By Monidipa Dey
Walking through the streets of Kumartuli is an experience by itself, especially at a time just prior to a puja when murtis of the deity are being crafted by artisans living in this potter’s colony. While Kumartuli is renowned worldwide for its clay craft, its narrow lanes hold another secret in the form of a small temple known as the Dhakeswari temple (1/3A Kumartuli Street), a rather simple abode of the Devi who holds great significance in Bengal history.
Rewinding back to the 1947-48 post partition days, when India was almost overnight divided into three parts, violence had become a new normal. The state of Bengal, which got divided into West Bengal and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), saw a huge influx of Hindu refugees streaming in from Bangladesh, crossing the newly drawn borderline. As riots and violence continued unabated in 1948, a special plane shrouded in secrecy suddenly arrived from Dhaka to Kolkata. As curiosity grew around the special flight, it was soon learned that the passenger who had flown in was indeed a very special one. It was the murti of devi Dhakeshwari from the famed temple in Dhaka. The small golden murti of the Devi was put into a box, placed inside an ordinary suitcase, and covered with clothes and newspapers to avoid Dhaka customs detection. The suitcase was carried by Rajendra Kishore Tiwari (a temple sevayat), and accompanying him were Harihar Chakravarty and Brajendra Dubey. The murti, once in Kolkata, was taken to the home of a wealthy industrialist named Debendranath Chowdhury, whose family owned the Banga Laxmi Cotton Mill. While the Devi received daily puja in her new home, the Chowdhury family also realized the necessity of building a new temple for the revered matrimurti. Soon Debendranath Chowdhury acquired land in Kumartuli and built a temple, where Dhakeshwari devi was installed in 1950 and the temple was named Dhakeshwari Matar Mandir.
The golden murti, which is 1.5 feet tall, is ten armed, and in the form of devi Katyani Durga, an aspect of the devi Mahisasuramardini. On her two sides are Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya, and Ganesh; while Devi’s vahana is a lion. The chalchitra framing the back of the murti and the throne on which the murti stands are made of silver, while two separate clay murtis of Rama and Hanuman stand by the throne paying their respects to the Devi in namaskara mudra.
The history of the Devi murti goes long back into history, and is associated with the Sena dynasty that once ruled Bengal. It is said that the Queen of Raja Bijoy Sen while coming back from her bath at a bund, on the way gave birth to a son named Ballal Sen, who later became one of the most powerful kings of the Sena destiny. After his accession to the throne Ballal Sen (12th c. CE) built a temple in the place where he was born, which came to be known as the Dhakeshwari temple of Dhaka (Bangladesh). The murti that Ballal Sen installed in it was found after digging the ground, and subsequently named Dhakeshwari Ma, or the deity who was covered or hidden. B.C. Allen (1912) stated in his article published in the Eastern Bengal District Gazetteers: Dacca that the temple “was founded by Ballal Sen and [later] rebuilt by Raja Man Singh, but no traces of these [older] buildings are left, and the present temple is said to have been erected about two hundred years ago by one of the Company’s servants.”
Dhakeshwari devi is highly revered as the presiding deity of Dhaka and is synonymous with the city (akin to Maa Kali’s association with Kolkata). The Dhakeshwari temple in Dhaka now holds a replica murti (made in the 1990s) with some differences with the original murti in Kumortuli Kolkata, of which the main difference being that the Dhaka murti carries weapons in all her hands, while the Kolkata murti carries only a trishul in two hands, and the other eight hands are either in open or closed mudras. The mode of worship followed for Dhakeshwari mata in Kolkata is also different from the other Durga puja rituals followed in the state, wherein it follows the north Indian pattern of worship with the celebrations continuing for nine days of the Navratri. Non-vegetarian food is also not offered as bhog to Ma, while 12 terracotta diyas are placed on the mangal ghat during the Durga Puja.
Carrying a long legacy of the past glorious history of Bengal under the powerful Sena dynasty, to a grim reminder of the violence and bloodshed during the Bengal 1947-48 partition, today Dhakeshwari devi receives her daily worship in a peaceful corner of a narrow lane amidst the beautiful clay models crafted by the Kumartuli artisans.
(The author is a well-known travel, heritage and history writer. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)