Wednesday February 21, 2018

Tripura’s unique Durga Puja is 500 years old and funded by state

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Agartala: A Durga Puja that is over 500 years old and is sponsored by the Tripura govenrment continues to be a draw for devotees in northeast India as the royal family has kept its traditional sanctity.

Tripura, the northeastern state currently ruled by the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, is possibly the only one in India where the government continues to sponsor a over five century-old Durga Puja, that is also closely overseen by the erstwhile royal family.

With ‘Maha Sasthi’ or ‘Bodhan’ — the welcoming of the Durga idols — the five-day long Puja began on Monday at the famed Durgabari temple, located in front of the 114-year-old Ujjayanta Palace, eastern India’s biggest royal mansion.

“A few years after the beginning of the royal era in Tripura, the erstwhile kings started Durga Puja over 500 years ago,” Dulal Bhattacharjee, the octogenarian chief priest of Durgabari temple, told IANS.

He said: “The capital of the princely dynasty along with royal temple moved three different places – Udaipur, Amarpur and Puran Habeli before the state headquarters and the capital city along with the Durgabari temple settled in Agartala 177 years ago in 1838 by then Maharaja Krishna Kishore Manikya (1830-49).”

“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,” Bhattacharjee said.

“Now this practice has been slightly modified. However, every affair of the Dura Puja is approved by surviving elderly royal family member, Maharani Bibhu Kumari Devi,” he addeed.

Bhattacharjee has been getting Rs.6,000 as monthly honourium from the state government as chief priest of Durgabari temple.

Bhattacharjee, who is associated with the Durga Puja for more than 60 years, said it is on the final day of Dashami that the real splendour of the festival unfolds.

“The idols of Durgabari that lead the Dashami procession are the first to be immersed at Dashamighat here with full state honours, with the state police band playing the national song.”

As Bhattacharjee aged and became sick, his son Jayanta managed all traditional rituals of the puja. “The state government like in previous years has sanctioned Rs.3 lakh this year for the Durga Puja at this royal temple,” said junior Bhattacharjee.

Historian and writer Panna Lal Roy told IANS: “Tripura is the only Indian state where the state government, be it of the Left or non-Left parties, is at the forefront of funding such a Hindu puja. The tradition has been going on since Tripura’s merger with the Indian union and has been on during Communist rule in the state as well.”

A part of the fortress and royal mansion continues to be the abode of the former princely family and the remaining palace served as the Tripura assembly till 2009. It has now been turned into eastern India’s biggest museum conserving the history, life and culture of northeast India.

At the end of 517-year rule by 184 kings, on October 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state came under the administrative 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 six-and-half decades after Independence.

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 eight temples, including that of Durgabari, is met by the government.

“Before starting the five-day long worship of Durga and her four children, a procession led by the head priest, escorted by Tripura Police, goes to the palace to seek the consent of the former royal family to begin the puja of the deities at Durgabari,” said an official of the west Tripura district administration.

“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,” the official told IANS.

People For Animals (PFA) chairperson Maneka Gandhi, currently union minister of women and child development, in a letter to the district magistrates earlier asked them to stop “cruel killing of animals in the temples” during religious festivities.

Historian Roy, who wrote many books on the royal era, said: “The Durga Puja in Durabari temple is unique in the sense that the prasad (holy offering) includes meat, fish, eggs and, of course, fruits.”

Though at least 2,500 community and about 100 family Durga Pujas are being held in Tripura, the Durga Puja at the Durgabari temple remains the main attraction for numerous reasons, including for its centuries old customs, kept alive by the royal family.

Traditional themes, prevailing issues and events continue to dominate puja pandals in the state with historical events forming part of the themes for decorations.

“Unlike in the past, there are no reports about extremists creating problems or asking people not to organise the puja. The number of Durga Pujas has also increased in rural and remote areas,” Tripura’s Inspector General of Police Nepal Das told IANS.

(Sujit Chakraborty,IANS)

 

 

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

Also Read: Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)