Eighty two may not be the age to pick up the traditional Bengali drum but for Kohor Singha Das, the Durga and Kali puja festival at Shankar Niwas in Darjeeling’s Tindharia is special this year.
Started by some Bengali priests who settled down in the hills in the last century, the puja has turned 100 this year.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the festive spirit in most parts of the country, Tindharia, a small town in the hills of Darjeeling, is all set to celebrate the festival with grandeur.
Bringing back memories of the old tradition, the puja committee has constructed the idol on the site instead of buying one from the artisans in Siliguri, north Bengal’s biggest town located 27 kilometres away in the plains. It was in 1962 when the idol was made at Shankar Niwas for the last time.
Though troubled by ailments, Das is all set to play the drum which is an integral part of Durga puja festivities. “I have been doing this since 1962. I will play as long as I live,” said the octogenarian. Although the puja was started by Bengali priests, people from different communities are now part of the festivities at Tindharia, said the organisers.
It is the third oldest Durga puja in the region. The puja held at Nripendra Narayan Bengali Hindu Hall in Darjeeling enters its 106th year while the one at Raj Rajeswari Hall in Kurseong turns 104.
Unlike the one at Tindharia, the other two festivals have been scaled down this year because of the pandemic. People will not be allowed to have prasad or any kind of food items at these sites.
Nowraj Chettri, secretary of the Durga and Kali puja committee at Tindharia, said, “We will perform the puja with more sincerity and seek blessing from the Goddess. All health protocols will be strictly followed.”
The head priest of the puja, Keshari Prasad Bandopadhyay, lives in Kolkata but comes to the hills every year. In 2017, when life in the hills was paralysed by a 104-day general strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in demand for a state of Gorkhaland, the puja was scaled down. Bandopadhyay however did not fail to turn up.
Das, too, played the drums in 2017. “If people in Tindharia could organize puja despite the strike, no power can stop this puja. It is part of my life,” he said.