Dharma Thakur a Hindu deity, symbolising the sun; also known as Dharmaraja. Dharma Thakur was originally a non-Aryan god and a deity of the Kom tribe, but was later elevated to the Vedic pantheon.
Dharma Thakur is associated with agricultural and human fertility. Magical beliefs and rituals merge with Vedic rites in his worship. He is worshipped mainly by low-caste Hindus such as doms, bagdis and Hadis who believe he can cure leprosy and bless them with children. According to the Dharmamabgal, it was by worshipping him that Ranjavati had her valiant son Lausen.
Dharma Thakur is portrayed as white, as the Koms believed the sun to be white. His carrier is a white horse, and during his worship he is seated on a wooden horse. In different parts of West Bengal clay horses are presented during Dharma Thakur's puja.
The symbol of Dharma Thakur is a shoe, and, while performing Dharma puja, the priest wears a shoe or a garland of shoes round his neck. The principal priest of this puja used to be a Dom but these days priests from Kaivarta, Shundi, Bagdi and dhopa castes also conduct Dharma puja. At some places Dharma Thakur seems to have merged with shiva or vishnu.
These days Dharma puja is performed in three ways: nitya, baramati and batsarik. Nitya puja is performed without fanfare. Baramati puja is held on a Sunday but in some places it is held on Saturdays and Tuesdays. A pigeon or a white uncastrated goat is sacrificed. Baramati puja is usually held in some famous place. For this puja, icons of Dharma Thakur are collected from 12 different places where the deity is worshipped and placed at a central point. The worship goes on for 12 days. The batsarik or annual puja is held with a great deal of fanfare and many rites are observed. This is usually held during the full moon of Baishakh. At some places it is observed during the full moon of Chaitra or Jyaistha. The puja is also known as Del or Deul puja. At some places a Dharma Thakur festival is also held on the occasion.
In the Middle Ages many mangalkavyas were composed to glorify Dharma Thakur; in fact, an important branch of Mabgalkavya was Dharmamangal. These poems depict the lifestyle of the people of the Radha and heroic episodes in the lives of Dom men and women. As in the cases of chandi and manasa, a huge segment of bangla literature has been composed around Dharma Thakur. Apart from Dharmamangal another kind of literature, Dharmapuranas, were also composed. These works contained stories of the creation of the universe as well as stories about how Dharma puja was introduced and how Dharma puja is to be conducted. [Sambaru Chandra Mohanta]