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The History of Durga Puja in Barak Valley, Assam
Shanku Sharma

(Translated from Dr. amalendu Bhattacharjee’s Article in Bengali)

The origin of Durga Puja in Silchar may not be known but the essence of celebrating the festival remains intact. This annual Hindu or Bengali Hindu festival is one of the most important. Generally observed in the month of September or October according to the Gregorian calendar, it is a festival in which Goddess Durga is revered and worshipped with utmost devotion. Durga is the Goddess of Shakti (strength and power). Though it is difficult to trace the history of its origin, scriptures, historical facts, figures and records throw some light on it. Records reflect that the act of worshipping the Goddess used to be performed by Brahmins, a thorough study of the ancient and medieval period may be helpful to uncover the entire history of the tradition. There are many unexplored horizons yet. It is believed that Koch kings and rulers celebrated Durga Puja since ancient times, in their homes. According to a research article published in the North Eastern Affairs paper, January to march, 1997, Aryanisation in NorthEast India, Professor Sudhangshu Shekhar Tungo states that Dimasa kings used to celebrate Durga Puja. The Durga Temple at Bihara is a prime example and suggests that people have been celebrating the

festival since times immemorial. Goddess Durga was their most revered and respected deity.

"In 1833, Silchar was declared as a town. During the initial years, people used to pack their bags for visiting their homeland to celebrate Durga Puja. Those days were very different from present times. The streets used to look deserted, doors locked; thin traffic and above all Silchar appeared to be a haunted and isolated place. Boats were the only means of transportation and remained filled up during the Puja Days. It was nothing like today’s Puja Bazaar. However, over the course of time, people along with their tastes and preferences have changed. People began to enjoy Durga Puja with pomp and show, religious fervour and gaiety."

Records also state that King Gobindra Chandra Narayan once invested Rs.4250 for the Puja. This amount was incredibly high for those times. During those days, people used to be invited for Durga Upasana and the letters, through which they used to be invited, were costly, aristocratic and very expensive. Both the rulers, Gobindo Chandra and Krishna Chandra used to send letter invites with ‘Sree Durga’ written on the top of it. These letters reflect how keenly they honoured the Goddess. Even government letters used to have these two words – Sree Durga. It was in the 14th Century that the Hedemba Royal Family adopted the Shakti cult. The last of the Cachari or Hedemba Royal Family rulers, Gobindo Chandra and Krishna Chandra, used to worship Goddess Chandi. Animal sacrifice was also a part of their rituals. The history is interesting. Records state that with the emergence of Suma Valley Light Horse, which was also known as Assam Rifles and Gorkhas or Nepalese were included in the security forces. The cantonment which was in the western side of the town had the Gorkhas in it. Quite interestingly, the Gorkhas performed or initiated Durga Puja in the town of Silchar. It came to be known as Cantonment Puja.

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