clear or new dress, says Sanghamitra Roy, the youngest daughter-in-law of the family.
Whatsoever incidental accident or accidental incident may happens in the family, Durga Puja never gets ceased. Rai Bahadur Ambika Charan Roy on Debi Paksha’s Pratipada .His “Shradh” was held within the Pujas and so also in 2005, Smt Pratima Roy’s Shradh was also held on Maha Ashtami. The house was divided in two different segments, where on part; the Puja was carried on by the married daughters of the family who were eligible of participating in the Puja. On the other part the rites of the Shradh was going on. No outsiders could have understood the segmentation. Both the jobs were performed smoothly with no obstruction.
It is worthy of notice that in spite of so many obstructions and impediments, this generation of the Roys is carrying on all the rituals of all the Pujas so successfully and it is very much expected with all the best wishes that the show must go on with the same splendour and magnificence in the upcoming generations also. The Roys strongly believe that all these would never have been possible without the blessings of their forefathers and mainly for their “Kulo-Diksha Guru”- Late Sri Mahashananda Giri Maharaj ji of Mt.Abu, Rajasthan. If anyone wishes to visit this Puja during the Durga Puja time, The Roys cordially invite all to pay homage to the Goddess throughout the day. One has to come down to Behala 14 no Bus Stand and ask anyone for the “Amarendranath Bhavan” or the “Roy-der Bari.” It is just 1-2 mins walking distance from the D.H.Road. The address of the same is 4/1, Roy Bahadur A.C.Roy Road, Behala, Kolkata-34.