Tripura’s royal Durga Puja continues, courtesy government

Agartala, Sep 25 ( For over 200 years, Tripura’s best known Durga Puja festivities have been held at a temple here, with the Communist government holding good its promise to the state’s erstwhile royal family by continuing to organise it year after year.

Tripura is possibly the only Indian state where the government takes care of a Durga Puja celebration, that too in association with the erstwhile royal family. The famous Durgabari temple where the festivities are held is located in front of the 108-year-old Ujjayanta Palace, part of which continues to be the abode of the former princely rulers and the remaining serves as the meeting place of the Tripura assembly.

“Tripura is the only state in India where the state government is at the forefront of funding such a religious festival. The tradition has been going on since independence and has been on during Left rule in the state,” Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian, told IANS.

At the end of several hundred years of rule by 184 kings, on Oct 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state came under the control of the government of India according to a merger agreement signed between Kanchan Prabha Devi, then regent maharani, and the governor general of India.

The merger agreement made it obligatory for the Tripura government to continue the sponsorship of temples run earlier by Hindu princely rulers. And it continues to this day.

A full-fledged wing – Debarchan Vibhag – under district magistrates in all of Tripura’s four districts now bears this responsibility and the entire expenditure of some temples, including that of Durgabari.

“A procession led by the head priest, escorted by the Tripura police, goes to the palace to seek the consent of the royal family to begin the worship of goddess Durga at Durgabari,” said Nagendra Debbarma, a senior civil service official.

Debbarma now looks after the entire process on behalf of the state government.

The temple celebration, which has just begun, still observes many ancient traditions.

“A young buffalo, several goats and pigeons are sacrificed during the five-day festival at Durgabari in the presence of thousands of devotees – all on government expense,” Debbarma said.

“The district magistrate of West Tripura has to report in writing about the preparations at Durgabari and submit a final report after completion of the mega puja.”

Dulal Bhattacharjee, the octogenarian chief priest of Durgabari temple, said it is on the final day of Dashami that the real splendour of the festival comes to the fore.

“The idols of Durgabari that lead the Dashami procession are the first to be immersed at Dashamighat with full state honours, with the police band playing the national song.”

Historian Roy said: “The over 200-year-old Durga Puja is unique in the sense that the prasad (holy offering) includes meat, fish, eggs and, of course, fruits.”

Though the Durgabari temple celebration remains the top draw, community pujas organised by clubs and local people also vie for attention.

Traditional themes continue to dominate pandals with Indian temples and historical events forming part of the decorations.

India’s moon mission Chandrayaan-1 and the tragedy of the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai will come alive in a pandal through lighting. Climate change and global warming, Tripura’s royal palace, Birla Planetarium in Kolkata, Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Sun Temple of Konarak, the snow-capped hills of Kashmir, the Bombay High, a Buddhist temple in China and Kashmir’s Dal Lake are also being depicted through puja marquees.

In search of novelty, a local club is building 12-foot images of the deities from match sticks.