Friday, 20 May, 2022

Annapurna Puja

Chinmay Prasun Biswas

Annapurna or Annada (one who gives rice) is a Hindu goddess. She is believed to be another variant of Goddess Durga. She has crescent on head, smiling, normally two-handed (four-handed in some paintings), red complexioned, holding gold bowl of rice in left hand a spoon in right hand but she has no carrier.

Various anecdotes about Annapurna are found in Kashikhand of Devi Bhagavat in Markandeya Puran and other ancient texts. According to folklore, though the head of saints, Shiv was actually a beggar with no minimum ability to earn. After marriage with Parvati they started living at Mount Kailash but due to poverty conjugal quarrel began shortly. Angry and annoyed Gauri went to her father's house. Her maids Jaya-Vijaya suggested that Shiv should be given a lesson. Being rebuked by wife, Shiv left home and started begging. Meanwhile, the goddess took away all the food from the world. Hungry Shiv did not get food anywhere. Advised by Laxmi he came to Kashi and was satisfied by eating food from Annapurna's hand. To enhance the glory of Parvati he built a temple at Kashi. The goddess descended in that temple on the 8th tithi (lunar day) of bright fortnight in late Chaitra. Since then the worship of Goddess Annapurna was introduced on this day. The day is fixed but as Bengali almanac is followed the date is changed every year. Incidentally, two Annapurna Pujas are mentioned in this year (1428). One was on 7th Baisakh, 1428/ 20th April, 2021 and the other is tomorrow, 26th Chaitra / 9th April, 2022. In this way Annapurna gradually became the daughter of home of many Bengalee Hindus.

Some people think that Annapurna Puja came to Bengal from Kashi. Connection between Kashi and Bengal is very old. The role of Gaya-Kashi-Vrindavan need not be re-told to the Bengalees. Varanasi (Benaras) is not just the abode of Baba Bishwanath (Lord Shiv) but old age resort of many Bengalees. Most of the widows of wealthy families lived in Kashi. Instances are found in novels of Sharatchandra. This Kashi is the abode of mother Annapurna, a wonderful rendezvous of Shaiba and Shakta culture.

According to folk opinion worship of Goddess Annapurna was introduced in Bengal by Bhavananda Majumdar, the predecessor of Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy of Nadia. Being graced by the Goddess Annada, Bhavananda Majumdar was accorded the title of Raja from Emperor Jahangir. But it has been mentioned in Annadamangalakavya that due to inability to pay taxes to Nawab Murshid Quli Khan timely Maharaja Krishnachandra was imprisoned in Murshidabad during Durgapuja. At that time Krishnachandra found the Goddess Annapurna in dream and she asked him to worship her idol.

From mythology we have learnt that Annapurna was established in Kashi. So, question arises - where was Annapurna worshiped prior to it? In fact, Annapurna is the goddess of grain. Pain of hunger is hard. From time to time famine outbreaks in our national life. Mainly the poor people become victim of famine. According to hearsay, worshiping this goddess removes hunger. This Annapurna has been worshiped during the Navanna festival in Rarh Bengal (mainly the areas of Birbhum district, adjacent to Bihar and also some places of Chhoto Nagpur and Jharkhand) since time immemorial. Now-a-days, after harvesting new crops in rural areas, the goddess is worshiped with a bunch of ripe paddy. Even in the temple of Kashi, the goddess is worshiped with only a bunch of matured paddy. According to Acharya Sukumar Sen, the goddess Annapurna is a transformation of the Greek and Roman goddess Annona. The statue of Annona is engraved on a coin during the reign of Titus, the Roman emperor of the 1st century AD. The goddess holds a horn in her left hand and a scale in her right hand. However, many others did not agree with Acharya Sen. According to them, this goddess of grain is actually an Indian goddess like Shakambhari (the goddess who produced vegetables and fruits in her body and fed the people of the world). She is absolutely an Indian goddess who has roots in the Harappan civilisation.

A closer look shows that the Greek-Roman Annona, resembling Annapurna, actually acknowledges the antiquity of this grain goddess. Rural people in Bengal worship Annapurna at the time of Navanna in the month of Agrahayan. Many scholars think that Annapurna is basically a goddess of Rarh Bengal. Afterwards it entered Kashi through expatriate Bengalees.

Krishnachandra played an important role in spreading the worship of Annapurna but it was confined to zamindars and rich families.  This is basically a worship of the working class people which is held very simply during Navanna. On the other hand, the worship in the month of Chaitra is observed by rich families and zamindars. An ancient temple of Annapurna is situated in Barrackpore. Jagadamba, daughter of Rani Rasmoni, was the founder of this temple. Being ordered by Goddess Annapurna in dream, Ramasundari Devi, wife of influential zamindar Ambikalal Chowdhury, introduced this worship which is still going on with pomp. Apart from this, the worship of Goddess Annadar is held in various noble houses of Kolkata

Annapurna holds a good position in Bengali literature. Describing the greatness of Goddess Annapurna poet Bharatchandra Raigunakar composed Annadamangal (a sect of Mangalkavya) in 1752. According to some scholars the hidden purpose of Annadamangal was to narrate the story of the King’s own fame, how the goddess Annada (Annapurna) bestowed grace on Bhavananda Majumdar, how Bhavananda gained the kingdom and acquired the title of Raja from Jahangir by worshiping Annapurna. But they have acknowledged that Annadamangalakavya is one of the greatest poems of the 18th century and one of the most notable works of Bengali literature. The poet has also skillfully described its mythological part. Michael Madhusudan Dutt praised Devi Annapurna and Annadamangal in his poem Annapurnar Jhapi (Basket of Annapurna).


The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes