The day after the conclusion of the annual Navratri festival, called Dussehra is a bitter-sweet moment for all the devotees as people bid adieu to the Goddess Durga for another year.
According to Hindu mythology tales prevalent among Bengalis, Goddess Durga along with Lord Ganesh, Kartikeya, Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati come down to the Earth once a year for five days to bless her devotees. And, Devi Durga’s return to the Earth also commemorates a married daughter's return to her parent's house or ‘maika’.
The five-day annual festival honours Goddess Durga and celebrates her victory over the demon king Mahishasura - which is why the Goddess is also known as ‘Mahisha Mardini’.
It is believed that on the last day of Durga Puja, when Goddess Durga prepares to leave her mother's house and return to Mount Kailash where Lord Shiva resides, a few rites are performed to say the Deity goodbye. ‘Sindur Khela’ is one such tradition that is performed before the Goddess embarks on her trip.
What is Sindur Khela?
‘Sindur-Khela’ or ‘Sindur Utsav’ literally means 'vermillion game'. It is regarded as one of the most significant ritual observed on the day of Vijayadashami which falls on tenth day (Dashami Tithi) of Shukla Paksha in the month of Ashwina. Though, this ritual holds great significance for Bengalis, it is also celebrated with equal pomp in other states like Odisha, Tripura, Assam and Jharkhand.
On this day, married Bengali women first perform ‘Devi Baran’ or ‘Thakur Boron’, where they bid farewell to the goddess and emotionally part ways with Maa Durga. After that, they offer sweets and apply sindur on the forehead and feet of the Goddess. Once ‘Thakur Boron’ is done, the married women apply sindur on each other's forehead and face followed by their bangles - shankha, pola and noa (bangles made of conch shells, coral and iron, respectively).
The married women celebrate ‘Sindur Khela’ as they believe it symbolises the power of womanhood that will bring good fortune for them and long life for their husbands.
History and Significance
The exact origin of the festival is unknown. But, according to folklore, this tradition began around 200 years ago in the Durga Pujas of the zamindar houses. People believe that if a woman plays ‘Sindur Khela’ by following the proper custom, she will never be widowed. It also represents womanhood's strength in defending her family from any harm. This tradition apparently helps to resolve family disputes and conflicts amongst neighbours.
Sindur Khela celebration in Odisha
Though ‘Sindur Khela’ is being celebrated in West Bengal, it is also celebrated with equal pomp in several districts across Odisha. On the occasion of Bijoya Dashami or Vijayadashami, Bengali communities across Odisha bid Goddess Durga adieu by playing ‘Sindur Khela’.
There are lakhs of Bengali-speaking people residing in Malkangiri, Umerkote, Nabarangpur, Balasore, Jaleswar, Twin city Bhubaneswar-Cuttack and other districts.
Speaking to OTV, Sangita Sarkar, a Bengali speaking woman from Malkangiri, elaborates how they celebrate Durga puja (from Sasthi to Viajyadashami) in their town and how they observe ‘sindur khela’ to bid Maa Durga adieu.
“We wait the whole year for this festival. Here in Malkangiri, people get vibes like West Bengal as Bengali population is high here in comparison to Odia population. Every year, on Viajayadashami, we put sindur (vermillion) on Goddess Durga’s feet and forehead, seeking blessing from her for good luck and prosperity for us.”
On asking if Odias participate in ‘sindur khela’ or not, she said, ‘normally, Bengalis only participate in the vermillion game.” Giving an example she said, “At a puja pandal in MV-79, Bengali priest performs puja, so there, people observe ‘sindur khela’ on Dashami, but, at a puja pandal in Kalimela town Odia priests perform puja, so we never saw them doing the vermillion game.”
On the other hand, Jyotiprava Behera, an Odia woman from Balasore said that joining hands with the Bengali women they do also participate in the playful ritual every year.
“As we live in the district near to West Bengal, we have adopted their traditional way of biding adieu to Maa Durga by performing the ‘Sindoor Khela’. After offering sweets and vermillion to the Goddess at Suelpur Durga Mandap, we put sindur on the faces of Bengali women and in return they also do the same. And, not only Bengalis or Odias, here Bihari people also celebrate with us.”