Translated from Kokborok by Manisha Debbarma
Goria is the most important deity of the Borok people of Tripura. Every year, different communities celebrate the Goria festival to offer prayers to him. Every village/community has their own rituals for the puja. The date of the puja is calculated based on the Bengali calendar and is held on the 7th of Baisakh month. In English, the day usually falls on April 20th.
In our village, on this day, our households erupt in a flurry of activities to make sure all rituals are properly followed. In the morning the courtyard is swept, washed and a small portion is earmarked as the seat of the deity. Next, the family arranges for homemade popcorn rice, a fresh piece of cloth, risha or rignai (handwoven patterned cloth), banana leaves, flowers, and bamboo.
Two priests, the “Boruwa Okra” or “Head Priest” and his assistant “Boruwa Kusu” or “Younger priest” then come to the house and drive in 3 pieces of bamboo into the ground, each about 1.5 feet in length. He then takes a thin bamboo, ties some money on it with the help of a piece of cloth, and then places the bamboo in the hollow of the middle bamboo. This middle bamboo represents Baba Goria to whom prayers and offerings are made.
The Head Priest tells me about the puja, “The arrangement of the prayers is made by the head priest. He decorates the deity’s seat and places all the items on banana leaves. Here, you can see that we have placed homemade popcorn rice, and holy water on the left-hand side and on the right-hand side we have placed wathwi (a variety of bamboo). Once the special area is ready, we light up candles and incense sticks.”
“Once all the requirements for puja are put into place, the priest will start offering prayers alongside the members of the household. The puja is meant to seek blessings for the family. We refer to Goria as our father or Baba as he is our greatest god.”
The prayers begin with the chanting of a traditional prayer by the priest. This ritual, known as “Pait”, involves placing two slices of banana leaves before the deity. One leaf is placed facing up, and the other is placed face down. The priest then sprinkles holy water on the leaves to purify them and lights candles and incense sticks. He then offers prasadand water to the deity.
After offering prayers, the puja is deemed complete. The family then asks the priest to forecast their horoscope for the year which the priest promptly does. This is called “sema swngmwng”. The family thanks the priest, who then visits the next family to repeat the procedure. This way, he will visit every family in the village and conduct the rituals.
Once the puja is completed, it is now time for the members of the family to celebrate the day with song and dance. A troupe called Goria Borrwnai, consisting of singers and dancers visit the households and give performances. They beat drums, sing songs, and dance to it. The atmosphere becomes gay and musical.
One of the songs played is called “Balerobalobalo”. In this song, the singers plead to Baba Goria to visit them again next year. People from the village join the procession and start singing along. This is how we spend the day feasting and making merry. When our procession enters a household, the family members offer us uncooked rice which we carry away with us.
This bornama(enjoying dancing and collecting rice after the end of Goria Puja) is done to ensure the well-being of the villagers. It’s been followed for hundreds of years ever since Borok people began to worship Baba Goria.
The procession is divided into two sections of people- the Goria borrnairog (the singers/dancers) and Goriasenkaru (the people who later on take Baba Goria for immersion in the river). When the procession enters a courtyard, there is a practised exchange that takes place between the troupe and the house owners. The Goria borrnairog will repeatedly ask the question, “What is there in the house?” The homeowners will reply that there are no valuable things here.
In return, the Goria borrnairog will bless the family and pray that the house is filled with plenty of rice, gold, and silver.
In some families, people offer eggs as offerings to Baba Garia. Baruwa Okra explains, “They offer one egg for every member of the family. They then pray to God for blessings. After the prayers are done, the eggs are broken one by one.”
The last ritual of the Goria puja is the immersion of the bamboo emblems. The bamboo and the leaves used during the puja are collected and carried by the Goria Sengkaru—people who are chosen to do this ritual. The Goria Sengkaru has to carry the emblems without showing them to anyone else in the village. They are then immersed in the lakes or rivers close to the village.
This is a time of celebration and happiness in Tripura’s tribal villages. If you happen to be in Tripura during this time, do join in us celebrating and worshipping Baba Goria.
Note: This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.