Unlike elsewhere in the country where Goddess Durga is worshipped during Dussehra, in Odisha's Baripada town people worship ‘Pancha Mukhi’ Hanuman. In a unique tradition, people here worship lord Hanuman for over a week and follow the rituals that are not performed during the worshipping of the Devi.
In a contrary to the regular practice of idol worshiping of Devi Durga during Dussehra, the residents and traders in Gandhi Market worshiped Panchamukhi (five faced) Hanuman. This year, they erected a huge mandap where Lord Hanuman will be worshipped till October 28 before immersion.
The puja committee had installed a 10-foot Pancha Mukhi Hanuman idol. Not only the huge Hanuman idol, the committee members also worshipped small idols of lord Rama, Laxman and Sita along with another idol of Hanuman offering prayers to lord Shiva.
General Secretary of Mahavir puja committee Khageswar Baliyarsingh said the priest performed the rituals for all three days starting from Astami to Dashami. The only aberration was that instead of Devi Durga we offered puja to Hanuman, he said.
Started with a few members, the committee has now over 150 members. Baliyarsingh said the Mahavir puja had been observed here since last 20 years. “Earlier our elders were worshipping a single-faced lord Mahavir along with the one of lord Rama, Laxman and Sita. Now we are worshipping five-faced Mahavir. The puja is organized in a grand manner. We would continue it in the years to come,” he said.
Describing about the significane of Hanuman worshipping during Dussehra, priest Manmath Kumar Pani, said after killing demon king Mahisasura, Goddess Durga had turned violent and several incidents of human tragedy took place in the earth. "We offer puja to lord Hanuman to minimise the loss so that peace can prevail everywhere. This is unique of its kind as none follow the tradition anywhere in the country," he observed.
Another legend has it that after the deaths of demon Kumbhakarna and a couple of sons, an aggrieved demon king Ravana wanted to kill Hanuman. But he was astonished to see Panchamukhi Avatar of Hanuman consisting of lord Bishnu and lord Shiva. And from the day onwards his destruction started.
For idol maker Manas Ranjan Rana the making of Hanuman idol for Dussehra also was unique in many manners. "We generally make the idol of Durga these days. When this year I got the offer to make Panchamukhi Hanuman, I was taken aback. I agreed suddenly and it was a different experience altogether," he said.
The huge Hanuman and his puja during Dussehra also attracted visitors from far off places. “We had never heard of Mahavir puja during the autumn festival. When we learnt about this we went around to have a glimpse of the idol and take his blessings. It is definitely an exceptional affair,” said Reeta Dey of Kolkata who has come to her relative's house to spend vacation.