Web Analytics

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Bengalis of Amer/Amber (Jaipur), Rajasthan

Few years ago, I had to visit Jaipur in Rajasthan (India) along with my son and stayed there for couple of days. On reaching there we could get some nice accommodation at a moderately priced hotel near the Railway Station. After we freshed up, the Manager of the hotel was kind enough to tell us about the options available for sightseeing. We, however, decided to first accomplish the purpose of our visit and once it was was over, we lunched in a different Rajasthani restaurant and hired an Auto Rickshaw to take us straight to the famous Amer/Amber Palace/Fort which was actually at a distance of 16 kms.
When we were just near the fort the Auto driver stopped his vehicle and advised us to either take the elephant ride or a Jeep to go to the top. The Elephants were lined up waiting for passengers. We preferred a Jeep as an Elephant ride seemed to be too expensive. While travelling in the Jeep, the driver cum guide told us about Lal Bazaar which was on the left and that it is a Bengali settlement. I wondered as to how there is a Bengali settlement here and while I was conversing with my son, the driver also informed us that the Priests of the temple inside the fort are also Bengalis. I remembered that the owner of the hotel, we were staying at as well as the Manager there, were also Bengalis. Very soon we were parked at a place above the top and the driver asked us to visit the fort/palaces and return back to find him at that point.
We entered the complex through the entrance known as Sinh Pol, At right through a flight of steps there was a temple dedicated to Goddess Durga known here as Shila Devi. The main door is made of silver on which images of Durga and Saraswathi were carved out. There were two lions of large proportions as if standing guard to the Goddess. We had the darshan and thereafter started loitering around the marvelous complex.
Back home, in our own complex we have a Bengali friend Shri Subhash Bhattacharya, a DIG with CBI (Central Bureau of Investigations). We knew that he had his house at Pilani, Rajasthan. An animal lover and a staunch environmentalist. We told him about our visit to Jaipur and about the Bengali settlement there. To our surprise he told us that for over 400 years his ancestors were the head priests of the Shila Devi temple in the Amer Palace complex. Even today his eldest brother Shri Mahesh Bhattacharya is the head priest there. He narrated his experiences when as a child he used to beat the drums while his father used to perform the rites (Pooja) inside the temple’s sanctum sanctorum. He also showed us his family album and an important photograph was that of a Raja Chood Singh Palace which was provided to the Bhattacharya’s for their residence. 
It is now their property and is being sought after by a heritage hotel chain. Their family also have their own temple known as “Mansa Mata Mandir” of which Shri Mahesh Bhattacharya is the Trustee. It is believed that all your wishes get accomplished if you pray to the deity (Goddess) there. However, one needs to bow to the Bhairava as well, at the top of the Jaigarh Fort which is visible from that point. It is needless to emphasize that the Goddess alone cannot fulfill your wishes without her better half !.
Apart from the information we received from our dear Bhattacharya, we also made some independent searches and learnt that one Shri Vidyadhar Bandopadhyay, an architect was instrumental in the town planning of Jaipur which was established in 1727. He belonged to a Goswami (Gosai) clan who are the priests in the Shri Krishna temple in the City Palace. One Shri Sansar Chandra Sen, a highly accomplished personality, was earlier the Prime Minister of the Pricely State. A road in the city is named after him. Late Rajmata Gayatri Devi hailed from Cooch Behar (West Bengal) and therefore there was further influx of Bengalis into the city.
The present day Amer/Amber Fort cum Palace was built in 1592 AD by Raja Man Singh, the trusted lieutenant of Akbar, the Moghul ruler. Man Singh was appointed as the Governor of Bengal which included today’s Bangladesh. Man Singh wanted the Raja of Jessore (Bangladesh)to be subdued. However, this was not an easy task. Man Singh understood the perils which awaited him. He is then supposed to have worshipped Goddess Kali (Durga) to help him to win the battle. Mother Kali is supposed to have come into his dreams and instructed him to dig out the black stone slab lying in the river bed which was her own sculpture. She wanted the sculpture to be installed at the Amer/Amber Palace with human sacrifices every day. If this condition was acceptable, he could win the battle other wise not. Man Sinh relented and finally won the battle. The sculpture was traced out and moved to Amer Palace some where in 1596. However there was a need for performing the daily rites. Man Singh got a family of the priestly class identified for the purpose and brought them to Amer with promises of hereditary priesthood to that family as also some villages by way of grants. This is how the Bengali priests arrived.
The Goddess needed a human head everyday. The Prisoners of War came handy. This continued as long as Man Singh was there until his natural death at Ellichpur in 1614. We may well imagine the number of heads that might have been severed out to appease the Goddess. After Man Singh’s death his, son Mirza Raja Bhan Singh is supposed to have prayed to the Goddess to accept Goats instead of humans and some people suggest that the Goddess turned her head away. Even today the head of the deity in the temple remains swayed to the right. Although the sacrifice of a horned goat is carried out everyday, even now, the downfall of the Kachhwaha clan to which Man Singh belonged is attributed to the negation of human blood to the presiding deity in the Amer Palace!.
After the Goat is butchered, the head is kept in a silver vessel and offered to the deity early in the morning at about 5.30 AM. Wine is also a part of the offering which is kept in two silver vessels. The rituals are carried out behind the curtain and a visit to the temple after the rites are over is supposed to be rewarding as the deity is supposed to be in a happy mood after relishing the offerings. The slaughter was being carried out publicly but due to the laws being enforced, it is now done in a separate room.

Photo Credit (except the goat): GIL trotter@sapo.pt