About the Author:
Graduating, with Honours in English and topping the list in History, in the M.A. examination, P. C. Ray Choudhury, M.A., B.L. (born February 10, 1903, at Cuttack, Orissa), has served in various Government posts of trust and responsibility. Specially selected (1952) to re-write the District Gazetteers of Bihar, he continues, though superannuated (1957), to function as the State editor of the District Gazetteers. Trained, as he was, in research by the late Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Shri Roy Choudhury has by now re-written fifteen District Gazetteers and very ably too. It is a measure of his flair for administrative work, comprehensive research, tours, personal contacts, and collation of data, not to speak of drafting. He had occasion to visit kathmandu, Jaipur and Bhubaneshwar, being officially invited by the Governments concerned for advising them on Gazetteer work. Shri Roy Choudhury has also compiled digests of old English Correspondence and other records in Saran, Hazaribagh, Gaya and Muzaffarpur and a research work, as well, on the 1857 movement in Chotanagpur and Santal Parganas, all of which have been published by the Bihar Government. His other Published books are Jainism in Bihar, Inside Bihar and Gandhiji's First Struggle in India. He is also a scholarly free-lance writer in English as well as in Bengali.
An attempt to cover comprehensively the temples of highly developed and cultured area like Bengal demands some knowledge of the cultures of the different populations groups in Bengal along with those of the neighbouring regions, the trends of historical and social development, the routes and channels by which different religious thoughts became diffused, the invisible links that exist between the different parts of India particularly through temples and legends, the influences which they exert upon one another and various other factors. There is common affinity between the temples and legends of one region with another, at a time when communication routes were not well developed, it were the pilgrim centers that brought the different parts of India together in spite of the differences in languages, social customs and cultures. The temples and legends have always had a tremendous integrating influence on the different regions that make up India. They still continue this great mission unchanged despite the various regional peculiarities and the different metamorphosis that they have undergone. The temples and legends of any one region express an inner homogeneity of different religious creeds and thoughts and that could be traced in the temples and legends of other areas.
This book which is extremely modest in scope does not aspire to meet the demands of a specialist. It is only an introduction and is meant for the interested layman. The reader is recommended to the various books that have been mentioned in the texts if he wants to know more about the factors that have sponsored the temples in Bengal and the temples themselves. Only very few of the temples have been covered in this book.
Different currents of ideas and thoughts are clearly perceptible in the many religious movements in Bengal. The Adivasis of Bengal who are now mostly represented by the various Scheduled Tribes and Castes and are generally taken to be inferior in the caste-hierarchy have made a very big contribution to the religious thoughts in Bengal. As a matter of fact, this is probably a common factor in other regions in India as well. It is the so-called lower castes and tribes of the ancient Rarh, Pundra, Banga and the other Janapadas of Bengal that are still very well represented in different types of details and their puja. Apart from some of the indigenous godheads that have been very eclectically taken into Hindu pantheon, there are hundreds of achars and religious practices that go to make up much of the daily life of a caste Hindu. If one carefully analyses the various items celebrated in a Hindu marriage in Bengal, it will be found that excepting the Sampradan, Yagna and Saptapadi along with the recitals of the particular Mantras accompanying these ceremonies, all the others items are non-Brahmanic, non-Vaidic and are entirely based on the customs and practices of the so-called lower castes. The use of cluster of paddy, dub grass, plantains, turmeric, pan, coconut, vermilion, ghat (pot), cowdung mango leaves etc., that plays a prominent part in the daily religious ceremonies can hardly be traced to anything Brahmanic. Many of the non-Aryan deities and Gramyadevatas have now been fully accepted by the higher caste Hindu and they are worshipped in temples either individually or along with Vaidik or Pauranik gods. In the case of some of those deities very low casts Dom officiate as the priest and Brahmins offer their pujas to such deities and are monitored by the Dom priest. There is a large number of bratas distributed in different months that are still observed in Bengal. Some of them are related to cultivation, others with eroticism and a number of them are to keep up social and family solidarity. Some of the bratas are associated with Tithis and they have got some Brahminic influence while a few have nothing to do with Tithis and they are clearly of non-Aryan origin. A dissertation on the bratas of Bengal will be out of place in the course of the text and so a brief mention has been made here as they are very closely allied to the worship of some godheads or other.
It is not possible within the short compass of this book to trace the different religious currents that have permeated Bengal form time to time. As a matter of fact, these religious currents were not restricted to the confines of Bengal only. Jainism and Buddhism had once saturated parts of Bengal. The various phases of Vaidik Hinduism, Saivism, Saktaism and Vaishnavism had also deeply affected Bengal sometime or other. In recent decades theism had been highlighted. But all these currents have not been able to throw out such non-Vaidik deities like Dharma, Shitala or Ola Bibi. The godlings of the Adivasis have still an upper hand so to say in the villages. Bengal has accepted all these currents and in some way or the other there are temples that show the impact of the different religious forces. The types of temples are also a few. Some of them were indigenous to Bengal while some are the results of impact of temple-types of other regions.
