The Mokdumpur Sahapara Durga Puja is estimated to be more than 300 years old. It has its origins at Sahapur in Old Malda from where Nawkarilal Saha moved to Malda Town. Humayun was in power at the time and he imposed the Jizya tax on non-Muslim communities. A Vaishya cloth merchant, Nawkarilal moved to Malda Town where he continued the tradition of Durga Puja following simple rituals for a few years. Later, he dreamt of the goddess and decided to resume idol worship. Jyotirmoy Pal, the idol-maker of this Durga puja is the 13th generation that is making the idol for this puja. The idol is made at the thakurdalan itself. The pristine white decorations of the goddess, stand out and provide a more ethereal ambience to the puja. Shiva stands above Durga and he is flanked on both sides with his aides, Nandi and Bhringi. “My predecessors had learnt how to make Durga idol from this puja. This was the first Durga idol that they made,” said Jyotirmoy.
It was only three generations back that the puja became a community affair from a family puja. In 1964, Biseswar Saha decided to give away the rights of performing the puja to other members of the Saha community. “Now we contribute to the puja, but other members of the Vaishya community, particularly Saha, can participate in the puja,” said Jyotsna Datta, wife of Nandagopal, a descendant of Biseswar. Earlier, the puja was in a makeshift shade under a tarpaulin shade, now a permanent thakurdalan has been made with contributions from the community.
This Durga has an older sister in another part of the town where Kansabaniks worship the goddess. Both deities look alike and they meet on the last day of the festival, Dashami, before immersion. “The two sisters are carried by boat to meet each other at the Park ghat on the banks of the Mahananda river amidst bursting of fire crackers and jubilations. After some time, they are brought back to their respective ghats from where they are immersed. This is an amazing ritual which is followed year after year,” said Neepa Datta, Nandagopal’s daughter-in-law.
There is no sacrifice at this puja as it is done following Vaishnava rituals. Kumari puja is also missing at this puja. “The deity is offered fruits, kheer, luchi, fritters and sweets on all days. We do not offer rice to the goddess and everything we do must be flawless, otherwise, the goddess will somehow let us know the mistakes that we make,” said Jyotsna.