Ghetu Puja-A Folk Celebration of Bengal
Ghetu Puja or Ghantakarna Puja is an annual puja and festival dedicated to Ghetu Thakur, one of the folk deities of Bengal. In the folk culture of Bengal, Ghetu or Ghantakarna is worshipped in connection with the month of Falgun to prevent contagious skin diseases (scabies) that appear in the spring season. Ghetu Puja is usually performed in Falgun sankranti (last day of the month). At present Ghetu Puja is performed in the Bengali Hindu community in the North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Bankura districts of West Bengal, India and south-east region of Bangladesh.
Ghetu or Ghantakarna is an imaginary abominable deity of the skin disease of the people of Bengal, a follower of Shiva and an enemy of Vishnu. His (Ghetu) worship is much like the Alakshmi Puja held in the kartiki new moon (the new moon in the Bengali month, Kartik). In order to prevent the spread of scabies in the spring season, this imaginary evil deity is killed and bid farewell. The most important offering of Ghetu Puja is ghetu flower (Clerodendrum infortunatum). This flower is also known as bhat or hill glory bower.
A popular story is associated with Ghetu Thakur. When Ghetu was a Devkumar (son of a god), he committed a major crime. For this Lord Vishnu cursed him. As a result of this curse, Ghetu was born in a Pishach (demon) family. So he was always angry. He hang two ghanta (bells) in his ears so that he could not hear the name of Vishnu. So he was named Ghantakarna. Ghetu Thakur is not worshipped in any temple. His puja is usually performed at the junction of three or four streets or under tree a little further away from home. The formality of this puja can be noticed centering on a particular tree ( bot, pakur, jiyal, neem, keora etc). All these trees are considered to be the refuge of Ghetu Thakur.
This puja is held on the morning of sankranti (last day of the month) of Falgun every year. This worship does not require a separate priest; anyone can do it. For the puja, an old clay pot used for cooking, an unusable small piece of cloth dipped in oil and turmeric powder, three cowries (small shells formerly used as money), three small dung balls, ghetu flowers, vermilion, paddy and durba grass are used.
At first, the female worshippers sit in a random position and place the clay pot with their left hand. The pot is decorated with cow dung, cowries, vermilion and ghetu flowers. A piece of cloth is spread over the clay pot. Then the worshippers start reciting Bengali rhymes-
“Dhama baja tora kulo baja
Elo elo dware Ghetu Raja.”
At the end of the puja, the young boys break the clay pot with a thick bamboo stick and insult the anti-Hari Ghetu deity, then run and wash their hands and feet in the water of the pond so that they can prevent skin disease. The women then bring the piece of cloth and roll it in the eyes of the children and put soot of the clay pot on the eyes of the children like kajal so that their eyes can remain good.
Then saying goodbye to this Ghetu Thakur, the worshippers recite rhymes in Bengali-
“Bhagyavane katay pukur, chandale kate mati
Kumorer kalsi kansarir ghati
Jal shuddh, sthal shuddh, shuddh Mahamaya
Harinam karle pare shuddh hay apan kaya.”
In the evening, the little boys make small doolies with colored paper and twigs, decorate them with ghetu flowers and earthen lamps, carry them on their shoulders, go from house to house and sing Ghetu songs and beg for rice and money.
Another annual puja festival named Bhati Puja or Bhat Puja is seen to be held on Falgun sankranti. Bhati Puja is also a folk puja (worship). Almost all things related to this puja are similar to those of Ghetu or Ghantakarna Puja. I think, Bhati Puja is another version of Ghetu or Ghantakarna Puja. So, I also want to write about this folk celebration in this article. This puja is practiced among the agrarian communities. It is usually held in the south-west region of Bangladesh. The local people of this region perform this ritual to get rid of the plague and scabies of their domestic animals. The people of the greater Jashore-Khulna, Barisal-Faridpur region of Bangladesh worship Bhati. Originally it is called Bhati Puja. This puja is practiced among the agrarian communities of the bhati (lower) region like Namashudra, Kapali, Pundrakshatriya, Munda, Rishi, Bagdi etc. Besides, Bhati Puja is also seen among professional communities like Baiti, Bawali, Mawal, Majhi, Ghosh, Karmakar, Kumar, Chhutar, Narsundar etc. At present, among the Bengali Hindus who have become interested in the classical religion, the practice of performing this puja has decreased.
The deity of Bhati Puja is a goddess who protects domestic animals and people from diseases such as scabies. This goddess has no idols. While worshipping with different offerings, the worshippers rebuke the goddess. They think, if their offerings do not please the goddess, they will be saved from her wrath by rebuking her. The worshippers are usually women and children. Men are not usually seen entering the place of this puja. This worship does not require any priest. The rituals of any kind of homa-yajna-mantra cannot be noticed. Somewhere it is also known as Hanchra Puja.
Bhati Puja is held with various rituals on the last three days of the month of Falgun and the puja festival ends on the last day of the month. In the morning, the children of the village take the various natural offerings of worship on the kula (a winnowing fan). During the first two days, there are only different types of flowers. For example, bhat, mandar, palte mandar, nilakantha, kalke, kath golap, shiyal kanta etc. The leaves of the buoyo (puiye) tree are spread on the kula and flowers are arranged on it. After that, everyone surrounds the altar of the tree and arranges their kula in a circle. The elders start singing one by one-
Hanchra Magire tor fachra chul
Taiti debo amra Bhatir phul
Bhatir phuli jadi na lage man
Taiti debo amra Mandar phul
Mandarer phuli jadi na lage man
Taiti debo amra Nilkantha phul
Jadi na shunish amar bol
Cherbo ami tor mathar chul
Karbo tore bhatar chara
Nyara mathay ghurbi para
Jwalbo agun tor ghare
Gha panchra tui nibi pare.
A few songs are sung collectively. Then the flowers of the kula are poured at the base of the tree. After offering flowers, the worshippers return home playing their kula with sticks. The worship starts again as usual the next morning. The last ceremony of Bhati Puja is held on the third day. All the rituals that are observed on this day are very interesting. The offerings are arranged on the back of the kula. Two dead snails are placed on top of the kula with some dung on each side. Some loose hair of the girls’ heads are put in the snails. Two lumps, bhati leaves, oil, vermilion, water etc. are also put on the kula.
Going to the altar of the puja, the worshippers apply oil and vermilion to the base of the tree first. Then bhog is offered to the deity. Molasses, sugar, batasa (sugar cake), naru, coconut, khai etc. are offered as bhog. After offering the bhog, the bhat leaves are brought. After that the cows are taken to the pond and washed with bhat leaves.
Going back home, everyone takes a bath. Then in the evening, the worshippers cook khichuri (hotchpotch) with rice, pulses and vegetables and eat together.
Talker: Krishna Das