As soon as Durga Puja ends residents of the tribal areas of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts get ready to worship Bhandani Devi. Known to be the festival of the Rajbanshis, Bhandani Puja starts the day after Dashami and continues for three days.
According to local mythology, when Durga was on her way back to her husband, Shiva’s abode in Mt Kailash with her children, she had to cross the Teesta and Torsha rivers. Finding the local people in distress, she asked them to worship her as Bhandani, along with her children.
However, she has some significant differences with Goddess Durga: she is depicted with two hands, and sometimes four; she is blood-red in colour; her mount is sometimes a lion and sometimes a tiger; and, she always faces the west.
The Rajbanshi belief is that Bhandani Devi is responsible for protecting their crops. Hence the people pray to her for good harvest and through it, for bringing peace and prosperity. But it’s not just crops. People pray to her for ful;filling their wishes in general, and sacrifice pigeons and goats in gratitude. A Rajbanshi purohit, known as ‘deusi’, conduct her worship through offering milk, curd, sugar and batasa (a sugar confectionary).
Held in the tribal villages of Barnish, Khashimchara and Nadhabdanga in Maynaguri block of Jalpaiguri district, the puja is reason for feasting and seven days of festivities. A three-day fair is also organised in these areas. In Maynaguri, the mela stretches up to Ulladabri.
Interpretations of Bhandani Devi
According to Dr Dipak Kr Roy, Professor of Bengali, North Bengal University, though Bhandani Devi is worshipped as a form of Durga, she is essentially the goddess of harvest. The origin of the word ‘Bhandani’ is ‘bhandar’, or store, and here refers to store of grain. Others say that the worship of Bhandani Devi is actually the worship of Aranya Devi or the forest goddess.
Whatever the origin, the puja is many years old. Bhandani Puja for the Rajbanshis is what Durga Puja is to most Bengalis. Many people of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts patiently wait for this annual three-day festival to forget their worries and worship and revel for a few days.
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