For the last 127 years, Durga Puja is being celebrated at Sherpur’s Palbari Puja Mandap with much fanfare. Palbari is a testament to the fact that communal harmony and freedom of religion are deeply ingrained in the Bangladeshi psyche.
Durga Puja at Palbari Mandap is a family event held at the house of late educationist Nagendra Chandra Pal in Khalbhanga area under Sherpur’s Nalitabari upazila. Besides being the oldest puja mandap of Sherpur district, it is also known as the second oldest mandap of the country.
According to Palbari Puja Committee Chairman Gourango Chandra Pal, Durga Puja celebration at Palbari mandap started in 1885 by Mangal Ram Sarkar, the ancestor of Pal family. After Mangal’s death, his son Nagendra continued arranging the puja for half a century. Nagendra is no more, but the puja is still being arranged thanks to the relentless efforts of his four sons, who are now in charge.
Over the years, Durga Puja at Palbari has become an integral part of the lives of the local Hindu community. From a mere family tradition, it has developed into a popular festival. The local Hindu devotees view the Palbari puja as a junction where people from all faiths mingle to find happiness.
The Palbari puja mandap has a strong legacy. During the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971, when the Pakistani military were killing Hindus in droves, the Pal family continued celebrating Durga Puja defying all danger. This is a proof of the power that culture, tradition and religion possess.
Bishwajit Pal, Nagendra’s son, said that the century-old Palbari puja mandap has been able to propagate harmony among the local people.
“We don’t discriminate against anyone based on his religious identity. The Palbari Puja Mandap is open for all. Arti and cultural programmes at the mandap every evening have become a source of entertainment for the local people,” he said.
“We have been arranging the puja for four generations. Now the time has come for our next generation to take over. Through this puja, we just want to share happiness and regard best wishes for people,” Bishwajit said.
Biplab Dey Ketu, a local journalist, said he has never missed the Palbari Puja since his childhood.
“People from the area wait every year for this festival to commence. Our hearts become content each time we visit the place,” he said.
This year, Durga Puja is being celebrated in 144 mandaps in Sherpur district.
To avert any untoward incident, security has been beefed up at the festival sites. While all the mandaps have been brought under CCTV surveillance, a large number of police and Ansar personnel have also been deployed.
Besides non-stop patrolling by the law enforcement agencies, volunteers from the Puja Udjapon Parishad are also working tirelessly to ensure security in Sherpur’s Palbari Puja Mandap, organisers say.