Gandheswari Puja:The Fragrant Festival of Bengal

Gandheswari Puja:The Fragrant Festival of Bengal

Bengal, a region renowned for its vibrant culture and rich traditions, is often described as a land of festivals. Among the plethora of celebrations that grace its calendar, one festival stands out, not only for its uniqueness but also for the essence it brings to the lives of the Bengali Hindus. This festival is known as Gandheswari Puja, a celebration of fragrance and the worship of the Goddess of Fragrance. In this article, we will delve into the history, significance, and the customs associated with Gandheswari Puja, shedding light on the diverse tapestry of Bengali culture.

Goddess Gandheswari

The Origins of Gandheswari Puja

The name “Gandheswari” itself is a fusion of two Bengali (and Sanskrit) words, “gandha,” which means smell or fragrance, and “iswari,” which translates to goddess. Thus, Gandheswari embodies the concept of the Goddess of Fragrance, and the festival is dedicated to the worship of this divine entity.

The primary custodians of this celebration are the Gandhavanik community, whose name is a combination of “gandha” (scent or aroma) and “vanik” (merchant or trader). They are known as the traders of various scented products, including cosmetics, perfumes, spices, incense, camphor, and sandalwood. The association between fragrance and trade forms the foundation of this festival.

Gandheswari Puja: A Fragrant Tradition

Gandheswari Puja is an annual festival observed on the full moon day of Baisakh or Jyaistha, following the Bengali almanac. While the date shifts each year, the essence of the celebration remains constant. This day holds a special place in the hearts of Bengali Hindus, but it also carries significance for Buddhists, coinciding with their greatest religious festival, Buddha Purnima. This simultaneous celebration of two distinct religions adds a unique layer to the cultural tapestry of Bengal.

Historical Roots of the Gandhavanik Community

The history and existence of the Gandhavanik community trace back to legendary merchants such as Dhanapati Saudagar, Srimanta Saudagar, and Chand Saudagar. These prosperous traders embarked on journeys across the world, often sailing on Mayurpankhi, boats designed in the form of peacocks. Despite the perilous nature of their trade routes, they believed that Goddess Gandheswari would safeguard them from the dangers of storms, rain, floods, robbers, and wild animals. Their belief in the protective power of the goddess laid the foundation for the worship of Gandheswari.

Contemporary Evolution of Gandhavanik Community

In modern times, the Gandhavanik community has transformed into modern businessmen, diversifying their trade into various items, including medicine and chemicals. Their faith in Gandheswari continues, with an annual ritual in which they place their business items, ledgers, calculators, and even computers (if any) in front of the goddess, seeking prosperity in their trade.

Gandheswari: A Divine Manifestation

Gandheswari is considered a manifestation of maternal power and an integral part of Goddess Durga. Her form is reminiscent of Jagaddhatri, another revered goddess in Bengal. She is often depicted with four arms, holding a conch, a chakra (a sharp wheel), a bow, and arrow. The goddess is seated on a lion, which stands on the demon Gandhasur, and she is seen vanquishing the demon with her trident. Traditional paintings often depict a young woman seated near the deity’s feet, known as Gandhavati (a woman with fragrance), who worshipped the goddess to protect her from Gandhasur.

According to scriptures, although the forms may vary, they are all manifestations of the same superpower. This belief is in line with the idea that numerous goddesses, whether worshipped or forgotten, such as Manasa, Chandi, Sasthi, Shitala, Bon Durga, and Pragya Parmita, originate from one primordial power. Gandheswari is no exception, representing a unique facet of this divine energy.

Rituals and Offerings

Gandheswari Puja involves a variety of offerings and rituals. The items required for worship include an idol of the goddess, sindur (vermilion), panchagavya (five products from a cow, such as milk, butter, ghee, yogurt, etc.), panchasasya (five types of crops), pancharatna (five types of gems), panchapallab (five types of leaves), ghat (a small round-shaped earthen pot), darpan (mirror), green coconut with its stem, atap (sunned) rice, dhoti of Lord Shiva, Narayana, and Asura, sweetmeats, bilwapatramalya (garland of wood apple leaves), sesame, haritaki (yellow myrobalan), panchapuspa (five types of flowers), a conch, a piece of iron, naivedya (sacred offering for God), sandalwood, betel leaf, and nut, among others.

Gandheswari’s Presence in Art and Beyond

Gandheswari’s influence extends beyond the boundaries of Bengal. In Bangladesh, a statue of Gandheswari, alongside other Hindu deities, adorns the Buddhist monastery of Paharpur. While not as old as the monastery itself, this statue is a testament to the enduring legacy of Gandheswari.

In West Bengal, Gandheswari temples can be found at Bansberia and Chorbagan, the latter established in 1343 BS in North Kolkata. The Gandheswari temple authority at Chorbagan is not limited to the annual worship and distribution of prasad. They are actively involved in philanthropic and cultural activities, running charitable dispensaries for over a century, providing hostel facilities for underprivileged students from remote villages, assisting distressed women, educating children in need, and publishing a magazine called “Gandhavanikpatra” for 75 years.

A Fragrant Festival for All

While a specific community of Bengali Hindus primarily worships Goddess Gandheswari, the beauty and fragrance of this festival transcend boundaries. Others, irrespective of their caste and creed, partake in the festivities with respect, emotion, pleasure, and devotion. The celebration of Gandheswari Puja serves as a unifying force, where the fragrance of devotion and the essence of tradition permeate the air, enriching the cultural mosaic of Bengal.

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