While large parts of India celebrate the return of Ram to Ayodhya on Diwali, in Bengal (and other eastern States of India) we worship Maa Kali, the goddess of destruction. Bengal is the land of the ‘Shakto’ (those who worship Shakti), thus Kali Puja is a gala affair in the State – specially at the Shaktipeeths in the State.
Bhramari Debi Temple
The Bhramari Debi Temple, located on the banks of Teesta river at Bodaganj in Jalpaiguri district, is one of the 51 Shaktipeeths. The left leg of Sati fell at this place, the devotees believe.
Bhramari Debi is a form of Shakti. She is worshipped as Kali. She is accompanied by her Bhairava (popularly known as Lord Ishwara). Her chakra (shaped in the form of lotus) is believed to have healing powers.
Those who are well-versed in the Hindu mythology would know that after Daksha publicly rebuked Shiva at his famous ‘yagna’ Sati could not take the insult of her husband and immolated herself in the fire of the ‘yagna’. Shocked and numbed by the death of his beloved wife, Shiva carried the body of Sati in his arms and began his ‘tandava nritya’ (dance of destruction). The gods trembled in fear and sought Vishnu’s help. He shot an arrow and split Sati’s body into 51 parts which fell all over India.
Of all places in the country, Bengal has the highest number of Shaktipeeths, as many as 13.
Devi Chaudhurani Mandir
Those who are familiar with Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s works would know that Devi Chaudhurani, the bandit queen of the famous ‘Sanyasi Movement’ period in the 19th century, had established the Kali temple near Gosala More of Denguajhar.
It is believed that Devi Chaudhurani used to visit this temple regularly. The famous Kali Puja here is still held under the centuries-old huge banyan tree. The Kali puja is now organised by the Devi Chaudhurani temple committee.
The Kali Puja at this temple is a major attraction for the people of Jalpaiguri. Thousands of people flock to this temple to witness the puja at midnight.
These places are easily accessible by road, rail, and air. The nearest town is Jalpaiguri. The nearest railway station is Jalpaiguri Road. The nearest airport is Bagdogra.
Popularly known as the Indian Halloween, Bhoot Chaturdashi (‘bhoot’ means ‘ghost’ and ‘chaturdashi’ is the 14th night of the moon’s cycle) is observed on the night before Kali Puja.
Observed primarily in the eastern parts of India, it is said that on this night the dead walk among the living. The evil spiritual powers are seemingly heightened on this night. In order to keep the evil spirits at bay, people ritualistically observe Bhoot Chaturdashi every year.
Bhoot Chaturdashi is known for the famous choddo shaak, or fourteen types of green leafy vegetables, where the shaak are cooked together. It is compulsorily eaten for lunch. For choddo shaak, the fourteen can be any fourteen, and neither is there any specific method of cooking.
Choddo shaak (Image: Reuters)
At dusk, earthen lamps or diyas are lit in the fourteen darkest corners of the household. This is done to ward off evil spirits as well as prevent them from entering the house. Folklore says that the spirits of forefathers come back to the household on this night. Hence, these lamps also serve to guide the spirits of forefathers.
Like many traditions, Bhoot Chaturdashi is also dying a slow death. The fast-paced urban life and a cosmopolitan outlook has helped the city-bred Bengali to adopt Dhanteras and other rituals (no harm in that, absolutely) but then we also moving away from our roots.
(This article was written by me for Maa Mati Manush TV and first published on October 22, 2014)