A devout Hindu, President Pranab Mukherjee is likely to give a miss to the priest's role in Durga Puja this year at his ancestral home in Birbhum district of West Bengal, something he has never done over the past several decades. Mukherjee's wife, Suvra, died on Tuesday, and according to Hindu custom one cannot participate in puja for a year after the death of an immediate family member.
“According to Hindu custom, no one can participate in religious activities for one year after death of a close one. Offering puja, puspanjali, sankalpa and other activities are not allowed,” Gopal Chakraborty, priest of Kalikapur Jamindar family told HT on Tuesday after hearing the news of the death of the first lady.
During Durga Puja, the biggest festival of Bengal, Mukherjee makes it a point to visit his ancestral home at Mirati village in Birbhum district (about 230 km from Kolkata) every year, where he performs the priest's role - chanting mantras, reading out from shastras and performing the rituals.
Following tradition, wearing patta-bastra Mukherjee visits a nearby river with elder brother Pijush and son Avijit and to perform the Saptami rituals. After returning from the river, he starts reciting Chandi (a set of slokas) before the idol.
The puja at the Mukherjee household has never been ostentatious affair, taking many visitors by surprise with its simplicity. Thousands of people including VIPs have sat in a makeshift pandal with an unassuming Mukherjee requesting everybody not to leave without taking the prasad.
During the puja days, Mukherjee spend his time chatting with family members and old friends in the village, some of whom were his childhood friends.
However, after he became the President, protocol often came in the way of his freely mixing with locals. Since 2012, none was allowed to touch his feet and apart from family members everybody, including the priest, cook and the drummers who are an integral part of Durga Puja, were issued passes.
"Every year when he comes, he touches my feet," Pijush Mukherjee,elder brother of the President told HT.
Howsoever pressing his engagements may be, Mukherjee always ensured that he performed the rituals himself and has remained sincere to the traditions established by his grandfather.
But this year, visitors to the Mukherjee household may miss the familiar sight of the devout Brahmin sitting bare bodied and cross legged before the idol, palms clasped and eyes closed reciting slokas from memory.