Prez set to offer prayers to Durga at family home

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Suri (WB): Protocol has made way for tradition it seems at Miriti, where President Pranab Mukherjee will worship his family deity, Devi Durga, at his ancestral house in West Bengal's Birbhum district beginning Sunday.

Though the matter of protocol is more important this time, the President will take part in all puja rituals, according to his family and the district administration.

Arrangements have been made accordingly, but some change may take place finally, when probably for the first time, a President will worship his family deity as a priest.

The first citizen will reach Miriti, around 240 km from Kolkata on October 19 by helicopter and will stay till October 23, District Magistrate Jagdish Prasad Meena said.

Barring one or two times during the around five decades of political life Mukherjee has arrived in Miriti every year to offer puja to his family deity.

Despite being a very important minister of the central government then, Mukherjee has always spent the four days of the pujas in his ancestral house as a family member.

Mukherjee has been very sincere to the tradition established by his grandfather Jangaleswar Mukherjee.

Till last year Mukherjee went on foot to the village canal to fill an earthen pot with water, a ritual of Durga puja, and recited from Chandi, the scriptures.

But it is not yet clear to what extent the President-priest will perform the puja rituals and it is not yet clear whether he will venture to the canal.

The ghat at the canal has been reconstructed and fenced off. The temple too has been renovated as also the main entrance, the boundary-walls and the compound under the supervision of Abhijit Mukherjee, his son.

An employee of the Mukherjee household said the house has a fresh coat of paint after a gap of around fifteen years.

The Durga puja has not been a grand affair at the Mukherjee household, with visitors struck by the simplicity of the arrangements and cordiality.

Thousands of people including VIPs have partaken of 'prasad' sitting in a makeshift pandal and an unassuming Mukherjee humbly requesting everybody not to leave without having prasad.

Mukherjee, during the Puja days spends time chatting with family members, old friends, and others.

Though it is assumed that this picture will not be the same this year because of protocol and security, family members and those engaged in the arrangements are confident that tradition will have the last word over protocol.

Annapurna Banerjee, the elder sister of Mukherjee who plays a key role in the puja, said, "My brother is very sincere to the traditional rituals. He fasts the entire day. As a daughter of the family I have to look after the arrangements. My brother helps me in this."

MP from Jangipur, Abhijit, is looking after every detail of the arrangements. "Since my early childhood I have seen my father and other senior members following the traditions introduced by my great grandfather," he said.

"As a descendant it is my moral duty to carry on the traditions. To me this annual event is a great occasion when we meet not only our family members who live in different places, but villagers and acquaintances," he said.

"It is a much awaited affair for all of us. My father performing the rituals inspires me. Ultimately the festivities do not remain confined to our family, but becomes one for all the people," Abhijit said.

A high-level meeting was held in Bolpur yesterday where Meena and Superintendent of Police, Rishikesh Meena and senior officers from the state intelligence department from Kolkata were present after which they visited Miriti.

Meena said the President is scheduled to land at the Kirnahar helipad on Saturday afternoon and will stay here till Tuesday.

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