Lumding is basically a Railway Township and Divisional Headquarter of Northeast Frontier Railway. Previously this part was under Assam Bengal Railway (ABR) and after independence it came under North Eastern Railway headquartered at Gorakhpur. In 1958 N.F. Railway was formed and Head quarter was shifted to Maligaon. During the ABR regime the HQ was Chittagong (East Pakistan) and in normal course staff of the ABR was appointed from the erstwhile East Pakistan basically Chittagong and Noakhali. Lumding became a subdivision and an important junction connecting the upper Assam and Barak valley. Convergence of people of different culture and belief enriched the local community. Shitala was a common folk Goddess worshipped largely in undivided Bengal and the people of that part migrated in search of employment, formed a society of their own wherein every minute ingredients of life of East Pakistan was replicated.
Those days Assam was also affected with smallpox epidemic, in absence of modern medical facilities people in large number died without timely and appropriate treatment. It was strong in the mind and cultures as well in the belief that worshipping Goddess Shitala would reduce the severity of the disease.
Goddess Shitala came in the dream of one of the founder who was suffering from Small Pox and desired to be worshipped at Lumding, next morning he explained his dream among his close friends and all decided to start Shitala Puja in Lumding. It was 1364(1958 AD) of Bengali Shaka in the month of CHAITRA Tuesday Late Jatindra Nath Sutradhar,Late Charukanta Chowdhury, Late Satya Ranjan Majumder, Late Jyotirmoy Dey, Late Hiren Ghose, Late Narain Dey and Late Gurupada Roy launched the Shitala puja in the Harulongfer Railway Colony. The first worship took in an open ground now a Primary School function from that site. With own contribution and subscription from the community the puja was solemnised without much fanfare but with religious fervour.
From the next year the Harulongfer Shitala Puja became a community event and could not confined its fame within the colony but people of Lumding thronged the five days of its worship. Soon the Harulongfer Shitala Goddess became a source of faith and people would promise in their bad days to worship Goddess Shitala during the annual worship. To keep their promises (Manat) the Bhaktas or devotees would visit physically and stand in long serpentine queue to worship. Even the hardest form of worship is seen among some devotees crawl ( Dandi) on the ground in wet clothes from hundreds of meters away. The Shitala worship starts from Tuesday and concludes on Saturday normally in the twelfth Bengali month of Chaitrah in the Shukla pakhsa ( Shukla paksha refers to lunar fortnight according to our Hindu Calendar) that is in the lunar fortnight as per tithi decided by the Purohit. The puja also symbolises worship of a thorn planted in the temple premises. The thorny plant is Opuntia dilenii commonly called phani-mansha largely found and cultivated in Bangladesh previously East Pakistan and used as medicinal property in Ayurved. That also believed as sacred groves.
From next year the temporary temple was built with thatch and bamboos which were the common building materials available at that time. Gradually that was replaced by railway unserviceable tracks/ post and very common architecture of Assam called “Assam type” was constructed (Assam being in V of the seismic zone the buildings here is commonly built up with bamboo, brick, and timber with retrofitting to bear the tremor to any extent, which the State learnt from Japan after its great earthquake in 1952).
In 1982 Silver Jubilee celebrated with pomp and Temple renovation in large scale was taken up by the organisers, Golden Jubilee was also celebrated in 2007 with the visit of devotees from many parts of the country.
Special feature; during the festivity fair is another attraction which also rejuvenate the people of this small town with religious enthusiasm and economic activities are boosted up among the small and marginal traders. From merry go round to maut ka kuan (Well of Death) every arrangement is made to entertain the local people those visits the temple complex during the worship time.
The Volunteers of the area sacrifice their valuable time and participate in controlling the devotees, disciplining the long queue, collecting the offerings and handing over the Prasad. The local Police also set up its temporary camps to maintain law and order. Equally Bharat Scouts and Guides of the N.F.Railway depute their cadets to help the local organisers round the clock. First Aid camps are arranged and ambulance placed to transport devotees who felt sick. During the festivity Harulongfer in specific and Lumding in general receives large number of visitors, they are relatives and friends who throng to enjoy the Shitala puja. Trains are overcrowded and roads are choked and all roads led to Harulongfer.
From 2007 the duration of the annual Puja has been changed from five days to eight days. The Puja begins on Tuesday only. On the eve of the Puja official inauguration took place and dignitaries from Ministers, Speakers of Assembly, Governor, DRM etc attended. Since the local people have no caste, creed and un-touchable feelings they accept people of allcommunity to congregate in the festival.
Shitala, Goddess of Smallpox and Pestilence. SHITALA IS A POPULAR INDIA DEITY, WIDELY WORSHIPPED IN RURAL AREAS OF “BENGAL” AS THE GODDESS OF SMALLPOX AND PESTILENCE. Folk people believed that worship of Shitala could stave off diseases like pox; and her worship during an outbreak could reduce the severity of the disease. It has been said by some that Shitala has lost ground to Western Medicine in recent times, due to the development of modern cures to the diseases. Nonetheless, she remains a feared deity, and receives regular gifts of blood sacrifices, usually chickens/pigeon and goats. Many more localized forms of goddesses, known by different names in different regions, are the focus for prayers and vows that lead worshipers to undertake acts of austerity and pilgrimages in return for favours. Here is a goddess to turn to when you are sick, and as any visitor to India knows, it is very easy to sick in this country.
Like other deities, Shitala has her own special days. In some parts of India she is worshipped on the sixth lunar day, known as Shitala Sasthi, the day after the Shripanchami, of the Bangla month Magh. Near the Railway Colony at Lumding there is a special Shitala Temple, situated in the Harulongfer Colony. Devotees come here and sit for hours in its premises. It is believed that incurable diseases are cured if one worships here with heart. Every year in the month of Chaitra, Shitala Puja celebration takes place with great pomp and show.
Shitala is described in the Pichchhilatantra of the Skandapurana as fair-complexioned, riding on an ass, with a water-filled pitcher in one hand and a broom on the other. Her name literally means “the cool one.” Her followers believe that she sprinkles the nectar-mixed water with the broom and dispels disease and sufferings.
“What is the difference between disease as a blessing, and disease as a curse? Disease is this goddess’s lila, the way in which she interacts with the universe and humanity. “Sitala is a strange goddess. She appears odd to western eyes, which are not accustomed to seeing disease as a goddess, or as a good thing. But disease makes us stronger. If we can pass through Sitala’s rite of passage, we often come out the other side stronger and more able to deal with the rest life can throw at us. But there are some who never fully escape her hold, who stay sickly, and eventually, like all of us, die, perhaps a little sooner than they should have. Sitala is a harsh mother; she prepares us for the world. And some of us aren’t quite ready. “Sitala” desires worship, and those who do not worship her should dearly fear her wrath. She is a harsh mistress; she will do with you as she wishes. But eventually she will come through for you. Usually, just don’t cross her. For disease is a nasty thing, and Sitala has a temper, and has the muscle with which to back it up. So remember to do as she asks.
In Lumding Sitala Puja has its own way to celebrate, the oldest and most powerful Goddess’s abode in Harulongfer. Started way back to 1958 by few religious people in small and humble way after they got Goddess Sitala’s direction through dream. Most of the pioneers were from erstwhile Noakhali of East Bengal who arrived in different time in search of their livelihood.
Gradually with the unending support of the religious citizens and relentless effort of the organizers the Sitala Puja of Harulongfer became a festivity of the Assam. Wherein people visits this festival from every corners of the State and Country. It is believed that Sitala here has fulfilled the cherished aspiration of her devotees who adore her with all forms of self restraint and sacrifices.