Kartik Purnima - Dharmanath Bhagwan's magnificient Sawaari in Kolkata

Crossing the beautiful century old Rajbaris (palatial mansions), as the kilometer long procession passes through the ancient Pilgrim's Road (Chitpore), one can just stand immersed and transport oneself to the Colonial era. Hordes of Marwari gentlemen dressed impeccably in Bengali style Dhuti-Kurtas with their Sheherwali styled topis (hats) in place dot the entire route carrying (probably) the most beautiful palanquin made in the history of Kolkata ~ dedicated to the 15th Tirthankar of Jainism, Shri Dharmanath Bhagwan. Such is the glory of this procession known as the "sawaari"that takes place once annually during the day of Kartik Purnima, that all the customs and traditions that are followed have remained unchanged since the past two hundred years.

Down the years, the memories of the day of Kartik Purnima have evoked such wonderful emotions that are difficult to be expressed in words. The day is very significant for Jains as it signifies the end of Chaturmas (rainy season when monks are not allowed to wander) and also the day marking the liberation of Dravid and Varikhillji along with ten crore saints at Shatrunjay Giriraj). However, Jains of Kolkata have celebrated this day with utmost pomp and glory since 1813 AD when the first Sawari (Procession) was first initiated. 

What started as a procession to showcase the glory of Jainism has turned into a tradition wherein the idol of Lord Dharmanath bhagwan is taken out of the Panchayati Mandir (Tullapatti, Cotton Street, Burrabazar)  in a stunning aangi (attire) studded with antique diamonds and carried to the Dadawadi situated in Maniktalla on a silver Paalkhi (palanquin) in the procession which also displays precious silver icons, the towering Indradhwajj (Flag of Indra) and Jhankhis (tabelaux depicting important events in the history of Jainism) !

It is interesting to note that this ancient idol of Shri Dharmanath Bhagwan was found deep inside the Hoogly river (distributary of Ganga) in Kolkata by a local swimmer. After it was identified that it was a Jain idol, the same was handed over to the Sthanakwasi community which in turn handed the idol over to the Panchayati Mandir, Tulapatti hundreds of years ago. 

Lord Dharmanath

The towering 60 ft tall Indra Dhwajj is one of the highlights of the procession every year. Resembling the structure of a pole, it comprises of Dhwajjas' (Jain Flags). It is also interesting to note that one new flag is added to each every year since the procession was started and tram lines have to be cut during the procession to let the Dhwajj pass by. After India gained Independence, the state Government objected to cutting the tram lines. However, the Jains fought a legal battle and won the case. The entire costs incurred by the Calcutta Tram Depot for carrying out this tradition are borne by the Jain community. 

The 60ft towering Indra Dhwajj

Calcutta Tramways employees cutting the tram lines to let the Indra Dhwajj pass by

I remember going to the "Sawaari' each year walking down from the Tulapatti temple to Maniktalla Dadawadi along with the procession which takes the route from the oldest road of Calcutta. During the colonial era and even post Independence, the northern part of Calcutta was home to the rich and famous of Bengal who built majestic colonial mansions and Rajbaris. The sea of humanity that comes to greet the lord is a sight to witness - Around 5000 devotees, including Jains from other parts of India come to witness this magnificent Sawari which takes about 6 hours to cover the journey.

Tulapatti Jinalay

The palanquin carried out of Tulapatti Jinalay

Akhand Deepak

Silver Samavasaran

Beautiful exhibits in silverware

Charcoal Incense offerings !

The procession on the way to Maniktalla

Devotees thronging for a glimpse of the lord

Exhibit of Airawat Elephant

Various musical groups also form an integral part of the procession to immerse the devotees with their devotional songs. Ghaslet (kerosene lamps) continue to form an integral part of this procession, retaining the old word charm.

However, the biggest highlight of this procession is the devotion of the local Bengali's towards the lord. Over years I have witnessed scores of locals lined up on both lanes of the procession patiently waiting for a glimpse of the lord. Their affinity towards the lord can be seen from their gleaming eyes and cheering - "Thakur Asche..Thakur Asche!" when the palanquin of the lord arrives ! I have even seen tears of happiness in their eyes on witnessing the lord !

Locals awaiting a glimpse of the lord

The palanquin carrying the lord is made of pure silver and weighs more than 100 kilograms for which a minimum of 8 people are required to carry it. The palanquin houses a mini Samavasaran (Divine preaching hall) over which the diamond and ruby studded idol of Lord Dharmanath is placed. The Chandarvo (canopy) and the Dhwajj (flag) above the Palanquin have been made with threads of pure gold. The unique tradition of circumambulating below the palanquin in reverence of Lord Dharmanath is pure bliss !

The Paalkhi (Palanquin)

The Dhwajja made with gold threads

At the end of the procession, the lord is housed in the Maniktalla Dadawadi temples for two days which is decked up with illumination and fountains post which the id the lord is taken back to its permanent abode with equal pomp and glory !

The decked up Maniktalla Shitalnath Prabhu Jinalay

If you have never been a part of this sawari, make sure you witness this divinity once in a lifetime.

I am thankful for Mr. Yash Koradia for some of the pictures which are a part of this post.


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  3. wow..... will surely plan one kartik poornima jatra at Kolkata....


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