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First Durga Puja at Belur Math

By Staff

The coincidence of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Brahmananda's vision.

About 88 years ago, Jagat Banerjee, an orthodox Brahmin of Bally, was surprised to see the multitude of people at a small monastery on the Ganges. They had come either by Hore Millar's steamer from Ahiritola or by foot from Salkia or by train from the nearest railway station. Not only Jagat Banerjee, but also Bhuban Mukherjee, Sarat Ghoshal and many other orthodox Brahmins of Uttarpara, Dakshineswar and other places could not believe their eyes. Even they could not restrain themselves from going to that monastery.

That was in October of 1901. In the balmy autumn air of that year, the fields were lush green with paddy stalks waving their laden heads, and lotuses, jasmines, and tuberoses were rendering the air fragrant and heavenly. The autumn festival was being held for the first time in that monastery which was consecrated only three years before. That was the first Durga Puja in image at Belur Math. It was, however, not the first occasion Mother Durga was being worshipped by the Ramakrishna Order.

Swami Shivananda, the second President of the Order, said, 'Swamiji introduced the worship of Mother Durga at the monastery at Baranagore. Of course, the worship used to be performed in a consecrated pitcher (ghata) in those days. But the worship of 1901 had one distinction — Swamiji (Swami Vivekananda) had introduced for the first time in Belur Math the worship of Mother Durga in image.

Many orthodox pundits and Brahmins of the neighbouring places used to criticize Swami Vivekananda and the other monks of Belur Math for their innovating and liberal ideas, their modes of work, and especially their non-observance of the customs regarding caste and food. Even these bigoted people who considered themselves 'custodians of Hinduism' gave up their animosity and attended the Puja. They became convinced that the monks of the Ramakrishna Order were truly 'Sanatan! Sannyasins'. According to Sarat Chandra Chakravarty, Swami Vivekananda's main purpose in conducting this Durga Puja was to remove all unsavoury doubts and scepticism from the minds of the orthodox.

Swamiji had not seen Durga Puja for a decade. He intended to see it that year. The decision to celebrate Durga Puja in image at the Math in 1901 was his own. He had cherished this idea since several months before. He asked Sarat Babu to bring the book Raghunandana Smrti, which deals in detail with the ceremonial forms of the worship of various gods and goddesses. Swamiji read the book thoroughly. On being questioned, Swamiji said to his disciple, 'This time I have a desire to celebrate the Durga Puja. If the expenses are forthcoming, I shall worship the 'Mahamaya.'

But Swamiji did not speak of his intention to anybody till only a few days before the date of worship. Four or five days before the Durga Puja, Swami Brahmananda was sitting in the Math verandah facing the Ganga. He had a vision of Mother Durga coming over the Ganga from Dakshineswar and stopping near the Vilva tree (now, in front of Swamiji's memorial temple). Just then Swamiji returned to the Math from Calcutta and asked, 'Where is Raja [Swami Brahmananda]?' On meeting him, Swamiji told him: 'This time make all arrangements for the Durga Puja by bringing the Pratima (image) to the Math.' Swami Brahmananda hesitated for a while, for there was very little time to make all the necessary arrangements. Then Swamiji disclosed the vision he had had. He had seen Mother Durga being worshipped in image at the Math. Swami Brahmananda too then described his vision. These visions were greeted with great joy and cheer by the monks and Brahmacharins of the Math.

Br. Krishnalal [later Swami Dhirananda], a disciple of' the Holy Mother, was sent to Kumartuly to see if an image could be procured. Fortunately one image was available, for the person who had placed the order had not turned up to take delivery. Swamiji (Swami Vivekananda) was informed; he and Swami Premananda went to the Holy Mother's residence at 16A, Bosepara Lane, Calcutta, and sought her permission to perform the Durga Puja. The Holy Mother gladly consented. Swamiji then asked that the image be brought to the Math. Soon the news spread all over the city and the devotees joined with the monks to make the celebration a grand success.

To be continued

About the author

Swami Vimalatmananda

Swami Vimalatmananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna order is one among the members of the governing body of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. In this article he narrates about the first Durga Puja celebrated in the Belur Math, initiated by Swami Vivekananda.

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