The first day of Baishakh is commonly referred as 'Poila Baishakh'. This day people wear new dresses and go about socializing. Chaitra the last month of the previous year is the month of hectic activities and frantic purchases. Garment traders organize a Chaitra sale and sell the garments with heavy discounts.
It is the day for cultural programs. All over Bangla, across the border, men, women and children take part in cultural programs. Prayers are offered for the well-being and prosperity of the families. Young ladies clad in white saris with red borders and men clad in either dhoti and kurta (Bangalee Hindus) or pajamas and panjabis (Bangalee Muslims) take part in the processions (Prabhat Pheri) early in the morning to welcome the first day of the year.
This day being auspicious, new business and new ventures are started. The 'Mahurat' is performed, marking the beginning of new ventures. The day of 'Poila Baishakh' is the beginning of all business activities in Bangla. The traders purchase new accounting books called 'Halkhata'. The accounting in the 'Halkhata' begins only after offering puja. Mantras are chanted and swastikas are drawn on the accounting book by the priests.
Long queues of devotees are seen in front of the Kalighat temple (in Kolkata) from late night. Devotees offer puja to receive the blessings of the almighty. Poila Baishakh bears immense significance in the life of all Bangalees. It marks as a new beginning, a new hope, a year full of joy, well-being and prosperity.
The Rath Jatra is one of the most holy as well as one of the hugely attended Hindu festivals.
Long long ago, King Indradumna Deb of Kalinga (Orissa), had a spectacular dream one night. He dreamt of the gods telling him to worship Jagannatha Deb, an incarnation of Lord Bishnu. The idol, as the dream showed, was to be built with neem wood, which would be found on the seashore.
The king being very pious, decided to follow the heavenly orders and as predicted by the dream the wood was found on the seashore. The mason of the gods, Lord Bishwakarma was requested to carry out the modeling and he agreed on one condition – that nobody should disturb him or take a peek at his works until he has finished. The king made the promise and the Lord started his works. But one day, the curious king made the mistake of peeking into the room, which the Lord was using as his studio. At that time all except the arms of the deities were finished. Lord Bishwakarma was furious and left without completing the statues. So the deities of Lord Jagannatha, his brother Lord Balarama and their sister Debi Shubhadra are worshiped in the same form as Lord Bishwakarma had left them. Every 12 years, as the custom goes, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama and Debi Shubhadra has a “Naba Kalebar” or a new body made of neem wood, which is washed to the shore, by the sea.
The Rath Jatra is a festival held at Puri, Orissa, to commemorate the visit of Lord Jagannatha, his brother Lord Balarama and their sister Debi Shubhadra to the house of their aunt Debi Gundicha, where they spent a fortnight every year. The actual festival begins with the "Snanjatra". The deities are bathed with water from an old well which is in the temple complex. Then the deities are put on huge ornamented chariots and are pulled to their destination by millions of devotees. In the procession, the first chariot on line is Taladhyaj, which belong to Lord Balaram. 13.5 meters high, this bold blue structure stands on a platform of fourteen wheels. The chariot Darpadalan, belonging to Debi Shuvadra follows next. Crimson red in colour, this chariot is around 13 meters high and moves on 12 wheels. Lord Jagannatha Deb's chariot Nandighosh is the last on the line. Bright yellow in colour, this chariot is roughly 14 meters high and stands on 16 wheels. There are 4 wooden horses in front of each chariot. The same is done on the day of “UltoRath” when the deities return home, at the Puri temple after the visit. The Rathjatra is one of the most holy as well as one of the most hugely attended Hindu festivals. Not only the natives but also the overseas tourists find this festival an intriguing affair.
MAHESH'S SNAN JATRA
It is often said that after the Snan Jatra of Puri, 'Nilkantha' bird is seen sitting on the Jagannath temple of Mahesh, in Sreerampur only 23 km from Howrah. Lord Jagannath on his way to Snan Yatra had rested on the banks of river Ganga in Mahesh. From then it acquired the status of a holy place. Even today thousands of pilgrims who undertake Snan Jatra (pilgrimage) flock to Mahesh for their holy dip.
