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Ker Puja begins in Tripura

 Agartala, Aug 2 (IANS): A centuries-old tribal custom in Tripura called Ker Puja permits no deaths, births or even recreation within a notified area. No outsiders are allowed to enter either, and anyone violating the rules has to pay. It starts 15 days after Kharchi Puja, another tribal festival in the State.

"Ker Puja starts midnight Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 30 hours," said writer and researcher Shyamlal Debbarma.

The area in and around the royal palace here as well as Puran Habeli, the erstwhile capital of Tripura, around 12 km east of this city, have been notified for Ker Puja.

"The customary rules and conventions of Ker Puja are most strict and not easy to follow. All pregnant women, the diseased and dying are kept out of the specified puja area. No one is allowed to enter the notified area," Debbarma, also a Communist ideologue, told IANS. "If any person violates the directives of Ker Puja, then the ritual starts afresh at his cost, like a fine," Debbarma said adding that 40 years ago the then district magistrate had been fined for entering the Ker Puja area without permission.

If there is a birth or a death, then the family has to pay a fine.

Even the Agartala Press Club will remain closed from Monday midnight to Wednesday afternoon as it falls in the notified Ker Puja area.

The puja rituals are carried out at government expense as the Tripura government has been holding good its promise to the state's erstwhile royal family for over six decades to organise the puja.

"During Ker Puja, all kinds of amusement, recreation and ceremonies are banned in the notified areas," an official notification said, adding security personnel would stand guard outside the area to maintain the dignity of the puja and the directives of the government.

Debbarma said: "Before starting the puja and at the end, Tripura police troopers fire cannons or guns."

Besides the Ker Puja in Agartala and Puran Habeli, also known as old Agartala, rituals take place in almost all tribal villages towards the end of the year or at the end of the harvesting season.

The literal meaning of 'Ker' in tribal Kokborok language is a specified area. Time-honoured beliefs lie behind the ritualistic invocation during the festival.

"The royal dynasty would perform Ker Puja along with other rituals for the welfare of people, praying against calamities, evil acts and external aggression," said Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian specialising on Tripura's royal era. "The sacrifice of animals and offerings characterise this popular puja," Roy told IANS.

A structure constructed with green bamboo poles serves as the deity for Ker Puja. The 'chantais', or head priest, is regarded as the king on the occasion.

At the end of the 517-year rule by 184 kings, Oct 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state of Tripura came under the control of the Government of India, according to a merger agreement signed with Kanchan Prabha Devi, then regent maharani.

The agreement made it obligatory for the Tripura government to continue the sponsorship of temples, pujas and festivals earlier organised by the royals. And it continues to this day.

"Tripura is the only state in India where the state government is at the forefront of funding many specified religious festivals of both tribals and non-tribals. The tradition has been going on since Tripura merged with the Indian union and has been on during Left rule in the state," Roy said.

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