06 October 2019
Banapur: From prehistory to the modern times, human sacrifice has been practised around the world by numerous cultures; Maa Bhagabati Peeth in Odisha's Banapur is one such temple where humans were sacrificed during the 'sodasaupachara puja'-the 16-day puja of the deity which concludes with Dussehra.
However, the practice is now limited to tokenism where a man enacts the role of a sacrificial offering during this period.
As the legend goes, mighty Asura (demon) king Banasura was a great devotee of Goddess Bhagabati and he used to sacrifice humans to appease her. As time elapsed the deity of Goddess Bhagabati got buried under the earth.
“This is an old tradition which has been in practice from the days of Banasura. Banasura was a great devotee of Maa Bhagabati. He used to sacrifice humans to appease the deity. However, that was discontinued after the temple got ruined and idol got buried under the earth, “said Baban Chandra Dash, chief priest of Maa Bhagabati temple.
In 14th century CE, the kingdom of Banapur was ruled by King Jagannath Harichandan. He was issueless. One day he met a saint who had come all the way from Kamakshya Peeth in modern-day Assam. The saint through his divine intution could know why the king was unhappy despite having all the riches. He asked the king to worship Maa Bhagabati. The king had a dream in which Goddess Bhagabati told him that her idol was lying buried and he should recover it and construct a temple dedicated to her. He dug out the idol from where it was lying buried and later installed in the temple that exists today.
As his wishes got fulfilled, the king went for all kind of sacrifices including human sacrifice to appease Maa Bhagabati. However, to get a man for the sacrifice was a difficult job. The king announced a jagir (gifting of tax-free land) for any family that came forward to offer a male person for sacrifice. The Bali Jena family of Mingeswar village near Balugaon being very poor, agreed to take the 'jagir' and offer one male person every year for the sacrifice before Maa Bhagabati during the 'sodasaupachara puja' which starts exactly 16 days ahead of Dussehra.
A time came when the Bali Jena family had only one male boy left. Scared that her lineage will end with the lone male in the family getting sacrificed, the mother along with her child decided to leave the village undercover. While she was moving through a forest at Chhattragarh she was accosted by an old woman who said she was having a headache and asked her to give her head a massage. The mother of the child while massaging found to her surprise that the old woman had thousand eyes on her head. The old woman asked her not to be terrified as she was Maa Bhagabati and asked how could she (child's mother) escape?
The child's mother pleaded for her son's life, Maa Bhagabati in the guise of the old woman said so that be but set a condition that a male member from the family has to enact the role of a sacrificial human during the 'sodasaupachara puja' every year.
Accordingly, every year 16 days before Dussehra, a male member of the Bali Jena family of Mingeswar leaves his home only to return on the night of Kumar Purnima (Laxmi Puja). During this intervening period, the male representative from Bali Jena family maintains an austere life and undergoes the sacrifice ritual after getting the angya mala from Maa Bhagabati to the sound of 'ghantas' and 'kahali'.
"I fast on the day I enact the sacrifice ritual. I accompany Maa Bhagabati's vijaya pratima (representative deity) - Kathi Thakurani from the Dakshya Prajapati temple to Maa Bhagabati's temple. After Maa's angya mala is put on my neck I get unconscious. Then I am thrown out of the temple," said Rabindra Jena, the man from Bali Jena family who is enacting the sacrifice this year.
"A dancing Bali Jena accompanies Maa Kathi Thakurani, the vijaya pratima from the 'parba ghara' to the main temple. Here human sacrifice and animal sacrifice used to take place. But now Bali Jena enacts the role of a sacrificial man. He loses his consciousness after angya mala is put on his neck. The man loses his consciousness and is thrown out of the temple only to regain consciousness after sprinkling of holy water on his face. The sacrifice ritual takes place every alternate day during the 16 days before Dussehra" said Nursingha Mishra, an academician and research scholar of Banapur.
Bali Jena's wife too undergoes certain rites and rituals as prescribed in scriptures for a Hindu widow during this period.