Mahesh acquired its importance when Drubananda Brahmachari started the Snan Jatra. Around 500 years ago he had gone to the Jagannath temple of Puri to offer the Lord offerings (bhog) with his own hands but the seboks (the attendants) did not allow him to make such offerings. Anguished he went without food and almost killed himself but it is told that in his dreams the Lord directed him to Mahesh. Drubananda Brahmachari went to Mahesh. One rainy night he found 3 wooden trunks of neem tree floating near the banks of river Ganga. With these wooden planks he sculptured them into the Lord Jagannatha, his brother Lord Balarama and their sister Debi Shubhadra. These wooden sculptures are still worshiped today unlike the Puri's idols, which are changed every 12 years.
After the Snan Jatra it takes 2 weeks to re-varnish and polish the idols is known as "Angorag or Rupankan". A jagna (ritual) is then performed and the deities are then kept on the alter and the temple door is re-opened for the devotees. This is known as "Nabajauban Utsab". On the second day or "dwitia"is the Rath Jatra. Unlike the three raths(chariots) of Puri, Mahesh's Rath Jatra is graced with only one chariot but it is a four storied chariot. Earlier this rath was made of wood but because of its deteriorating condition, in the year 1292, the Dewan of Shyambazar, Krishnaram Basu made the present rath. It is made of iron and wrapped up with wood and was built by Martinbarn company. It is 50 feet high with nine temple tops and weighing 125 tonnes. England's Joy Engineering company built the 12 wheels of the chariot. In front of the chariot are 2 copper horses and wooden swans. It was worth Rs.20,000 then. The idol of Lord Jagannath is placed on the top most part of the chariot. From Mahesh the Rath goes to Kunjobati, Lord Jagannath's aunt's place. For nine days with Balarama and Shubhadra Lord Jagannath stays there and returns on Skukla Dashami which is known as Ulta (upside down) Rath.
ISKCON'S RATH JATRA
In Nadiya, Mayapur, is the establishment of ISKCON, International society of Krishna Consciousness. ISKCON establishments are also in Hyderabad, Brindavan and Mumbai. Every year devotees of Krishna and Chaitanya from all over the world visit these places to participate in the festivities of Rath Jatra. The "Hare Ram Utsab" is also very famous. Kolkata’s ISKCON's Rath Jatra started in the year 1972 and for three decades it has gained great popularity among the devotees of other countries. There are 35 other countries that celebrate Rath Jatra in their own homeland.
Durga Puja, the festival of Bangalees is the worship of 'Shakti' or the divine power. Most of the religious celebrations in the world have legends surrounding them. The fables are generally the fight between the forces of good and evil, the dark forces eventually succumbing to the divine. Worship of goddess Durga is based on myths where Durga symbolizes the divine power.
According to Indian mythology Mahishasura, the king of Asuras (titans), through years of austerities, was once granted a boon by Lord Bramha (the supreme god), that no man or deity would be able to kill him. The immense power filled in him the urge to rule over the world. He started to terrorize the inhabitants of both heaven and earth. He pervaded the world with his battalion of Asuras and plundered and ruthlessly killed the humans. Chaos and anarchy reigned. Gods were driven from heaven and Mahishasura usurped the throne.
The Gods terrified and unable to combat him, appealed to Lord Shib, Lord Bramha and Lord Bishnu to stop Mahishasura's tyranny. In reply, the three gods combined their divine energy and created a nymph so beautiful that it illuminated the heavens. From the glow emerged Debi Durga, a beautiful yellow woman with ten arms riding a lion. Despite her grace she bore a menacing expression, for Durga was born to kill.
Fully grown and beautiful Durga was immediately armed by the gods and sent forth against Mahishasura bearing in each of her ten hands, symbols of their divine power. Bishnu's discus; Shiva's trident; Barun's conch-shell; Agni's flaming dart; Bayu's bow; Surya's quiver and arrow; Jom's iron rod; Indra's thunderbolt; Kubera's club and a garland of snakes from Shesha and a lion as a charger from Himalayas. A fierce battle took place. Finally when Mahishasura in the guise of a buffalo charged against Durga, the Debi beheaded the buffalo and from it emerged Mahishasura in his original form. Durga pierced his chest with the trident and relieved the world from the evil power. That is why she is 'Durgatinashini Durga', our mother goddess who destroys the evil, protects her devotees and establishes peace and prosperity on earth.
