Like every year, Mahendrapur is preparing for an elaborate Kali puja and the build-up in the village of over 10,000 in Murshidabad’s Suti could have been commonplace. It isn’t so because the entire population is Muslim.
To many in Mahendrapur, 280km from Calcutta, the puja brings the feel of Jamai Sashthi — a Bengali Hindu celebration of sons-in-law — a few months late after the usual summer event as many daughters come to their parents’ home for the Kali puja.
Although the last of its Hindu families migrated for better opportunities 15 years ago, Mahendrapur never stopped celebrating Kali puja in a big way, with a fair and other accompanying paraphernalia.
“We stayed because we had a strong bond with the place but our Hindu brethren moved to Jangipur and Aurangabad (in Murshidabad) for better-paying jobs,” said Abdul Sheikh, 68, a farmer who is also a cleric.
This particular aspect of Mahendrapur — of Hindus migrating to urban centres for better livelihood and Muslims staying back clinging to agricultural land even in the remotest villages — is microcosmic of rural Bengal.
That makes Mahendrapur a shining example of the communal amity that defined Bengal for centuries and it is especially so at a time increasing polarisation along communal lines and intolerance threaten the very social fabric of the nation.
Abdul, along with Nizamuddin Sheikh, a retired primary schoolteacher, are long-time organisers of the 70-year-old Kali puja in Mahendrapur.
“Around 70 years ago, my father Aleq donated a cottah for the construction of a Kali temple. At the site of that old temple, we carry on with the puja. Although our Hindu families have left, the Kali puja in Mahendrapur has gone from strength to strength,” said Abdul.
Residents of the areas surrounding Mahendrapur said the village’s Kali puja was a major event for them on the calendar. “Even if we cannot visit our family in Mahendrapur for Id, we never miss the Kali puja there. We always take our families with us,” said Dilruba Khatun, a resident of Samserganj whose father Tajemul Haque lives in Mahendrapur.
Haque likened the puja to Jamai Sashthi. “This is like Jamai Sashthi for us. During Kali puja, every home in the village is filled with family members from elsewhere.”
According to Haque, the nightlong puja — which will take place on October 27 this year — hosts more than 60 food and game stalls at the fair. These see a footfall of thousands.
Nizamuddin and Abdul, who have been the chief puja organisers for two decades, said unlike in other — even Hindu-majority — villages in the area, Mahendrapur is fortunate to have an eager younger generation ready to take up the baton for the puja.
“Our youths are extremely committed to taking the puja forward and we are fortunate for it. Although there are no Hindu families here, it never crosses any of our minds that this is not, technically, our festival,” said Nizamuddin, pointing to Moidul Islam, 38, and Jamir Sheikh, 35, two of the younger organisers.
“We do everything for and during the puja, except the actual rites for which our former neighbours come from (neighbouring) Kayadanga,” Sheikh added.
The one-cottah site of the puja sits between a club on the left and an Idgah — an open-air enclosure where Id prayers offered — on the right.
“For more than a month, we are actively involved in getting decorators, contractors and running around to get the requisite permissions,” said Jamir, a tutor.
Moidul, a trader, said the village was flooded with “our Hindu brothers” from the vicinity during the Kali puja week.
The Kali puja witnesses 50 goat sacrifices to the deity. “It is a festival we cherish. We are fortunate to have neighbours like our brothers in Mahendrapur. While this should have been normal, not something to be considered extraordinary, the times we live in make it truly special,” said Jagadandhu Sarkar, 70, who lives in Kayadanga.
Source: The Telegraph