Immersion of idols, taken out in colourful processions, is an integral part of Dussehra celebration across the country. In what can be termed a unique tradition, perhaps practiced no where in the world, people in a nondescript village in Odisha’s Bhadrak district immerse a man instead of Goddess Durga's idol.
When Goddess Durga is immersed in water in a ceremonial farewell, residents of Shyampur village under Dhamnagar dress up a villager and take him around in a colourful procession before immersing in a pond.
The tradition of human immersion to mark the end of Dussehra is unique of its kind in the State. On the day of immersion, the man turns Devi Durga. People take him in a procession with bhajan and kirtan and immerse in the pond. The man later comes out of the pond after a couple of minutes and leads a normal life.
For over a century the village has been carrying out this tradition called Kalisi Yatra in the cherished belief that the spirit of the Goddess has entered the man's body.
On Wednesday evening, Shyampur residents garlanded Laxmidhar Swain, applied vermilion and sandalwood paste on his forehead, took him around in a grand procession and then immersed him in the pond Balipokhari of Dakhinabadi village close to Shyampur.
Villagers said, this ancient tradition is being practiced since long in the village where people worship the Durga idol made of eight metals. Though Durga puja here is celebrated with all rituals like elsewhere from Sasthi to Dasami, the immersion ceremony is altogether a different affair.
An old timer Purna Chandra Bindhani said King Dharmeswar had placed Astadhatu Devi Durga, which is known as Gada Devi. “During Kalapahad’s invasion, the devotees had hidden the Durga idol at Naguan village near Barikpur in Bhadrak district and since then Devi is being worshiped there,” he informed.
The Astadhatu Durga idol is however brought to Shyampur on the next day of Mahalaya for Dussehra and after immersion ceremony, it again returns to Naguan. Failing to describe the reasons behind 'human immersion', the villagers said perhaps a man is immersed instead of the idol as it is made of metals.
While two decades ago a male member from Niara caste was being immersed, now it is Swain who has to undergo the practice every year. A villager Antaryami Das said during the procession they believe the spirit of Devi enters into the man’s body. “This is a rare tradition of our village and we are proud of keeping it alive for years together,” he said.
Hours before the immersion procession, people from both Hindu and Muslim communities gather near Swain and ask him solutions to their problems and sufferings. In Devi’s avatar, he answers to them and advises the remedies.
Swain has however no qualms to perform the act. He keeps fast on this day. “Earlier, my forefathers were being immersed by the villagers. Now I am performing it. I have no hesitation doing it. In fact I feel like Devi while people immerse me in the pond,” he said. As per the tradition, a fish is sacrificed before the Devi and thereafter the immersion process starts.