Jagadhatri puja’s fame in Chandannagar is the living testimony of how amalgamation between two cultures ( French and Bengali) have created a colourful festival with amazing art works. Beyond the confines of museum artefacts , the festival continues to display a vibrant celebration which is anchored in the modern times.
Chandernagore is West Bengal’s hidden gem. It is West Bengal’s French Riviera on the Hooghly. Surrounded by beautiful buildings, it was one of the most important French settlements in Asia in the 18th century. In 1688, the French paid the Mughal Subedar of the region a sum of 40,000 coins for Chandernagore. With booming trade and commerce, the city was rival to Calcutta, under French Governor General Joseph François Dupleix (1697-1763). The town was further developed by Jean-Baptiste Chevalier (an enterprising and patriotic Bengal veteran who in the 1750s had led a series of expeditions to establish trading links) and Monsieur Rocquitte or Durgacharan Rakshit ( the first Indian to receive the French honour, the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and his business empire includes Africa, Burma, Caribbean, Europe North Africa, and South East Asia). They developed the town and it’s main attraction- Jagadhatri Puja.
The pujo is held as per astrological chart , end of October or month of November. It is celebrated with festival and incredible art for the mass in Chandannagar. However, the celebration was started by Maharaja Krishna Chandra in Krishnanagar in 1754. It is said that the goddess appeared in the Maharaja’s dream as a little girl and asked him to worship Her. He was imprisoned by the British, so he had reached home too late, hence he started worshiping the goddess as Durga.
While his son found himself in the adverse direction of winds and not been able to sailed home in time for Jagadhatri puja , he ended up holding the pujo at Nichu Poti Ghat of Chandannagar. Since then Jagadhatri puja is being held in the French town of Chandannagar .
The word ‘Jagat’means World and ‘Dhatri’ means holder. Jagadhatri puja is a celebration of the ‘Mother’ who holds the world together. The three-eyed goddess rides a lion that trounces an elephant which symbolises the dead demon Karindrasura. Thus symbolising the mastery over demonic power. Her weapons are a conch, a bow, an arrow, and a chakra in her four hands. Being a form of Goddess Durga, Jagadhatri too is a manifestation of Adi ( primoirdial ) Shakti(power).
Today, the festival is a testament to how the French loved and encouraged the local culture and art including the puja’ celebrations. They also supporting its’ streamlined management and in fact their influence made it possible for the onset of dazzling displays of festive lights that made Chandanagar famous globally. Chandanagar also has the circular immersion route of the Jagadhatri idols which is the secong longest procession in the World after Rio de Janeiro hence it is also called ‘ carnival’. And the incredible decorations of Jagadhatri idols with ‘shola’ art is fascinating. It is made from Shola pith (grows wild in marshy waterlogged areas and biological name is Aeschynomene aspera ). I have in fact ,represented this in my boutique work for Eastern railway to promote the art and Hoogly District.
Today, one can also enjoy fireworks as part of Jagadhatri pujo festival which was taught by the French for the 14th of July Bastille Day commemoration. This more than 275 year old French town has definitely continued unique four day Jagadhatri puja celebration with a vivid French influence. People from all across the Indian state of West Bengal attend the festival with dazzling lights and extraordinary ‘shola’ decorations. The festival is not complete without trying the local sweets such as a Rasmalai and jalbhora sandesh with Rose Syrup. It is the most delicious part of the enthusiastic celebration. I am inviting everyone from Australia , UK and USA to come and enjoy the Jagadhatri pujo festival in West Bengal’s French Riviera on the Hooghly river, Chandanagar.
Neline Mondal was born in Belgian and raised in the Netherlands. Studied in Ecole Normale Seperieure and former Universite Pierre et Marie Curie , Paris France. In 1988, she arrived in India as part of AIDS awareness program by UNESCO CCIVS. In 1989 , she was married to Ujjal Mondal ( from one of the oldest families in Chandernagor) and since been living in Chandernagar.