The Autumn festival season has begun today in India under the shadow of the continuing pandemic — COVID-19 with Navaratri and Durga Puja. Durga Puja, also known as Durgotsava or Sharadotsav, is the biggest and the most extravagant annual festival in the Indian subcontinent, that revers the Mother Goddess Durga. Durgotsav also marks the harvest season, a season of health, wealth and prosperity. Apart from being a religious festival, it is also an occasion for reunion, rejuvenation and celebration of traditional culture and customs. The festival culminates on the tenth day, which is celebrated as Vijayadashami or Dussehra.
From time immemorial Mother Goddess was a popular deity in ancient world. The conception of Motherhood of the Supreme being that manifested in female form is perhaps the finest expression in Hinduism. It is the ascendance of the maternal principle over the male Gods who yielded their major symbols, weapons and power so the whole might be amalgamated into an omnipotent totalization of cosmic forces.
Bengalis prefer to believe that this is the time when Goddess Durga arrives at her parental home on earth from her bridal home in Mount Kailash. And she arrives with her children in tow — Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Sarasvati.
There are many beliefs, myths, legends, folktales, and rituals attached to this Bengali festival and one of them is the Nabapatrika (nine leaflets mostly tied together).
On the early hours of Saptami, the seventh day, Goddess Durga is invoked in a group of nine plants bunched together, called Nabapatrika, and tied to the twigs of white Aparajita plant (Clitoria ternatea) with a yellow thread. These nine plants represent the nine manifestations of Goddess. The nine plants of Nabapatrika represent nine Goddesses:
- Banana plant: Goddess Brahmani
- Colocasia plant: Goddess Kalika
- Turmeric plant: Goddess Durga
- Jayanti plant: Goddess Kartiki
- Bel leaves: Goddess Shiva
- Pomegranate leaves: Goddess Raktadantika
- Asoka leaves: Goddess Shokarahita
- Arum plant: Goddess Chamunda
- Rice paddy: Goddess Lakshmi
The Nabapatrika is given a pre-dawn bath in river/pond water. Mantras are chanted through the bathing ritual. After the bathing ceremony, Nabapatrika is adorned in red bordered white sari and vermilion is smeared on its leaves. She is then placed on a decorated pedestal and worshipped with flowers, sandalwood paste and incense sticks. Later she is placed on the right side of Lord Ganesh. This is the reason she is also popularly known as Ganesh’s wife — Kolabou.
Earlier the bathing ritual of Nabapatrika was an elaborate affair for the rich landlords and traders of Bengal. Long processions accompanied with musical instruments and much fanfare was common then. With idol worship gaining ground, nabapatrika slowly lost its importance.
Nabapatrika was a popular ancient ritual performed by the peasants/farmers worshipping Mother Nature for rich and bountiful harvest. It is a symbol of fertility. A symbol of the ‘mother’. With the popularity of the Durga Puja, this ritual was assimilated in the festivities. Nabapatrika has no reference in Vedas or in the Puranas. The earliest reference could be found in the Krittivasi Ramayan, composed by 15th century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha, a rendition of the Ramayana into Bengali. This important ritual of Durga Puja is an example of inclusiveness — harmonious synthesis of Vedic and ancient non-Vedic rituals.
Many scholars have even opined that the Nabapatrika is a form of Durga herself, which symbolizes all the aspects of nature in a complex vegetative state. According to a scholar the plant symbolizes the “festive enactment of Durga’s return of the blood of the buffalo demon to the earth so that the order of the world be re-established and luxuriant vegetation appear.”
Bengalis love to believe the gods and goddesses as one of them, their family members, or as fellow villagers. There is an interesting folktale related to Kolabou.
POPULAR FOLKTALE ON KOLABOU
According to this tale, the wedding procession of Ganesh had not gone very far from home, when Ganesh remembered that he had forgotten something. On returning, he found his mother Durga eating bowlfuls of rice and gorging herself. Ganesh found it odd and asked his mother, as to why was she gorging herself. To this Durga is supposed to have said – “Jodi tor bou aamaake khete na daye?” (What if your wife did not give me enough food to eat?). Hearing this Ganesh was upset, he stepped out of his home, cut a banana tree and gave it to her saying “etai tomar bou” (this is your daughter-in-law). Later, Ganesh was married off to the banana tree and thus the name Kalabou, or the banana bride.
As we cry for climate change and environment, here is the highest form of regard for the environment where goddess Durga is symbolized by the Banana Plant and the important plants and trees are worshiped for the preservation instead of devastation.