There are certain particular aspects which need mention in a discussion on the temples of Bengal. The alluvial soil of Bengal and the indigenous qualities that go to make a Bengali have much to do with the temples in this region. It is only a part of Bengal that has got lateritic soil and there is a singular want of hills or quarries of block stone or other kind of soft stone which abound in Bihar and other parts of Eastern India. Bengal has to depend on the alluvial and clayey soil of her own and bricks baked out of the clayey soil for building the temples. Bengal also lacked rich rulers like Shah Jehan or the powerful dynasties of Orissa or of Southern India that could spend fortunes over building temples. Bengal was always split among a number of rulers and none of them had the definite stability to build anything like the temples of Orissa or the great edifices in Agra or Delhi. It is said that the revenue of eighteen years of the Mughal empire had been spent over building the Tej Mahal and even Shah Jehan was impoverished by giving this magnanimous landmark to India.
Bengalis as a class are highly sentimental. Much of the woes of Bengal are due to this high incidence of sentiment and love of tradition. The soft-hearted Bengalis react very quickly to affectionate feelings in others and they feel much more hurt than others sections in India normally if there is any rebuff. This abundance of soft feelings, the exuberance of what may often turn into sentimentalism is a hallmark of the Bengalis. This softness is seen also in their ideas about their deities and temples. We find more of a manifestation of Bat-salya Rasa and a sense of complacence in their conception of their gods and the deities worshipped. The deity is not something very detached, exotic or very remote to a Bengali. The deity of Kali with her fierce looks, string of human heads round the neck, protruding tongue, awe-inspiring trident and standing on the lying figure of Lord Siva could not normally have evoked a very affectionate devotion and soft love as Mother. The devotional songs in praise of the deity of Kali whether by Ramaprasad or others, all refer to her as a loving mother who is always forgiving her sons for their sins and whose blessings are always there for her devotees. She is appealed to, cajoled and even rebuked by the devotees. The Durga puja when Uma or Parvati is worshipped for four days strikes the inner chord of heart of the Bengali and almost every Bengali household, rich or poor, looks forward for the Durga puja. Why? To the Bengali she is Uma, the loving daughter who, comes from her husband’s abode in the uninviting snow-clad Himalayas to visit her father’s place once in a year for four days only. The parents compare her with their daughters who have flown out of the nest by marriage. These are the few days when a Bengali household is transported into a deep bliss because of a re-union with the beloved ones. Uma or Parvati lives he years round in the deep ravines or the peaks of the snow-clad Himalayas with her husband Lord Siva commonly described as Bom Bhola or Pagla Bhola. To a Bengali whose heart throbs for the miseries of Uma, Siva is almost mad, who does not know his own mind and who is absurdly unworldly and careless. Lord Siva neglects his wife. Such domestic and intimate themes are a paradox to many in other parts of India but they are fondly cherished by many a Bengali throughout the year and particularly in the Puja days. The idea of worship and this parental affection for Uma go together. On the Vijaya day when the puja is over and the image is immersed in water, Uma is supposed to go back to her husband’s place again for a year. While praying to Durga at the time of Visharjan people actually weep just as the parents do when their daughter goes back to her husband’s place after a very short stay at her father’s place.
The conception of Lord Siva in Bengal also differs from the conception in other parts of India. He is taken elsewhere as the Lord of the Universe and if he is angry the gods tremble. But Lord Siva is normally taken in Bengal as the Bom, Bhola who does not know to dress properly, who remains intoxicated with ganja and who moves about like a mad personage. He is pitied and loved fondly and regarded deeply. He is worshipped reverentially. In a similar manner, let us think of the difference in the conception of Lord Krishna in Bengal and elsewhere. The first conception on Lord Krishna in Bengal is as the Nani Chor Bal Gopala, the mischievous little boy who steals cream and butter form the stock of her mother and the other ladies. He is full of pranks, breaks the milk pots and runs wild. He is next conceived as the lover in the highest sense and his flute makes the gopinis run to him intoxicated with love. Then he is Chakradhari Krishna, the Lord of the Universe. He is more fondly worshipped in Bengal as Kala Chand, Radhamadhav or sham Rai. It is only a Bengali that will speak of Lord Krishna as (the god is ever new and has a different manifestation every day). His pranks with the gopinis, his para-kiya love with Radha, his various lilas depicted in books are read with devotion like Bible. No one sees any banal live in Lord Krishna’s lila. The Bengalis have made an adjustment between Krishna, the lover and Krishna, the Lord of the Universe in a very happy manner.
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