Agartala: Tripura, ruled by a Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front government, is possibly the only one in India where the government sponsors the Durga Puja festivities, and that too together with the erstwhile royal family.
The Puja began Tuesday at the famous Durgabari temple, located in front of the 113-year-old Ujjayanta Palace, eastern India's biggest such.
A part of the fortress and mansion continues to be the abode of the former princely rulers and the remaining served as the Tripura assembly till 2009. It has now been turned into northeast India's biggest museum conserving the history, life and culture of northeast India.
"Tripura is the only Indian state where the state government, be it ruled by Left or non-Left parties, is at the forefront of funding such a Hindu religious festival. The tradition has been going on since Tripura's merger with the Indian union and has been on during Communist rule in the state," Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian, told IANS.
At the end of 517-year rule by 184 kings, on Oct 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state came under the control of the Indian government after a merger agreement signed between Kanchan Prabha Devi, then regent maharani, and the Indian governor general .
The merger agreement made it mandatory for the Tripura government to continue the sponsorship of temples run by the Hindu princely rulers. This continues even after six- and-a-half decades.
A full-fledged division - Debarchan Vibhag - under district magistrates in four of Tripura's eight districts now bears this responsibility and the entire expenditure of several temples, including that of Durgabari.
"Before starting the five-day long worshiping of Durga and her four children, a procession led by the head priest, escorted by the Tripura Police, goes to the palace to seek the consent of the former royal family to begin the puja to the deities at Durgabari," said Nagendra Debbarma, a senior official of the west district.
He said that many ancient traditions are not followed nowadays.
"A young buffalo, several goats and pigeons are sacrificed during the five-day festival at Durgabari in the presence of thousands of devotees - all at government expense," Debbarma told IANS.
People For Animals (PFA) chairperson Maneka Gandhi, currently union minister of women and child development, in a letter to the district magistrates asked them to stop "cruel killing of animals in the temples" during religious festivities.
"The district magistrate of West Tripura earlier has to report in writing about the preparations at Durgabari to the former royal family and submit a final report after completion of the mega puja. Now this practice has been discontinued."
Dulal Bhattacharjee, the octogenarian chief priest of Durgabari temple, said it is on the final day of Dashami that the real splendour of the festival comes to the fore.
"The idols of Durgabari that lead the Dashami procession are the first to be immersed at Dashamighat with full state honours, with the police band playing the national song."
Historian Roy, who wrote many books on the history of royal era, said: "The over 200-year-old Durga Puja is unique in the sense that the prasad (holy offering) includes meat, fish, eggs and, of course, fruits."
Though the Durgabari temple's Durga Puja celebration remains the main attractions due to numerous reasons, community pujas organised by clubs and families also vie for much attention.
Traditional themes, prevailing issues and events continue to dominate pandals with Indian temples and historical happenings forming part of the decorations.
India's mission to Mars and climate change will come alive in pandals through colourful lighting.
Global warming, protection of the environment, crime against women, ancient India's epics, folk and traditional life and culture of Hindu Bengalis and tribals, conventional handicraft work, Tripura's royal palace, Kolkata's Birla Planetarium, Guwahati's Kamakhya Temple, Konarak's Sun Temple, Kashmir's snow-capped hills and Dal Lake, Bombay High and a Buddhist temple in China are also being depicted through puja marquees.
According to the Tripura Police, 2,335 community and family pujas have been organised all across Tripura, bordering Bangladesh. Of these, 1,023 are in urban areas and 1,312 in rural areas. Around 550 pujas are being held in and around Agartala alone.