Jagadhatri Puja: The Autumn Carnival Of Chandannagar

Special Report By: BARNALI BOSE

CHANDANNAGAR: Bengal has long been known to be a ‘Land of festivities’. In fact, an oft-quoted Bengali adage says that in twelve calendar months, Bengalis celebrate thirteen festivals.This is rather  an understatement if one goes by the umpteen pujas performed one after the other.

The three-eyed, four-armed goddess is depicted as being the colour of the morning sun, rides a lion standing on the dead ‘Karindrasura”, the Elephant Demon and holds a conch, a chakra, a bow and an arrow in her hands. The snake, the ‘nagajangopaveeta’ is her sacred thread. The uniqueness of the Jagadhatri idol of Chandannagar lies in her gigantic size and ornamental glory.

Various materials are used to make the pandals that house the deity for four days. The use of  colourful moving lights to potray various events is indeed a feast for the eyes. The making of the idol, is in itself,  a unique activity.  Idol makers begin their herculean task a month ahead of the puja.

Idols are moulded on the pedestal that is installed in the pandal itself. This is because the huge size of the idols which makes it nearly impossible for transportation. Local artisans as well as those from far away towns are employed to paint and weave intricate designs to adorn the pandals and their gateways.
Replicas of temples, ships and other monuments  are used to design the pandals in great finesse. Months before the festival, Electricians adapt lighting arrangements, plan and execute layouts of the luminary displays, with great enthusiasm .Scenes from the epics, mythological characters, recent significant occurances, popular films and cartoons are also exhibited through lighting designs .
Having lived in Chandannagar for the last thirty years I have been a witness to the radical change in the manner the festival is celebrated. Earlier all the idols used to look similar being decked in white and golden.
However, now with the commercialisation of festivals there is a struggle to acquire sponsorships and endeavour to achieve accolades in the form of awards such as ‘the most beautiful pandal decoration’, the most beautiful countenance and so on and so forth. This has led to a shift from tradition and the advent of theme -based pujas. It is also considered an enviable feat to be able to engage celebrities to inaugurate the pujas.
The budget for each puja committee ranges from fifty lakhs to one crore or more. Funds are arranged from collection of contributions from locals too.

The number of community pujas in Chandannagar Municipal areas crosses two hundred mark. Of these, 132 Puja committees in different localities in Chandannagar and Bhadreswar are affilated to the Chandannagar Central Jagadhatri Puja Committee. The Central committee renders all possible assistance in getting permission and clearances for conducting Puja.

The Immersion procession is, indubitably, a mesmerizing experience, for which thousands of people, both local and from other places, throng in Chandannagar . The beautiful decorated tall images loaded on trucks along with thematic lighting are taken along the G.T. Road in a procession.

Three-dimensional lighting coupled with appropriate music creates an effect that is unsurpassably exquisite and unique to the Jagadhatri puja of Chandannagar. The night- long procession culminates with the immersion of idols of the Goddess on Ekadashi .

Devotees with stoical patience, crowd on the banks to have a glimpse of Mother Goddess as she departs to her heavenly abode. It is very difficult to hold back one’s tears as the mother is immersed in the Ganga amidst the thundering sounds of the drum beats and blowing of the conch shells.The ritual being over, they smear one another with sindoor, embrace one another and wish one another “Subho Bijoya”.

Although the festival is over, the memory remains fresh in the minds for a long time. Devotees console themselves with the thought that the coming year, Mother will arrive again and once more Chandannagar will be illuminated to bring joy to all those who await with indomitable enthusiasm to participate in the splendour.

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