There is no place for death, birth or recreation in centuries-old Ker Puja in Tripura. Steeped in intricate, time-honoured rituals, this mega tribal event is about well-being and warding off evil spirits. And this 31-hour-long festival is all set to begin from Monday.
It may sound strange but no pregnant woman or critically ailing person is allowed in the sacred puja precinct. Anyone who violates is made to pay a fine and the puja starts from scratch.
Sponsored by the state government, Ker Puja is one of the important events in Tripura’s calendar. Elaborate arrangements are made to ensure that the puja passes off peacefully.
As has been the norm, the West Tripura district administration has notified the Ker Puja areas this year. The area in and around the royal palace here as well as Puran Habeli, the erstwhile capital of Tripura around 12 km east of Agartala, have been notified for the Ker Puja.
The literal meaning of ‘Ker’ in tribal Kokborok language is ‘specified area’.
“Ker Puja starts at midnight on Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 31 hours,” said Sanjoy Chakraborty, Senior Deputy Magistrate of West Tripura district.
“Pregnant women and the sick are to be kept out of the specified puja area. No one is allowed to enter the notified area,” said the notification.
“Any kind of entertainment, dancing, singing and movement of animals are barred in the specified Ker Puja areas,” it added.
According to writer Salil Debbarma, “The customary rules and conventions of Ker Puja are strict and not easy to follow. Around 40 years ago the then District Magistrate had been fined for entering the Ker Puja area without permission.”
If there is a birth or a death, then a family has to pay a fine as well.
“During Ker Puja, any kind of recreation is strictly banned in the notified areas. Security personnel guard the area to maintain the dignity of the puja,” Debbarma added. “The Tripura police offer a gun salute before the puja begins.”
According to Debbarma, “The head priest and his associates light up the fire by rubbing bamboos. The tribals and people around the Ker Puja areas carry the fire to their homes believing that it would ensure their well-being and thwart the evil spirit.”
The rituals are carried out at government expense as per an agreement between the Tripura government and the erstwhile royal family.
Besides Agartala and Puran Habeli, the puja is organised 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 for the welfare of the people, praying against calamities and external aggression,” said Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian.
“The sacrifice of birds, animals and offerings characterise this popular puja,” Roy told IANS.
A structure constructed with green bamboo poles serves as the deity for the Ker Puja. The chantai or head priest is regarded as the king on the occasion.