Friday, 30 September 2016

First Durga Puja at Belur Math

That was in October of 1901. In the balmy autumn air of that year, the
fields were lush green with paddy stalks waving their laden heads, and
lotuses, jasmines, and tuberoses were rendering the air fragrant and
heavenly. The autumn festival was being held for the first time in that
monastery which was consecrated only three years before. That was the
first Durga Puja in image at Belur Math. It was, however, not the first
occasion Mother Durga was being worshipped by the Ramakrishna Order.

Swami Shivananda, the second President of the Order, said, 'Swamiji
introduced the worship of Mother Durga at the monastery at Baranagore.
Of course, the worship used to be performed in a consecrated pitcher
(ghata) in those days. But the worship of 1901 had one distinction —
Swamiji (Swami Vivekananda) had introduced for the first time in Belur
Math the worship of Mother Durga in image.

Many orthodox pundits and Brahmins of the neighbouring places used to
criticize Swami Vivekananda and the other monks of Belur Math for their
innovating and liberal ideas, their modes of work, and especially their
non-observance of the customs regarding caste and food. Even these
bigoted people who considered themselves 'custodians of Hinduism' gave
up their animosity and attended the Puja. They became convinced that the
monks of the Ramakrishna Order were truly 'Sanatan! Sannyasins'.
According to Sarat Chandra Chakravarty, Swami Vivekananda's main purpose
in conducting this Durga Puja was to remove all unsavoury doubts and
skepticism from the minds of the orthodox.

Swamiji had not seen Durga Puja for a decade. He intended to see it that
year. The decision to celebrate Durga Puja in image at the Math in 1901
was his own. He had cherished this idea since several months before. He
asked Sarat Babu to bring the book Raghunandana Smrti, which deals in
detail with the ceremonial forms of the worship of various gods and
goddesses. Swamiji read the book thoroughly. On being questioned,
Swamiji said to his disciple, 'This time I have a desire to celebrate
the Durga Puja. If the expenses are forthcoming, I shall worship the
'Mahamaya.'

But Swamiji did not speak of his intention to anybody till only a few
days before the date of worship. Four or five days before the Durga
Puja, Swami Brahmananda was sitting in the Math verandah facing the
Ganga. He had a vision of Mother Durga coming over the Ganga from
Dakshineswar and stopping near the Vilva tree (now, in front of
Swamiji's memorial temple). Just then Swamiji returned to the Math from
Calcutta and asked, 'Where is Raja [Swami Brahmananda]?' On meeting him,
Swamiji told him: 'This time make all arrangements for the Durga Puja by
bringing the Pratima (image) to the Math.' Swami Brahmananda hesitated
for a while, for there was very little time to make all the necessary
arrangements. Then Swamiji disclosed the vision he had had. He had seen
Mother Durga being worshipped in image at the Math. Swami Brahmananda
too then described his vision. These visions were greeted with great joy
and cheer by the monks and Brahmacharins of the Math.

Br. Krishnalal [later Swami Dhirananda], a disciple of' the Holy Mother,
was sent to Kumartuly to see if an image could be procured. Fortunately
one image was available, for the person who had placed the order had not
turned up to take delivery. Swamiji (Swami Vivekananda) was informed; he
and Swami Premananda went to the Holy Mother's residence at 16A,
Bosepara Lane, Calcutta, and sought her permission to perform the Durga
Puja. The Holy Mother gladly consented. Swamiji then asked that the
image be brought to the Math. Soon the news spread all over the city and
the devotees joined with the monks to make the celebration a grand success.