The annual festival of worship of 14 Gods, popularly known as Kharchi Puja in Tripura started on Wednesday at Khayerpur.
Of the many festivals in the tiny northeast India state of Tripura, Kharchi Puja occupies the pride of the place. Tripura is also known as the land of Fourteen Gods.
Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb inaugurated the festival. Prafullajit Sinha, mayor of Agartala Municipal Corporation, MLAs Ratan Chakraborty and Susanta Chakraborty also attended the inaugural programme.
“Every year during the month Ashar’s Shukla Astami (in the month of June-July) Kharchi Puja is celebrated for peace, prosperity, harmony, and wellbeing of the state,” Atul Debbarma, a devotee and an MLA, said.
Although the rituals are performed according to the Hindu rites, only the heads of these deities are worshiped.
Debasish Lodh a writer said, “During the reign of Maharaja Krishna Manikya, with the change of his capital from Udaipur to Puran Haveli or Old Agartala, the 14 Gods temple was also constructed in 1760 AD”.
The festival is associated with the indigenous tribal deities but is influenced by the Brahmanical Hindus.
In fact the broken head image is not supported by the Brahmanical iconography as the object of ritual, however, the 14 head images have been accepted as the popular deities by the Hindus in Tripura
Like other Mongoloid tribes of northeast, the Tripuri tribal recognise only one supernatural supreme power, with their coming under close influences of Hindu way of life.
However, animism, the primitive trait of religion is still traceable amongst the tribals till now, even as they lapped Hinduism as their religion.
The heads created out of an alloy of eight metals were placed at the Sunderbans in the confluence of river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
It was later shifted to Khayerpur or Puran Haveli, 10 km from Agartala after the construction of the Chaturdasa Devata temple.
Sabita Debbarma, a devotee said, “This is worshiping of Shiva in the form of Trilochan and all of us worship in our house daily for the well being of our family.”
People take bath at early morning and worship for well being of everyone, Sabita Debbarma, said.
Though Kharchi Puja is a tribal festival, both tribal priest ‘Chantai’ as well as Hindu Brahmins perform the rituals together.
Another special feature of this festival is that these deities are kept locked in a room throughout the year and it is only during these seven days that they are exhibited to the devotees.
On the first day of the week-long festival, the deities are brought out from a locked room, where the deities are kept for one year.
First, the state police play India’s National anthem to pays tribute to the deities then a procession is led by the chief royal priest or the Raj Chantai. Other priests follow with bamboo umbrellas on their heads.
After the bath, the procession returns to the temple premises, where the deities are worshiped by the royal priest and then are taken to a separate room surrounded by the iron net so that the devotees can see them during the seven days.
In the past, human sacrifices were offered to please the 14 deities. But now, there is a tradition to sacrifice 108 male goats on the first day, and is now arranged by the state government.
During the festival, thousands of devotees offer sacrifices of male goats, poultry and pigeons.
The Chief Royal Priest, according to the customs is offered a state salute by the state police personnel. As per the ritual, he is the king during these seven days of celebration.
In the royal days, Kharchi Puja was celebrated within the premises of the palace, for peace and well-being of the kingdom. But with the abolition of the monarchy, people from all walks of life, tribal and non-tribal celebrate the festival.
Although Kharchi is essentially a tribal festival, even the non-tribals participate with equal enthusiasm. Devotees from every corner of Tripura come in thousands to the holy place during the celebrations.
“We take part regularly in the festival, forgetting forgetting that we are not tribals,” Sati Rani Deb, a non-tribal devotee, said, adding, “We pray for everyone’s wellbeing.”