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Ancient sclupture of Manasa or Bishari. The current location of the sculpture is at British Museum. Pic collected by : Nirjhara Mukhopadhyay

A journey from prehistoric era to modern time- Bishari puja at Anga Pradesh


August 17th, 2021

Our Bureau/

Anga Pradesh( modern Bhagalpur and its adjourning districts in Eastern Bihar), the treasure-trove of ancient history still has many traditions. Bishari Puja  or Manasa Puja is one of such ancient tradition that is performed every year during middle of August with much religious grandeur.  Many historical and archaeological evidences suggested that the existence of worshiping deity Bishari or Manasa was much evident in pre Vedic age in this region.

Recently a post on social media on a  sculpture of Mansa became a subject of discussion among history lovers. One  Nirjhara Mukhopadhyay  has posted the post of  Manasa statue made of bronze of the Pala period.

The iold of Manasa or Bishari at British Museum.

(Pic by Nirjhara Mukhopadhyay)

The current location  of the sculpture is at British Museum;  family statue of Devi is visible. Portrait of his goosebumps on both sides of the throne. Perhaps the extinct memory of mother bird. Believer and needy on both sides. Nitya and Malini on the feet; two companions. Nagchutra on the head. Upabista Devi Mahakaruna and Pragya’s host at Lalitasan in Vishwapadme.

Interestingly, Bishari or Manasa has been derived mainly from  Manasamangal Kāvya, considered to be  the oldest of the Mangal-Kāvya and narrates how the snake-goddess Manasa established her worship in Bengal ( the part of Anga Pradesh was inside the geographic territory of greater Banga or whatever the name may be)  by converting a worshipper of Shiva to her own worship. Manasa was a non-Aryan  deity ( the natives of the lands who were also said  to be  the successors of Harappan civilization and were definitely non-Aryans)  and her worship was an ancient one in Bengal. It is believed she came to this eastern parts of the country (Bengal)  with the migrants ( who migrated after Harappan civilization destroyed due to many reasons) who worshipped her in the hope that she would protect them against snakes.

The earliest poet of this genre of medieval Bengali literature was probably Kana Haridatta (c. 13th century), but his work is no longer existent. His name is found in both the works of Bijay Gupta and Purushottam. Other poets who composed versions of Manasamangal after him were Purushottam, Narayan Deb (c 15th century), Bijay Gupta and Bipradas Pipilai. Bijay Gupta’s Manasamangal (or Padmapuran) (1484-5) is perhaps the most popular of these versions because of its rich literary qualities. Bipradas Pipilai’s Manasabijay (1495-6) was also composed during the same period. Narayan Deb’s work is also known as Padmapuran.

The much glorified stories of Manasa or Bishari is attached with the story of Bihula, another powerful charter and the entire story shows the victory of  women empowerment over the patriarchal society.

According to experts concerned Manasa or Bishari was in existence  before the time much before the arrival of the Aryans in this land. They claimed that people here by long practicing such Jadu Vidyas  or the Tantras, created the mother-goddesses’ concepts. According to noted Israeli intellectual and a professor, Y N Harari , the imagination of a large community could not exist without a religion. So the people here in prehistoric times used to worship mother Nature  goddesses unanimously and were under the shelter of that unified religion. They were contemporary to Harappa civilization,  had most scientific advanced urban civilization and above all they had very developed political system. The excavation show that the  mound of Pandu Raja was contemporary to Harappan civilization and a well devised urban culture was there, many archaeologists claim.

The reflection of the past era of ancient greater Banga  or united providence Bengal is still visible here as many female divinities- Nature  mother-goddess in pre-historic times are still worshiped by the people here.  All have the similarities with the idols of Nature mother-goddess which were found different places like Bangarh, Tamluk, Chandrakatugarh or from the mount of Pandu Raja situated at different    places of modern Bengal and Bangladesh.  The residents of this portion were devotees of mother-goddess who had kept up faithfully most of the barbaric traditions connected with her worship in all their pristine purity. According to the experts and many researchers, it is said that agriculture once discovered in the prehistoric era by the women in this region. In the initial stage the agro based society here was dominated by the women. And obviously appliance of ancient Jadubidya (magic) for approaching in making the land (soil) fertile for agricultural products with the help of reproduction capacity of the woman kind, gradually Tantra, the oldest tradition in the country was born. The oldest hermit, Muni Kapila gave the concept of Sankhya philosophy in arranging such things in a systematic format.

Manasa or Bishari Puja at Bhagalpur.
Pix By Khalid Chand

However, according to mythological beliefs, Lord Shiva had five Manas Putris (adopted daughters) — Bhawani, Devi, Jaya, Padma and Maina. The daughters, also named as Bisharis (Manasa), had a desire to be worshipped on earth (Mrityulok) and they told their father about it. but, Lord Shiva put a condition — only if his devotee Chando would agree to bow down before them, he would accept their proposal. According to the legend, Chando, who

Modern Manasa or Bishari idol at Bhagalpur.
Pix By Khalid Chand.

was a Bhagalpuri silk merchant of Champanagari ( the ancient capital of Anga and today’s modern Bhagalpur), refused to comply with their wishes. This infuriated Bishari and as a result, she killed all the six sons of Chando and also drowned his ship. Soon after the tragedy, Sonika — Chando”s wife — gave birth to the seventh son, Bala Lakhindar, who on attaining adulthood was married to an Ujjini-based trader’s daughter Bihula. Despite such a long span of time, the wrath of the sisters had not subsided and they threatened Chando to kill his son on the very night of the marriage. Chando, however, had prepared a house of iron and bamboo as a precautionary measure, but that could not save Bala from instantaneous death by biting of a Naag (snake). Bihula then prepared a Manjusha-shaped boat and proceeded towards Swargalok (heaven) to request the gods to revive her husband. The myth says that the gods were pleased with her concern towards the husband and thus, Bala got back his life. When Bihula returned from the heaven, she persuaded Chando to worship Bisharis. and, since then Bishari puja is observed in the Singh Lagna (when sun enters in the zodiac sign of leo) of Bhadra month of the Hindi calendar for three continuous days. Local folks believe that by worshipping the Bisharis (the goddesses of snakes), they shall not have any fear of snake-bite.

Most interestingly, Manjusha art, a folk art of this region also directly attached with this mythological concept of Manasa or Bishari puja. Actually it is a form of pictorial depiction of the entire episode.   Like other folk arts in other parts of the country Manjusha art  is done only with three colours — red, green and yellow which are pure organic and  prepared naturally with flowers, herbs and plants. Manjushas depicts human beings in the form of the letter ”x” and it also portraits Bisharis with their snake force with the weavy lines of decoration.

Immersion of Manjusha having Manjusha Arts at Bhagalpur.
Pix By : Khalid Chand.

However, the Manjusha art of Bhagalpur and its adjoining areas is struggling for survival due to lack of proper encouragement from the government and social organisations, unlike Madhubani paintings of the Mithila, Zadopetiya of the Santhal Parganas and other folk arts of Bihar.

On the other hand Manjushas are temple-shaped boxes, made of bamboo, jute straw and paper. Manjusha art made the Manjusha very attractive.

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