DURGA WORSHIP IN BELUR MATH
Watch Durga Puja live from Belur Math
Durga Puja was first celebrated at Belur Math in 1901. Since then Durga Puja has been celebrated at Belur Math year after year, although for a few years after the first celebration in 1901, Pratima worship was not done. (In this connection it should be mentioned that Durga Puja was conducted on a small scale, without the image, by the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna during the early years of Ramakrishna Math at Baranagar.) It was Swami Vivekananda himself who started the first Durga Puja with the image at Belur Math. As a rule, Hindu Sannyasins do not conduct this kind of ritualistic worship. Why then did Swamiji start the new tradition?
One reason was to gain the acceptance of the local community for the new way of life that Swamiji and his monastic brothers were leading. The Hindu society in Calcutta had not fully accepted Swamiji’s going to the West, and the rather unconventional ways of life at Belur Math which included disregard for caste rules and mixing with Western people. As a matter of fact, the celebration of Durga Puja helped to remove much of the misunderstanding and misgivings about the new monastic institution among the local people.
Another reason was Swamiji wanted to institutionalize respect for divinity of motherhood and sanctity of womanhood. Swamiji saw that one of the main reasons for the advancement of Western people was the elevation of women in the West, and one of the main reasons for the backwardness of India was the neglect of women in this country. Worship of the Divine Mother, especially the Kumari Puja, would create the awareness of the potential divinity of women and a respectful attitude towards them.
A third reason was supernatural. A few days before Durga Puja in 1901, Swamiji had a vision of Durga Puja being done at Belur Math. More or less at that time, Swami Brahmanandaji saw in a vision Mother Durga coming across the Ganga from Dakshineshwar to Belur Math. Swamiji asked Raja Maharaj to make preparations for Durga Puja immediately, although only a few days were left to begin the Puja.
The main problem was to get a clay image for worship. Enquiries at Kamartuli (the street in Kolkata where artisans make clay images) revealed that there was a single beautiful image of Durga in a shop. The person who had ordered it had not turned up, and so the artisan agreed to sell it to the monks.
Apart from the image, a lot of other things had to be collected for the elaborate ritualistic worship. Under able direction of Swami Brahmanandaji everything was done well at short notice.
The first Durga Puja at Belur Math was conducted in a huge Pendal (decorative shed) on the open ground to the north of the old shrine. The invocatory worship on Shashthi (the 6th day of the lunar month) was on 18 October 1901. The Pujari was Brahmachari Krishnalal and the Tantradharak was Isvar Chandra Chakravarty, the father of Shashi Maharaj. Sitting under the Bel tree (which now stands in front of his temple) Swamiji sang Agamani songs welcoming the Divine Mother.
The householder disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and orthodox Brahmins of nearby area had been specially invited, and thousands of people, irrespective of the distinctions of caste or religion, attended the three-day festival. On the night of Navami Swamiji sang many songs in praise of Divine Mother, some of which used to be sung by Sri Ramakrishna.
Holy Mother and Durga Puja
When Swamiji decided to celebrate Durga Puja at Belur Math, one of the first things he did was to seek the approval of Holy Mother Sarada Devi who was then staying at Baghbazar in Kolkata. Swami Premananda went to Mother, and Mother whole-heartedly approved the proposal. On Shashthi day She came with other women devotees and stayed at Nilambar Babu’s garden house nearby. Mother attended the awakening ceremony that day and attended the Puja on all the three subsequent days.
Since Sannyasins cannot undertake this kind of ritualistic worship, Swamiji decreed that the Puja should be done in the name of Holy Mother. This became a tradition which continues to this day. Swamiji looked upon Sri Sarada Devi as the divine counterpart of Sri Ramakrishna, born for the awakening of womankind in the modern world. In a letter to Swami Shivananda written in 1894 from America, Swamiji had given expression to his conviction about the Divinity of Holy Mother as follows: ”Brother, I shall show how to worship the living Durga (Jivanta Durga), and then only shall I be worthy of my name. I shall be relieved when you have purchased a plot of land and established there the living Durga, the Mother (i.e. Sri Sarada Devi).” The presence of Holy Mother, the Living Durga, during the Puja must have given boundless joy and satisfaction to Swamiji and the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.
Holy Mother attended the Durga Puja at Belur Math in 1912 and in 1916 and perhaps in some other years also. Each time Mother stayed for a few days and blessed Her monastic and lay children.