For decades, Tripura government holds good on ‘Ker Puja’ promise

Agartala, Aug 7 (IANS) The Tripura government is all set to get conducted from Friday onwards the ‘Ker Puja’, which in olden times was performed by the Tripura royals along with other rituals for the welfare of their subjects and against calamities and external aggression.

A centuries-old tribal tradition in Tripura, ‘Ker Puja’ is connected with a specified area or austerity. The literal meaning of ‘Ker’ in the tribal ‘Kokborok’ language is a specified area or austerity.

The rituals are carried out at government expense as the Tripura government has been holding good for over six and a half decades its promise made to the state’s erstwhile royal family to organise the ‘puja’.

“‘Ker Puja’ will begin on Friday midnight and continue uninterrupted for over 30 hours,” said writer and researcher Nanda Kumar Debbarma. It starts 15 days after the week-long ‘Kharchi Puja’, another tribal festival in the state with unique customs.

When the prayers are in progress, deaths, births or even recreation within the notified area are taboo. Those who violate the strict rules have to pay a fine. Even outsiders are not allowed to enter the ‘puja’ area.

Ratul Debbarma, a renowned poet and writer, said, “If any person violates the customary directives of ‘Ker Puja’, the ritual begins afresh at his cost, like a fine. Around 40 years ago, the then district magistrate was fined for entering the ‘Ker Puja’ area without permission.”

And if there is a birth or a death in the ‘Ker Puja’ area, the family concerned has to pay a fine.

The area in and around the royal palace here as well as Puran Habeli – the erstwhile capital of Tripura and around 12 km east of this city – have been notified for the ‘Ker Puja’ by the west Tripura district magistrate.

“The customary rules and conventions of ‘Ker Puja’ are very strict and not easy to follow. All pregnant women, the diseased and dying are kept out of the specified puja area. No one is allowed to enter the notified area,” Nanda Kumar Debbarma, a research fellow of Mysore based Central Institute of Indian Languages, told IANS.

Free movement of cattle is also prohibited around the ‘Ker Puja’ areas.

Even the Agartala Press Club and a municipal park will remain closed from Friday night onwards to Sunday afternoon as these falls in the notified ‘Ker Puja’ area.

Nanda Kumar Debbarma, also an academic faculty of Tripura (Central) University, said that a few decades ago, ‘Ker Puja’ area encompassed the entire Agartala city and Puran Habeli. However, over the years, the stipulated area was reduced manifold due to increase in population and urbanisation.

“During ‘Ker Puja’, all kinds of amusement, recreation and ceremonies are banned in the notified areas,” an official notification of the district administration said, adding that security personnel would stand guard outside the area to maintain the dignity of the religious rituals and the government directives.

Tripura police personnel fire either cannons or guns before the begining of the rituals and at the end, Ratul Debbarma said.

Besides Agartala and Puran Habeli – also known as old Agartala – rituals take place in almost all tribal villages towards the end of the year or at the end of the harvesting season.

“The royal dynasty would perform ‘Ker Puja’ along with other rituals for the welfare of people, praying against calamities, evil acts and external aggression,” said Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian specialising in Tripura’s royal past.

“Animal sacrifice and offerings characterise this popular puja,” Roy told IANS.

A structure constructed with green bamboo poles serves as a deity for ‘Ker Puja’. The ‘chantais’, or head priest, is regarded as a king on the occasion.

At the end of the 517-year rule by 184 kings, the erstwhile princely state of Tripura merged into the Indian union on October 15, 1949, as per an agreement signed with Kanchan Prabha Devi, the then regent queen.

The agreement made it obligatory for the Tripura government to continue with the sponsorship of several temples, ‘pujas’ and festivals earlier organised by the Tripura royals. And it continues to this day.

“Tripura is the only state in India where the state government is in the forefront of funding many specified religious festivals of both tribals and non-tribals. The tradition has been going on since Tripura merged with the Indian union and even during the Left rule in the state,” Roy said.

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