Among the later Hindu kings of Bengal, the Malla occupied a place of distinction not only for their military proficiency but also for their patronage to the development of distinctive styles of arts, architecture, sculpture, and music. Raghunath was crowned as the first king of Malla dynasty at Pradamnapur. To commemorate his ascending of throne, a new calendar, 'Mallabda' was started in 695 A.D. or 101 Bengali calendar. King Raghunath became known as Adi Malla and the land, he ruled came to be known as 'Mallabhum'. It was in 994 A.D. King Jagat Malla shifted his capital from Pradamnapur to Bishnupur because of better geographical safeguard as Bishnupur lies surrounded by hilly terrain.
The past fame graces the fragrance of Lalmaati (Red Soil). Even today the clanking of swords can be heard if you place your ear on the stone walls. Although Bishnupur is famous for its Terracotta tradition, yet it stands embracing tradition of the oldest Durga Puja of West Bengal, ranged about 1013 years. It was the time when this noted city was ruled by the Malla Kings with splendor.
Mrinmoyee Mandir - Bishnupur
Now, we can feel the changes everywhere…. In the atmosphere, the life style, and in the mind-set of people too. But no such changes have occurred in the rituals of offering puja in the mandir of Maa Mrinmoyee and even today the tradition is kept alive and unaltered as it was practiced during the supremacy of the royal Mallas. The piety of the forefathers of Malla dynasty and the deep reverence of the people of Bishnupur over this pujo remains unchanged. So, every year the pujo of Maa Mrinmoyee is being dedicated on following the universal spirit. Let’s come for a while to peep into the immemorial heritage of the royal kings of Mallas.
Thinking about the permanent settlement in Bishnupur, King Jagat Malla established Mrinmoyee Mandir in 997 A.D. Myth says that Jagatmalla had a dream, where he was instructed by Maa mrimmoyee to make a mandir. That was the beginning of worshipping Maa Mrinmoyee. The idol is made of “Ganga Clay”. Today, the lineage of offering homage to maa Mrinmoyee is inherited by the 57th generation of the Malla dynasty Shri. Salil Singha Thakur, the younger son of Lt. Shri. Kalipada Singha Thakur.
The Durgotsab in Mrinmoyee mandir commences with the setting up of Ghat (Clay Pot). The Faujdaari Community of Shakhari Bazaar used to make and design the pot for worshipping Maa Mrinmoyee . But a heart-rending story floats in the air of Bishnupur…. While making the pot one of the artisans died in an unknown cause. Since then, people of the Faujdaari Community do not dare to make Ghats for Malla Rajas. Therefore, the puja of Maa Mrinmoyee is done by wrapping cloth over the old ghat. A day after “Dwityaashtami” the festivity begins with the worship of “Baro thakurini”.
The Grand Canon is used during Sandhdhikshan
On the day of “Maan chaturthi” , “Mejo thakurini” comes under the makeup of “Kola Bou”. It is to be said that after observing the rituals of the puja , “Mejo thakurini” returns and on the auspicious day of Maha Saptami , she appears again along with “Chhoto Thakurani”. Then the gate opens for the general public to offer their puja. The hymns Durga stotra resound the mandir precinct. On the propitious moment of Maha Ashtami, thousands of devotees assemble in and around the mandir courtyard. Even foreigners come from different parts of the world and take part in the puja. The philharmonic essence fills the air and a pious mood is being created gradually.
The youth of Mahadanda Community (Commonly known as ‘Madhod’) takes the Canon to the “Mochchha Hill”, just adjacent to the “Pathor Dorja”. Generation after generation, they fire the canon during the august moment of “Sandhikshan” (The time between Ashtami and Navami). They take temporary shelter in the mandir premises during the puja period….The time passed by………The moment arrives……… The flow of fire runs through the gun powder. Tremendous roar of the canon spreads all around. The “Boli” sets in motion. Obeying the law and order, the sacrifice of animal is prohibited in the present time. So, the vegetables are offered as sacrifice to the goddess. Almost every person of Bishnupur gets invitation on Navami puja. The humming of incantation buzzes around. Such constancy and devotion are rarely found as it is said that God can be found through constant and consistent pursuance of faith.
The Bhog is made of Baadshah bhog Rice at the mandir of maa Mrinmoyee. From ‘Dwityaashtami’ to ‘Shashthi’, the khichuri rice is cooked. On Saptami, Ashtami and Navami, the plain rice is delivered with the variety of vegetables. At the night of Navami, the existing members of the royal malla perform ‘Mahamaarir Pujo’ praying to maa Mrinmoyee for the survival from the outbreak of epidemic. In this particular puja no public participation is being entertained. “It’s rather a family puja, only the kith and kin of the royal family and the priest can be present in the ‘Garvo griho’ of the mandir”, said Shri. Salil Singha Thakur. The bhog is prepared with 5 poaa (1.25 Kg) Baadshah bhog rice, 5 poaa Mug daal (Pulse), 5 poaa Pure ghee, green bananas and Sandhak Salt , which is distributed only among the members of the royal family and this bhog has to be taken before awaking of birds and beasts.
All the puja ritual are being performed with deep devotion. It seems a remarkable moment for those who offer puja to maa mrinmoyee. On the day of Bijoy Dashami, maa takes stale rice. The people of “Nuley community” of Rautkhand village, 14 kms away from Bishnupur come to Raajbari with “Tyaskhan Pakhi” (Neelkantha Bird) and the local fishermen offer ‘curd’ and ‘Chang fish’ to the goddess . They free the Neelkantha bird to fly in the azure sky and put chang fish in the pot, consists of curd. It’s a proud moment for anyone who experiences the oldest puja of West Bengal. The ‘Vijay Jatra’ (victory procession) sets forth with huge amount of applause and courage. According to the primitive tradition of Rajbari, the immersion of the idol of maa mrinmoyee is forbidden. Consequently, flowers and leaves are being immersed in the nearby pond namely Ramshayor. To restore this oldest time honored puja of Bengal and its deep rooted culture, people of Bishnupur shower their blessings. In 1998, the Bishnupur Municipality donated Rs. 5000 to the Mandir fund. Last year, the amount has been increased to Rs. 15000. Shri. Salil Singha Thakur intimated that this year the budget will be Rs. 45000.
Although it sounds very diminutive in term of budget, yet this puja has hold the tradition and royal emotions of the olden days. The local people believe, once Thakur Shri Shri Ramkrishna Paramhansa Dev visited here to see Maa Mrinmoyee. The mandir premises may not be decorated with theme oriented extravaganzas or with the eye flashing illumination. What exist here is the peace, true devotion and the proud feelings of people.