Durga of Chandinichowk: Fish Curry and Oriya Heritage

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The greatest Oriya poet for all times to come, the immortal bard of love, Sri Jaya Dev, in his Dasavatara Stuti, prefixed to his Sahajia Astapadi songs published under the caption of Geeta Govinda, has given primacy to fish as the epitome of benevolence to human beings.

Tantra, the science of the body, holds fish as one of the five factors of invigoration.

When the Oriyas enter into conjugal age, negotiations succeed and preparations for marriage commence, the first act of reciprocation between both the sides of the bride and the groom commences with gift of curd and fish.

A traditional Oriya male observes fasting on the day of his marriage and after the marriage rituals are over, his life as a married man starts with Pakhala (boiled rice soaked in water) and fried fish taken from the hand of his new mother – the mother-in-law. This unique role of the mother-in-law is reminder of the matriarch heritage of Orissa.

In matriarch heritage, inheritance comes to the youngest daughter and she remains the object of affection of every relation and dependent.

Cuttack – the unique city of simplicity and affluence mixed together; the city of clan culture yet prevalent in Sahi feeling in which collective entity matters, not caste or creed; the city of unity where rural character influences urban activities – brings forth this matriarch tradition of Orissa alive every year on the occasion of Dasahara that manifests at Chandinichowk, the seat of the youngest amongst the three sisters comprising Durga of Balu Bazar (1st sister) and Durga of Chowdhury Bazar (2nd sister). Here Milan (get-together) of all the Devis takes place before immersion.

The youngest sister (Durga of Chandinichowk) distributes her Prasad of Anna (rice) and fish curry to all on this occasion.

This year more than five quintals of fish was cooked for Her Prasad. This unique Oriya tradition was resurrected by Laxman Swain in 1908 when assertion of Oriya uniqueness was essential in the context of British annexation of Orissa. The Chhancha (mould) of the Devi of Chandinichowk has been preserved since then by the Swain family and when the face of Devi images change elsewhere every year, it remains the same and unchanged in Chandinichowk.

The Mother Durga of Chandinichowk is the epitome of Oriya heritage.

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