The week long Kharchi Puja commenced in Tripura this week from July 16th. This is the most important festival of the North-Eastern state and the entire state is in the mood of a carnival.
The festival is interesting, as it blends the tribal as well as the Brahminical aspects of religion very well. The festival is characterised by the worshipping of fourteen gods, more importantly, the heads of fourteen gods, by the royal priest called Chantai. There are different legends lending credence to the festival. Let us look at one of the most important of them.
According to history, the King of Tripura, Trilochan had two sons, Dripakti the elder and Dakshin the younger son. Dripakti was adopted by his maternal grandfather, the King of Cachhar, as he did not have any heir. Soon the King of Cachhar died and Dripakti became the King of Cachhar. On Dripakti’s adoption, Trilochan, declared his younger son, Dakshin as the heir apparent of Tripura. When Trilochan died, Dakshin took the throne. Dripakti on learning about his father’s death claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne as he was the eldest. When Dakshin resisted, a battle waged for seven days, where Dakshin was defeated and Dripakti became the King of Tripura. Dakshin escaped with the heads of fourteen soldiers and set up his kingdom in the area of central Cachhar. Since then the descendants of Dakshin worshipped the heads of the fourteen soldiers who were deified by then. It is said that after the death of Dripakti, his descendants too started worshipping the fourteen ‘deities’ and soon it became a practice.
The tribal language of Kak-barok had tribal names for the fourteen deities. They were Katar, Katar-ma, Burachha, Mailoma, Khuloma, Subrai Raja, Lampra, Toi Bubagra, Sangrama, Harung Bubagra, Nangkhtai Bubagra, Bachhua Bubagra, Thunirok and Banirok. But with the influence of the Brahminical religion, the names soon changed into the gods from Hindu pantheon. Today the fourteen deities are called Prithvi (Earth), Uma (Parvati), Har (Siva), Hari (Vishnu), Kumar (Kartikeya), Ma (Lakshmi), Bani (Saraswati), Ganesh, Brahma (Creator), Kamdev (God of Love), Samudra (Ocean God), Ganga, Agni (Fire), and Himalaya (God of Mountains).
Another version says that the festival is celebrated asa worship of Goddess Earth. Kharchi or ‘khya’ means the earth and worshipping the earth which provides sustenance to all aspects of life. Interestingly, the Kharchi Pua takes place fifteen days after Ambu bachi. Ambu bachi is the menstruation of the Earth and as thought by the ancient people, menstruation was an ‘unclean’ aspect of a woman. In the ancient times, during Ambu bachi no ploughing or digging activity was taken place. The soil was considered ‘unclean’ and women were prohibited from conducting any auspicious function during Ambu bachi. Even a priest whose wife was in menstruation at that time was prohibited from conducting any ceremony. Kharchi Puja is also considered to be the ritual cleansing of the Mother Earth of its post-menstruation mess! Many even compare this cleansing to the ‘shraadh’ ceremony (after death) from when everything becomes normal! Ambu-bachi is very important in Assam for a similar reason, which we will take up on some different day.
The rituals are marked with the bathing of the fourteen heads of the deities. Sacrifices of goats and pigeons form an integral part of the rituals. The worshipping of the heads, a tribal influence, remains.
The most important aspect of the festivities is the coming together of both the tribal’s as well as the non-tribal’s in the festivities. A festival which has its origin in history gets integrated with both tribal and Hindu mythology which hasn’t lost its significance even today, is an interesting subject for mythologists. Earlier, we have seen instances of popular myths getting ‘tribalised’, but here is an example of the tribal myth getting ‘Hinduised’ (apologies for the English bloomers!). The same integrates very well with the cult of Mother Goddess, which is a significant aspect of worship in the Eastern parts of India.
An excellent example of integration of myths!