By Jayanta Bhattacharya Agartala, Oct 10 (PTI) A five centuries-old Durga Puja started by the Tripura royal family remains the ultimate draw in this northeastern state, despite the "invasion" of modern theme based pujas organised by numerous organisations.

The celebration of Durga Puja was started by the Tripura royal family over five centuries ago in Udaipur which was then their capital. With time it shifted to Amarpur and finally to Agartala in early 18th century by Maharaja Krishna Kishore Manikya Bahadur who built a temple dedicated to the mother goddess some 183-years ago.

When Tripura signed the instrument of accession with the Government of India on October 15, 1949, it was agreed that the daily puja and associated expenditure at the Durgabari temple, Tripureswari Kali Temple at Udaipur in Gomati district and some other temples would be funded and looked after by the state government.

To adhere to the accession pact, the district magistrate of West Tripura, who is designated the sevayat (servitor) of the puja, has to supervise rituals at the temple. The state government pays for the daily puja as well as the grander Durga Puja held in the month of `Ashwin' (Autumn) in accordance with the Indian calendar.

However, the head of the royal family as the titular custodian of the temple remains associated with all functions which are held here including the Durga Puja.

The Goddess at the Durgabari Temple here, however has two arms instead of the traditional 10.

History has it that the then Maharani Sulakhshana Devi, wife of Maharaja Krishna Kishore fainted after seeing the Goddess with ten arms, Panna Lal Roy, who has been researching the history and heritage of the state, said.

On that night, the Maharani is supposed to have had a dream where goddess Durga advised her to worship a Durga idol which has only two hands visible while the remaining eight are hidden at her back, according to Roy.

Thus the idol at the Durgabari temple which stands in front of the 120-year-old Ujjayanta Palace, considered to be eastern India's largest Durga temple has a unique two-armed statuette of the mother goddess.

The Chief Priest of the temple Jayanta Bhattacharya said, "the idols of Durgabari that lead the `Dashami' (tenth day of festivities) procession are the first to be immersed at Dashamighat here with the state police standing guard of honour to the deity, and its band playing the national anthem." Earlier, buffaloes were sacrificed to the goddess at the temple. However that tradition was stopped three years ago after the High Court of Tripura banned animal sacrifice in the state.

Tripura has more than 2,500 Durga pujas, with about 1,000 of them concentrated in Agartala alone. Many of these are theme-based with elaborate pandals (Marquees) based on historic temples elsewhere in the country, while others have innovative sculptures. However the traditional Durgabari puja remains the biggest draw for devotees given its historic importance and the association of the royal family with it.