The sanctum sanctorum is enough to accommodate not more than 10 people at a time. The spillover outside the temple is far larger on every Tuesday and Saturday. Devotees from across Malda district and other parts of the country arrive at the Johura Kali temple, located a good 5 kilometres from Malda Town amidst the mango orchards, to offer prayers. But the crowds are bigger on the Tues
days and Saturdays of Baishakh (of the Bengali calendar) that is an auspicious month. The temple’s annual celebrations are held through this month as it is believed that it was established at this time, 300 years ago.
The myth can be traced back to 1083 Bangabdo (Bengali calendar) when Salwa Tewari, a sadhak who lived in Gobindapur village under Bhatiya Pargana in Malda, had consecrated this temple after envisioning Chandi in mediation. At the time, Gour was the citadel of power in Bengal, first by the Bengali kings after which the Pala and Sena dynasties ruled the state. The ruins that are now archaeological exhibits spread around Malda district are remnants of the once strong, gigantic walled city that was the seat of power in Bengal. A river ran around this walled city that protected it from enemy attack. However, Gour’s fortunes began to dwindle. Enemy attacks, natural calamities like earthquakes, famine and other conditions and series of epidemics turned Gour to ruins.
Salwa Tewari, a wealthy sadhak in Malda was deeply perturbed by the despair and distress of the people of Gour. Thus, he decided to pray to Devi Chandi to give him the power to emancipate the people from their troubles and bring peace in their lives. In a trance, Salwa Tewari envisioned the goddess who ordered him to consecrate a temple in Her name at that spot. The sadhak immediately established a simple shrine where he built a mound or bedi dedicated to the goddess. The formless deity soon became revered among people from all castes and religions.
It is believed that Salwa Tewari had established the temple in the month of Baisakh. He established the tradition of offering prayers to the goddess only on Tuesday and Saturday. Even today, the descendants of Tewari maintain the traditions. “We continue the traditions that our forefathers had started at this temple. Over the years Johura Kali has become a revered deity. Although the deity is referred to as Kali, She is actually a manifestation of Chandi. During the annual festival in Baishakh, the temple premises are choc-a-block with devotees coming from across the state and other places as well. Many devotees bring goats for sacrifice at the temple,” said Mukul Tewari, a fifth generation descendant of Salwa, and the present sevait at the Johura Kali temple. Since Shakti and Shiva must reside together, a Shivalinga was installed inside the same sanctum sanctorum.
The origin of the name ‘Johura’ remains a mystery. There are several beliefs attached to it. One belief is that dacoits, at one time, would hide stolen jewels under the bedi. Another one goes that an Arab attacker had seen a vision at the temple and exclaimed that there was ‘Zeher’ inside it. ‘Zeher’ later became Johura.
Around 1213 Bangabdo, (Bengali year), Salwa Tewari’s grandson, Hiraram had a vision of the goddess whose appearance he later described as having a long tongue, a third eye on the forehead and having teeth like a boar. Hiraram immediately translated his onto a clay mask. As tradition has it, every year during the annual celebrations in Baishakh, the masks placed over the mound are changed. Only one artisan in Malda has been making these masks through generations. Mask worship is a tradition of North Bengal and that is also followed at the Johura Kali temple as well.
“Every year the mask is brought ceremoniously from the artisan’s studio on the first Tuesday or Saturday of Baishakh,” said Mukul. Drums, bells and the sound of conch shells rent the air when the new masks are brought to the temple.