Friday, November 13, 2015

Flashback and more

In my ancestral home in North Bengal, this is the busiest time of the year. Folk lore has it that the Khan Bahadur Bhaduris many centuries back descended from a family of dacoits and made their fortune by amassing wealth and land from the kings and landlords. Before every raid, they were known to offer an animal sacrifice to the goddess Kaali. In due course, over a few generations, they became feudal lords themselves, gave up on robbery and adopted the lifestyles of Zamindars. However, the loyalty to the goddess of shakti or Kaali continued and a temple on home grounds was built over an altar of panchmundi or the sacrificed heads of five humans. Even today, the temple stands strong in the courtyard amidst the dilapidated remains of the old mansion and the modern structures where our extended families live.
Kaalipujo continued to be the most awaited festival at home and throughout my growing up years, an annual ritual for the dispersed family to reunite. During my grandmother's time, as the senior most matriarch of the Khan Bahadur Bhaduris, she was the sole controller of the elaborate family run extravaganza. Everyone else merely followed orders.
Interestingly, everyone in the village and in the neighbouring villages were invited. No one who lived within the radius of 5 kms, stayed hungry on these days. Thamma, till her 90s, continued to fast all day and prepare the Bhog for the pujo.
It was during one of those annual visits to home, that she told me a story.
Once in the midst of the festive season when her grand mom in law Bindubashini Debi was preparing the bhog, a little village girl came and stood near the main kitchen. She looked like a peasant's child, matted hair and frail, and someone probably from a lower caste. How she had found access to the zamindari kitchen or the courtyard of a bramhin family was unknown. The girl apparently spread out her hand begging for food. Bindubashini Debi was so engrossed in cooking for the goddess that she snapped at her insolence, explained that it was bhog meant for Ma Kaali, ignored the child and ordered the servants to drive her away. No one eats what's prepared for the gods before it is offered in prayers. Only after the bhog is religiously offered, can the prasad be distributed amongst devotees. The little girl went away forlorn and sad.
That night Bindubashini Debi had a dream where she saw Ma Kaali rebuking her in her sleep and refusing to accept the bhog. " I came to your doorstep asking for food and you drove me away. Now I shall not touch your bhog," the sad Goddess said. Bindubashini Debi must have realised her mistake for she sought forgiveness and declared that the whole village and its neighbourhood be invited for the pujo. A decree was passed that no one within 5 km radius of the zamindari would sleep hungry that night and if anyone ever asked or begged for food even meant to be offered to the gods, it must be given out to the person first.
For generations, we have stuck by the unique code. In all our festivals and prayers, in rituals and celebrations, it is always about practising human first, then God.
May Ma Kaali, the goddess of Shakti give you strength, courage and power!

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