Bangalee Hindus worship Durga as the mother goddess, the epitome of 'Shakti' (divine power), to deliver us from the evil and bring peace and prosperity in our lives. But the most interesting part of Durga Puja is that, instead of placing Durga on a high alter and worshiping her from a distance the Bangalees embrace her in their hearts and make her an inseparable member of the family. Bangalees welcome Durga to the earth as our daughter who comes at her parents' home for her annual visits. Durga stays for four days-Shashti (6th), Saptami (7th), Ashtami (8th) and Nabami (9th) along with her children, Ganesh, Laxmi, Kartik and Saraswati and sets for her husband's abode on Bijoy Dashami (10th).
Durga's mode of journey to the earth is detailed in scriptures. The modes, an elephant, a horse, palanquin, boat all signify luck or omen which influence the life on earth. The elephant signifies prosperity and good harvest while journey on a horseback indicates drought, a palanquin spells wide spread epidemic and the boat suggests flood and misery.
The worship of Debi Durga however owes its origin to Sree Raam. He hastily worships Durga, the goddess of 'Shakti', just before he sets for Lanka to rescue Sita from Raban. According to Puranas, King Suratha, used to worship the goddess Durga in spring. Thus Durga Puja was also known as Basanti Puja. But Raam set the tradition of worshipping Debi Durga in autumn and that is why it is known as 'Akal Bodhon' or untimely worship. Over the years, this Akal Bodhon has become the tradition among Bangalees and in Bangla.
Kali Puja is performed on a new moon night. As Kali is associated with dark rites and demon worship, the rituals performed are austere and offered with great devotion. Terrifying than Durga is Kali, the black earth-mother, whose rites involve sacrificial killings (even human sacrifice in the past). Kali is associated with bllod rites and necromancy.
Kali has dark skin and hideous tusked face, smeared with blood, the brow bearing a third eye, like Shib's. She has four arms. She holds in one a weapon, in another the head of an asura (titan), dripping blood; the other two are raised to bless the worshipers. Her body is naked except for her 'ornaments', which include necklace of snakes, skulls and heads of her sons and a belt from which hangs demon's hands, which signify Karma or action.
Kali developed her blood lust after killing the demon Raktabera. Lord Brahma had granted a boon to Raktabera that every drop of blood that fell from his body would be able to produce thousands more like him. The only way Kali could kill him was to hold him high, pierce him with a spear and drink all his blood as it gushed out. Kali is often portrayed with her tongue hanging out and her mouth dripping blood. This is said to signify the force that gives impetus to all activities.
Kali once gave free rein to her blind lust for destruction. On one occasion Shib himself had to mingle among the demons whom she was slaughtering and allowed himself to be trampled underfoot in her dance of victory, as it was the only way to bring her to her senses and save the world from collapse. She acquired her name Kali meaning 'conqueror of time' as she subdued her husband by trampling over him.
This way Debi Kali the symbol of fertility conquered Shib, the inexorable destroyer, who was equated with time. Aspects of Kali are Chandi, the fierce and Bhairabi, the terrible in which she is the counterpart to Shib's aspect of Bhairaba, when he takes pleasure in destruction. Another name of this form is Chamunda.
Kali Puja is performed on a new moon night. As Kali is associated with dark rites and demon worship, the rituals performed are austere and offered with great devotion.
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is worshipped just after Durga Puja. Lakshmi is one of the daughters of Durga who symbolizes wealth, peace and prosperity. On a full moon night people worship her at their homes and pray for her blessings. It is considered that Lakshmi visits those homes and replenishes their homes with wealth.
Lakshmi is generally represented as a beautiful golden woman, usually sitting or standing on a lotus, her symbol. She is also known as Sri and attained importance as the consort of Bishnu.
Lakshmi is generally believed to exist first as the daughter of the sage Bhrigu and to have taken refuge in the ocean of milk during a period when the gods were exiled from their kingdom as a result of a rishi's (sage) curse. She was reborn during the churning of the milk ocean as Lakshmi, one of the fourteen precious things. She emerged from the ocean like Venus, luscious and radiant, bearing a lotus in her hand. Lakshmi was then married to Bishnu and has a clear share in Bishnu's activities as preserver, and this reinforces her earlier character as goddess of fortune and giver of wealth.
