In rural Bengal, a tradition in its 200th year in 2019 has been the essence of its age old culture. Narajole, a village and gram panchayat in Daspur I block of Ghatal sub division in Paschim Medinipur, nurtures the legacy of a Rath yatra which was first celebrated by the local Zamindar Mohanlal Khan in the Bengali lunar year 1225 (1818 AD). Legend goes, the Raja after having a dream travelled all the way to Ayodhya during his return from Varanasi and brought along with him, the deities of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Shal Gram Shila etc and constructed a beautiful temple in his estate in Narajole spending one lakh fifty thousand rupees. He invited priests from Varanasi during the consecration of the temple built for worship of Lord Rama. The Rath Yatra commenced on Ram Nabami of the same year and has been till date, been the biggest festival of this village in Bengal with enthusiastic participation of the local villagers. At a distance of one and half kilometres away from the estate of Raja Mohanlal Khan wherefrom the Rath Yatra commenced, he named the locality Lanka Garh (meaning: Fort of Lankadhipati Ravana) and the Rath was pulled till there and then would return back on the same evening back to Narajole.
Historical records of the event of Ram Nabami Rath Yatra during the time of the descendant of the Raja state that during the procession, two well decorated elephants would lead the delegation. Fifty people wearing red turbans would follow the elephants and the chariot containing the deities of Rama, Sita, Vishnu etc came next. The Palanquins carrying the Raja and other members of his family along with the priest would be at the end of the cavalcade. Upon reaching Lanka Garh, the head priest of the estate of the Raja would hand over to him, worshipped flowers and garlands thus concluding the rituals of this event. Thousands of villagers from surrounding villages participate in this festival every year with great enthusiasm. Specially cooked food locally known as the Dohari Bhoga is offered to the deity on the preceding day and the Churma Bhoga is offered on the day of Ram Nabami. The Chariot, Palanquin used to carry the deities to the chariot etc are also worshipped during the occasion of the Rath Yatra.
In the present day, the Rath Yatra is organised by a committee formed by the local villagers with active assistance from the local administration. They perform the rituals as per the age old traditions and the chariot is pulled till Lanka Garh even today and then again returned back to its original station on the same evening. A fair is held at Narajole as well as in Lanka Garh for fifteen days and the local people look up to this unique festival with great exuberance. Some of the articles sold during the fair are clay dolls, mats, utensils, locally made sweets (the traditional sweet of the region is the Muger Jilipi or Moong Jalebi), hand fans, farming tools etc. Earlier, Baul performances, folk theatre performances (Jatra), Putul Nach (Puppet Shows), etc were also organised during the Rath Yatra fair however the same seems to have faded away with time. During the Rath Yatra, display of fireworks is also a tradition that has been practised since its inception. The local villagers of this remotely located village in Rural Bengal wait all year round for Ram Nabami to enjoy the simple, yet harmonious festivity that has been its tradition for two centuries now.
To be able to walk through this heritage village on the occasion of Ram Nabami with an intent of experiencing a tradition that forms a part of its age old culture of devotion and communion, was a fascinating experience. Although the glamour that was once associated with this festival during its initial days have much faded away since several other modes of recreation has evolved with time along with other societal changes, the Ram Nabami Rath Yatra at Narajole in West Midnapore still proudly portrays a tradition of harmony and peace.
Source of Historical References are from the Book, “Narajole Ek Ananya Janapad” by Sri Debashish Bhattacharya.