If you are in Kolkata during Durga Puja, and pandal hopping, you must include some private home pujas in your list. These pujas make an interesting feature of Calcutta's living heritage in contemporary times.
Durga Puja – It’s that time of the year when city of Joy Kolkata is in its full glory. The whole feeling of “Pujo Assche” (Durga puja is coming) alongside the sound of dhakis, the smell of the dhuno (Indian incense) and the whole energy and enthusiasm and excitement that the city sees of celebrating the Goddess’ arrival is something only one can feel. Kolkata sees a lot of variety when it comes to these festivities – some pandals are as old as 200 years, and still going strong, one also cannot ignore the essence and attraction of the traditional bonedi pujas that are still carried on with full glory privately by a few families, some of whom were affluent and stalwarts in yesteryear.
All Photographs: Ayandrali Dutta
These families have held on to the cultural heritage of performing the Durga Puja with much dedication maintaining all the rituals. It’s a big affair for each household and also attracts equal number of enthusiasts who do “Pandal hoping”,
Many people make it an agenda to visit these age old pujas which are grand reflection of the cultural heritage of the city. Most of these pujas date back to the Colonial time since the time the Zamindari system existed, maybe a couple of centuries back. Every member of the family gathers to gather to celebrate this annual affair, often doing a homecoming of sorts from far away lands. These pujas make an interesting feature of Calcutta’s living heritage in contemporary times.
Here we have listed out the four of the oldest Durga Puja in the city for you:
SOVABAZAR RAJ BARIR PUJA
More than 250 years old, the Sovabazar Raj Barir Puja was started by Raja Nabakrishna Deb. The Rajbari that was built in the middle of 1700, has been the center of Bengal’s culture for long. Back in 1757 when Durga Puja was started, even the British’s used to come to attend the festivities. The grandeur of the puja has still remained the same over the years. It sees the same enthusiasm. Shobhabazar Rajbari Durga Puja’s idol maker Dilip Pal is one the busiest man this season as he makes sure that the traditional look of the devi is still the same as when it started.
The Nat Mandap or the thakurdalan (Ceremonial Platform) – as commonly known is the open courtyard right in the middle of the palatial rajbari where the festivities are held. Huge colonial era columns and arches gives this place a vintage air.
The specialty of this puja is that they offer a special bhog (prasad) called the “Mithaai Bhog” which is placed in a ‘Big Thal (Radius 3.5 feet) and offered to Durga Maa. As a tradition the sweet makers come all the way from Odisha. The painted backdrop behind the Durga idol depicts the story of Devi and her incarnations. The ancient rituals have been kept intact and the Ved path is an important part of the puja.
Address: 36 and 33, Raja Nabakrishna Street, Sovabazar (Near Sovabazar Metro Station)
BHOLANATH MALLICK BARIR PUJA
The Mallick Bari puja started by Bihari Lal Mallick is more than 165 years old and all the traditions have been retained since 1853. Till date the idol is designed in the ek chala thakur (one frame) format and sonar saaje sajono (decorated in real gold) and the artisans carry forward the same tradition generation after generation. Swapon Pal happens to lead the tradition idol making now.
Currently the 5th generation head Barun Mallick runs the puja. Saptami marks the first day when kola bow or nabapatrika is given a pre-dawn bath on the ghats of Ganga. During Sandhi Puja, the entire courtyard of Mallick bhwan is filled with hymns of spiritual mantras. Maha asthami sees the ritual of dhuno porano where the married ladies of the family hold the burning dhuno in their hand and head and the Sandhi Puja sees the lighting of 108 maha pradeep by the family members. Alongside the Kumari Puja there’s also sadhaba pujo (worshiping a married lady).
The mahabhog is feast of Luchi, aloo bhaja, saag, narkel nadu, Sandesh, doi and variety of fruits. Mallick bari till date continues the ‘Nilkontho Ritual’ where a Nilkontho ( the bird Indian roller) is set free. The legends is that the bird acts as a messenger to inform Shiva about the arrival of Goddess Durga.
Address: 7 Ratan Sarkar Garden Street, Burrabazar, North Kolkata
RANI RASHMONI DURGA PUJA
Those familiar with the Dakshineswar Kali Temple will not have much trouble in knowing Rani Rashmoni. Belonging to a wealthy zamindar family, she was the one who started Durga puja at her house at S.N. Banerjee Road and since then the puja is being carried forward by her family. Today the there are two pujas being performed by the different segments of the family, but the one held at 13 Rani Rashmoni Road is the original one started by Rani Rashmoni herself.
During days of glory the house was the hub of cultural functions like Jatra and Kabigaan where artists came from all across Bengal. If you happen to visit the house during the festive time the sound of chants and Durga jaap will transport you to a different world. The house opens their door for one and all, and everyone who comes have the bhog (traditional prasad). Their idol is made by Laalu Chitrakar and his brother Dulal Chitrakar, for very many years.
Address: 13 Rani Rashmoni Road, 18/3 S.N. Banerjee Road and 18 Rani Rashmoni Road. (The entry to this Puja is through the Free School Street)
BAGHBAZAR HALDARBARI DURGA UTSAV
This Sardodiya Durga Utsav happens to be more than 400-year-old. The uniqueness of the idol is that it’s made of Kasthipathar (Touchstone). Going back to the story of the idol of Mahishashurmardini it is said that the idol was discovered by their great grandfathers from Balasore in Odisha after digging around 14 feet through the floor of a Muslim fisherman’s house in 1560.
The touchstone idol weighs around 30 kg and is two feet in height. Ornamented with jewelry, this Dashabhuja idol is seen holding all weapons as her right foot rests on the back of a lion, and the left foot is on the demon Mahishashura. On both sides of her forehead there are two angels. The entire idol is seen resting on a lotus.
The Haldar Bari at Baghbazar is where the idol rests currently and is worshipped daily. The Nabapatrika rituals and Sandhi Puja happens to be the special ritual of this puja. The present descendant, Debasis Haldar, is the one now responsible for taking this tradition forward. Though most of the Haldar family members are scattered across the country, but during Durga Puja all come together to enjoy the festival. The whole Haldar family is seen getting decked up in full traditional fineries for festivities.
Address- 17/1, Kaliprasad Chakraborty Street