Tiger god finds followers in urban jungle
Prithvijit Mitra, TNN 4 November 2009, 07:30am IST
KOLKATA: The name of Dakshin Ray, the tiger god, is spoken in hushed tones of awe and terror in the forests of the Sunderbans. And that is only to be expected. Life in the mangrove forests revolves around the forest and villagers are often at the mercy of the big cat. Every fishing and wood-cutting trip is preceded by prayers to him.
About 150 km away, a family in Kolkata, too, has been appeasing the lord of the jungle for more than half a century. Every religious event at the Banerjee house of Bhowanipore begins with a full-fledged puja of Dakshin Ray. They even have a small temple dedicated to the tiger god, complete with a specially crafted stone idol.
“Dakshin Ray has been our resident deity ever since the idol was established at the temple,” says Rana Bandopadhyay, a member of the family. “We are probably the only family to have the tiger god as a resident deity. In fact, every big occasion in the family revolves around the tiger god. We seek his blessings before marriages, birthdays and other religious ceremonies. Poila Magh (observed as the tiger god’s birthday) is a big occasion in the family and we often travel to Dhopdhopi in South 24-Parganas to offer prayers at the temple there.”
It’s a mystery why the family started worshipping a god that has no place in the urban religious mythos. The family has had no connection either with the Sunderbans or South 24-Parganas. It was probably a dream that led to the Banerjees turning to the tiger god. “My grandmother, Saralabala Devi, dreamt of an image that was similar to Dakhshin Ray’s. She was not sure which god she had seen, or where it was worshipped. After consulting a few elders, she started travelling southward from Bhowanipore, searching for a temple that worshipped Dakshin Ray. Eventually, she reached Dhopdhopi, the place which has a temple dedicated to the tiger god. There, she was convinced that she had indeed seen Dakhshin Ray in her dream. That was 54 years ago,” said Bandopadhyay.
Saralabala set about establishing a temple, but since no idol was available, the family worshipped pictures of the god. Years later, in 1977, her son Bhaswar Bandopadhyay got an idol crafted in stone from Jaipur. The one-and-a-half-foot image has the tiger god in a green dhoti with a cloth wrapped around him and a green pagdi. “It is very close to the pictures that we have but the facial expression of the image is a bit different. It has got a typical Rajasthani look, which makes it unique,” added Bandopadhyay.
The family members even travel to Dhopdhopi around five times a year. Every puja at the household begins with a prayer to the god. Pictures of Dakshin Ray are carried by members on auspicious occasions. “I carried a picture of the god during my marriage. So did all my uncles, aunts and cousins,” said Bandopadhyay.
“It is surprising that the god is being worshipped in Kolkata. Outside the Sunderbans, Dakshin Ray is worshipped in Baruipur, which has got temples and a locality named after the god. But Kolkata has never had such a tradition,” said Pranabesh Sanyal, former director of Sunderban Tiger Reserve.