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A divine daughter’s royal homecoming

A divine daughter’s royal homecoming
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The scale of grandeur in community organised Durga Pujas of Kolkata, sometimes, go beyond the realm of imagination and reach the domain of pure art

The scale of grandeur in community organised Durga Pujas of Kolkata, sometimes, go beyond the realm of imagination and reach the domain of pure art

At the end of the rainy season, when fluffy cottony clouds start wandering across a brilliant blue sky and the days are being bathed in golden sunlight, it is time for Durga Puja, the prime festival of the Bengalis. Decked up in all grandeur, they gear up to welcome the goddess Durga who returns to her parents’ home along with her children (sons Kartik and Ganesh and daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati) from her husband’s place in Mount Kailash located amidst the Himalayan snows.

Durga Puja in Daw family houseEvery year, in the month of autumn, Durga Puja is celebrated for five days. The last day of Durga Puja (Dashami) when the idols of the deities are immersed in the water also coincides with Dusshera celebrations across the country.

The intricate rituals of Durga Puja start right from the first day (Sashthi) when the face of Goddess is unveiled. The priest ceremonially establishes life in the clay images and from now on till the tenth day, the images are treated as goddess herself and her children. Saptami marks the next day of festival when a banana plant is given a pre-dawn bath. This is an ancient rite of worshiping nine types of plants, each one representing one form of the goddess Durga.

Durga Puja offerings to the GoddessThe following day that is on Ashtami, Kumari Puja is observed during which a young girl is worshipped at par and along with the Goddess. The same kind of offerings made to the Goddess is given to the ‘Kumari’. During his lifetime, Swami Vivekananda had also conducted “Kumari Puja” to create awareness on the potential divinity of women and ensure a respectful attitude of the society towards them.

The Sandhi Puja marks the transition of the Ashtami to Nabami. During this ritual traditional aarti is performed before the goddess with hundreds of clay lamps and blowing of conch shells. And then the last day of the Puja arrives when people bid adieu to the goddess with tearful eyes, fervently chanting “Ashchey bochor abaar esho” (Come again next year).

The community Pujas in Kolkata are famous for huge expenditure on decoration, lighting, elaborate and expensive idols etc. The organisers spend months in researching, then engage the experts and endow them the responsibility to recreate unique Pandals with equally enthralling interior decoration. Some pandals take after famous temples or some look like Victorian style monuments. But it is the Durga Pujas privately celebrated in the palatial mansions (known as Bonedi Bari in Bengali) which have actually preserved the culture and tradition due to their strict adherence to the age old rituals. Most of these families were affluent and stalwarts in the past, especially during the British Regime. Although the present financial condition of most of them is not opulent as it was in earlier days (mainly due to the abolition of the Zamindari system post independence), yet members of many such aristocratic families come together to organise the annual ritual, which, apart from other things, include inviting guests to enjoy the sumptuous bhog prasad (meal offering made to the goddess) — a legacy of the Zamindari tradition.

If anyone wants to experience the sheer elegance and class of the yesteryear Bengali aristocracy and get a feel of their golden past, then the best way is to visit the mansions of the yesteryear Zamindars and Aristocrats in Kolkata during the Durga puja. A visit to these palatial houses during the Durga puja also allow visitors to see the Thakur Dalan (Ceremonial Platform) and the architectural beauty of these mansions. They are an integral part of Kolkata’s rich legacy ,a heritage re-visited during Durga puja. The Pujas celebrated in such houses are all of 100+ years, with some even 300+ years old.

Along with paying their tribute to the goddess these ‘Bonedi Barir’ pujas show how tradition and culture has been carried forward by these families with so much purity and passion that they have been able to create and retain a niche amidst the crowd of the much-hyped elaborate community pujas. They prove that Durga Puja is not only about exhibition of grandeur and glitz. It is more about deep rooted traditions, rituals and culture.

Note: West Bengal Tourism and Cox and Kings run an array of thoughtfully devised puja parikrama ( Durga Puja tour packages). If you are interested in visiting the pujas conducted in the old mansions of Kolkata, I would recommend this trip.

For further details, visit

http://app.westbengaltourism.gov.in/WBTBooking/wbtdc_package.html

http://www.coxandkings.com/bharatdeko/durga-puja/

Famous Bonedi Barir Durga pujas in Kolkata

1. Sabarna Roychowdhury family Aatchala Puja

26, Sabarna Para Road, Barisha (Near Sakherbazar)

Celebrated since 1610, this is perhaps the oldest Durga Puja of West Bengal.

2. Sovabazar Raj Barir Puja

36 and 33, Raja Nabakrishna Street, Sovabazar (Near Sovabazar Metro Station)

Started in 1757, the Durga Puja celebration takes places in the two palaces of the Sovabazar royal family and was a favourite of Lord Clive. It is said Goddess Durga comes here to listen music

3. Baidyanath(de) Mallick family’s Singhabahini Durga Puja

39, Jatindra Mohan Avenue, North Kolkata

About 400 years old, this Durga idol worshiped here is unique in its style and structure. It is of an Astadhatu Singhabahini (Lion Rider, a form of Durga) which has an interesting history.

4. Baghbazaar Haldarbari Durgapuja

17/2, Kaliprasad Chakraborty Street

The Durga idol here is over 350 years old. Here the hosts greets the visitors with “Narkel Naru” ( sweet made of coconut), which is also offered to the goddess.

5. Jorasanko Dawn House

12A Shibkrishna Dawn Lane , North Kolkata

More than 150 years old, the Thakurdalan and the courtyard is huge and has been shooting venue of many films. It is said that Goddess Durga comes to wear her jewelleries as here the goddess and all the other gods are draped with jewellery items made of gold and silver.

6. Rani Rashmoni family’s Durga Pujas

13 Rani Rashmoni Road, 18/3 S.N. Banerjee Road and 18 Rani Rashmoni Road

This Puja was started in 1852 by Rani Rashmoni , founder of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple and a pillar of strength in the male dominated society.

7. Pathuriaghata Khelat Ghosh’s House

47 Pathuria Ghata Street , North Kolkata

The Thakurdalan of Khelatchandra Ghosh’s House is one of the largest such structure in Kolkata, with an 85 feet long corridor of marble.

8. Balaram Dey Street Dutta Barir Puja

159, Balaram De Street Kolkata , North Kolkata

Initiated in 1882, the Puja is known for following many ancient rituals including carrying idols on bamboos during the immersion like it happened during the old days instead of taking them on truck.

9. Baishnabdas Mallick family’s Durga Puja

32, Darpanarayan Tagore Street

The most interesting thing about the 225 year old Durga Idol of this house is that there is no Lakhsmi and Saraswati idol, but Jaya and Bijoya idols, the two companions of Durga. Furthermore, Durga idol worshipped here is seated on the lap of Shiva and has no arms, no Vahana and no Asur (Demon). This form the goddess is known as “Hara Gouri” form.

10. Bhawanipur Mallick Family Durga Puja

Mohini Mohan Road, Bhawanipur, South Kolkata

The Durga puja conducted here dates back to 15th Century.

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