‘Kola-bou’ – The Banana Bride

The red benarasi sari was quite heavy because of the zari embellishments and I had to wrap my arms around it to make sure I had a tight grip. Kola-bou was just dismantled and someone had handed over the sari to me. I stood there with a heavy heart watching our Durga idol being immersed into the stream, a portion of which was temporarily stagnated for the purpose. The intoxicating divine fragrance emanating from the sari was impossible to ignore. Not surprising, this sari was draped around Kola-bou who was worshipped for the past four days. I thought I could quite literally smell the Goddess.

This Durga Puja I was home after 15 long years. Quite surprising, given that this is the most important festival for Bengalis. A few of these years I spent in Kolkata, a few in Bangalore, and the rest I traveled and trekked. I hadn’t realized that so many years passed by and I did not visit our Shillong home during this time of the year. This wasn’t by chance, though. Rather a choice attributed to certain personal reasons. This year circumstances forced me to be here, and I attended our family puja after a very long time. As a result, my Durga Puja celebration turned out to be quite good, while most people had no celebrations at all. Thanks to the pandemic.

Pic 1: Ma Durga with her children. Sons – Ganesha and Kartikeya; Daughters – Laxmi and Saraswati.

Durga Puja is a 5-day event entailing a host of rituals and celebrations. Ma Durga is the most powerful and fearless Goddess, who slays the buffalo demon Mahishasura to protect the earth. She is the supreme power created by combining the powers of all other Gods. The Mother of the Universe, she ensures creation and preservation. The Destroyer of Evil, Ma Durga’s mythology revolves around victory of good over evil. The word ‘Durga’ literally means impassable and inaccessible. It is believed that earth is the maternal home of the Goddess and she comes here every year with her children – Ganesha, Kartikeya, Laxmi, and Saraswati. People celebrate the Mother Goddess, characterized by her ten arms carrying various lethal weapons with the lion as her vehicle.

There are many fascinating aspects of Durga Puja. One of these is the Kola-bou, which is a young banana tree dressed like a Bengali bride. Kola-bou is also known as Nabapatrika – ‘Naba’ meaning nine and ‘Patrika’ meaning plant. It consists of nine plants that are symbolic representations of the nine forms of Ma Durga.

  • Banana plant – represents Goddess Brahmani
  • Colocasia plant– represents Goddess Kalika
  • Turmeric plant – represents Goddess Durga
  • Jayanti (Jubilee) plant – represents Goddess Kartiki
  • Wood apple leaves – represents Lord Shiva
  • Pomegranate leaves – represents Goddess Raktadantika
  • Asoka (Saraca) leaves – represents Goddess Shokarahita
  • Arum plant – represents Goddess Chamunda
  • Rice paddy – represents Goddess Lakshmi

In olden times, Kola-bou was a symbol of Mother Nature herself and worshipped by farmers for a good harvest. As Durga Puja gained popularity, Kola-bou or Nabapatrika got inducted into the ceremony.

Pic 2: Kola-bou or Nabapatrika is always placed on the right side of Lord Ganesha and worshipped as Ma Durga.

The ritual of Kola-bou in our family puja constitutes the sanctification of all nine plants on Mahasashti, which are then carefully kept aside. The next day, on Mahasaptami, these plants are tied together using yellow threads and twigs of Aparajita (Clitoria) plant. Kola-bou is then draped in a benarasi sari and orna, (dupatta) and dressed like a bride. There is another ritual of ceremonial bathing of Kola-bou in River Ganges, which is not followed in our family puja.

Kola-bou is then placed on the right side of Lord Ganesha and worshipped as Ma Durga. The position of Kola-bou could be associated with Lord Ganesh being considered as the creator of the eighteen medicinal plants, for which he is also known as Astadasausadhisrsti. Maybe, that’s why some people consider Kola-bou as Lord Ganesha’s wife.

On the last day of Puja, Dashami, Kola-bou is dismantled and immersed through chanting of mantras. The dismantling of Kola-bou needs to be done in seclusion. The Immersion Ghat remains crowded with people. Hence, a large cloth is used to form a barrier that covers Kola-bou from all sides while the priest and head of the family perform the ritual of dismantling. This is interesting as Kola-bou is Ma Durga herself and her untying and uncovering needs to be done respectfully. The idol is immersed in the water only after Kola-bou immersion is completed.

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

15 thoughts on “‘Kola-bou’ – The Banana Bride”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Despite all my trips, I know only the tiniest bit about the Hindu religion – and beyond, quite literally, the words “Durga Pooja” everything in this post was new to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading this, Todd. Though I am sure a lot of it would be Greek and Latin to you. This festival is prominently celebrated in eastern India, where it is a major festival even bigger than Diwali. And, I have covered only one aspect of it. There is so much more..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm. Haven’t seen a banarasi draped banana tree for years.. In Mumbai you get to see the traditional white cotton sari with the read border. Such a traditional sari that it has become Bollywood shorthand for Bengalis!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to think Kola-bou is dressed in benarasi everywhere as that’s how I have seen it always but in many pandal pujas I have seen it draped in the traditional white sari red border.
      Bollywood shorthand – hahaha

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is very intersting! And many new facts for me. I had always seen kola bou in the puja, but didn’t know the history, somewhere i used to think kola bou is lord Ganesha’s wife 🙂
    And didn’t know of the nine plants and the nine goddesses they represent.
    Lots of new info, thanks so much for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some do consider kola-bou to be Gamesha’s wife. I really don’t know which explanation is correct. Though I go by it being Durga herself as that’s what I have learnt from childhood. Thanks so much for reading 🙂
      I thought you might connect with this post.

      Like

  4. Lovely pictures. A couple of days ago, another blogger wrote about these 9 plants and it was the first time I heard about it. It is good to know you enjoyed this reconnection with your home town during the most auspicious occasion, Neel. I suppose you will spend some more time in Shilong.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks neel for bringing back my memories about Durga Puja. I felt disappointed this year as I could not visit to Puja Pandal in our colony due to pandemic restrictions. The colourful snaps and your detailed description of the puja made me feel that as if I attended the function in person. In South we celebrate only Saraswathi Pooja. After coming to Delhi only I got an opportunity to see Durga Puja.

    Liked by 1 person

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