In the Vedas, Saraswati was a water deity and was revered for purifying, fertilizing and enriching powers. The next stage in Saraswati's mythological history was her identification with the holy rituals performed on the banks of river Saraswati. She is said to have invented Sanskrit, the language of the Brahmins, of scriptures and scholarship. It is also believed that it was her who discovered soma or amrita (elixir) in the Himalayas and brought it to the other gods. Later myths diminished the powers of Saraswati. She was said to be identical with Biraj, the female half or being created out of the substance of Purusha or Prajapati and thus the instrument of creation. As Brahma's wife, she provides the power to execute what Brahma has conceived with his creative intelligence. She is the goddess of all the creative arts and in particular of poetry and music, learning and science.
The Celebration of Saraswati Puja is a big occasion in greater Bangla. The day has been declared a state holiday. The pujas are held in every locality and in a few homes as well. Since Saraswati is the goddess of learning, the students are the most enthusiastic. They give 'Anjali' to the goddess and pray for their future. The youngest girl of the family has to wear a yellow ('Basanti') coloured sari as a custom. An essential requirement for the Saraswati puja is the 'Palash' flowers without which the puja is considered to be incomplete. All the young people living in the locality gather in the “pandal” (pavilion) to celebrate the occasion. Music blares in the pandals and the children enjoy themselves. The puja is performed by the 'Pujari' or pundit. After the puja is over, the 'prasad' (food) is distributed among all the people present. In some places, they make it a point to feed all the poor living in the locality.
All Bangalees, both Hindus and Muslims, celebrate the more secular cultural festivals such as Poila Baishakh, Paus Sankranti. In the past before the military backed rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Babgale Muslims used to share (at least food) the festivity of the Hindu religious festivals. Predominance of meat (specially beef which the Hindus hold sacred) and the festivity consisting only of eating (Islam prohibits dance, music and drinking) it has always been difficult for the Hindus to participate in Muslim festivals. But many Muslims, despite the Mullah’s fatwah used to participate in Hindu festivals (although the number is rapidly diminishing in Bangladesh as more Hindus are forced to migrate to India) at least for the innate festive nature of Hindu festivals (dance, colourful presentation, food, drink etc).
Festivals of Bangalee Muslims are typical Arabian festivals grafted in Bangalee ethos, and hence little more improvised, as cultural imports from the arid Middle East. There are two Eids, Fitr and Ajha which consists only of praying in the mosque, hugging each other, wearing new clothes, and eating, as much as physiology permits and sometimes even ignoring physiological limitations as the Mullahs and gluttons often do, for the remaining two days.
Eid of Ram
EID prayer: Bangladeshi Muslims prostrating and praying before an Arabian God: Allah
Spree of feasts as eid-ul-fitr follows a month of austere fasting. As the Muslims have to rely on lunar calendar, eid of Ramjan rarely falls on the same day in all the Muslim countries around the world.
In Bangladesh eid is observed on three different days. The Saudi lovers to it when the Saudis do it. Paki lovers do it when the moon is seen in Islamabad not in Dhaka and the rest follow the government dates.
However, as soon as the government appointed Mullah for the sight of the new moon determines the day, the Muslims of all levels cheer up (fasting is over) and rush into a shopping spree for food and clothes. On the eve of eid women folk wake past midnight to prepare for feasts to eat and to entertain visitors with the following day. The men and the kids wake up early in the morning, bathe, eat sweets and then the men folk head up to the mosque to attend special Eid prayer. The mosques are often overcrowded with people. The cleric read out, in Arabic, the scriptures, which the Banglaee audience don't understand. After hours of reading while the audience only look to the ground, the cleric then set out for the formal prayer. In the prayer the cleric prays to Allah for the solidarity and prosperity of all Muslims around the world.
After the prayer, the people start hugging (it's not mardi gra although looks like one) each other causing major traffic in the locality. Once the hugging is over they start giving coins to the swarmed beggars outside the mosque. As soon as the coins are finished, they head home with kids and enjoy the second course of meal (normally rich food with abundance of beef from cows smuggled from India). When the meals at home have been relished they head to their neighbours’, relatives and friends’ homes and keep eating. Eating is vigorously celebrated and reciprocated with the same zeal for the next two days.
Eid of Sacrifice