Agartala: There is no place for death, birth or even recreation in the celebrations of the centuries-old Ker Puja in Tripura and elsewhere in the northeastern states as well as in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.
This mega tribal event, consisting of intricate, time-honored rituals, is about well-being and warding off evil spirits. The 31-hour-long festival has begun from late Monday night and the actual Ker Puja is being held on Tuesday.
As part of the ceremonies, no pregnant woman or critically ailing person is allowed inside the puja ceremony areas notified by the Tripura government. Anyone who violates this is made to pay a fine and the puja has to restart from the initial stage.
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 ceremonies pass off peacefully and in a sacred manner.
According to writer and historian Salil Debbarma, the 'Ker Puja' is nowadays organized by some of the tribal populations in Assam and few other Northeastern states and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeast Bangladesh.
As has been the norm, the West Tripura district administration has notified the 'Ker Puja' areas this year too.
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 this purpose.
The literal meaning of 'Ker' in the tribal Kokborok language is "specified area".
"The puja starts at midnight on Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 31 hours," the West Tripura Senior Deputy Magistrate Dhiraj Debbarma told IANS.
A notification issued by the West Tripura District Administration says: "Pregnant women and the sick are to be kept out of the specified puja area. No one is allowed to enter the notified area."
"The government notification issued last week and widely circulated, prohibiting any kind of entertainment, dancing, singing, and movement of animals in the specified Ker Puja areas," veteran tribal leader Salil Debbarma told IANS.
"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," he said.
If there is a birth or a death in this period, then a family has to pay a fine as well.
During Ker Puja, any kind of recreation is strictly banned in the notified areas, with security personnel in guard to maintain the dignity of the puja. "Those performing the 'Ker Puja' cannot wear stitched cloth," Salil Debbarma pointed out.
"The Tripura police offer a gun salute before the puja begins.
"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," he added.
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 organized in many tribal villages towards the end of the year or at the end of the harvesting season. (IANS)
Also Read: Traditional 'Ker Puja' to begin in Tripura