The city of joy is at its joyful best during Durga Puja.
Durga Puja is Kolkata’s favourite festival, celebrated for ten days in the month of autumn to welcome and honour Goddess Durga. And mind you, it’s one of the grandest and most magnificent welcome you’ll ever witness.
I was witnessing Durga Puja for the first time. And, oh boy! I was overwhelmed with the whole experience.
A girl I met in a cab said, “We can sense the festivity coming closer. One fine day, we just wake up happy and announce – today I’m feeling the Puja vibe in the air. And that’s how the festivity begins.”
She was right.
The moment I set foot on this city’s ground, I felt a strong festive vibe all around. A sudden surge of positive energy rushed into me. Everything everywhere was echoing joy and merry.
Houses were freshly painted and decorated. Roads were ready to be lit for bright nights. Artistic pandals were standing tall and graceful. Last minute shoppers were scurrying on the high-streets. The cityscape changes altogether.
It was my great fortune that I got a chance to visit many beautiful barowari and bonedi baris of Kolkata. It is difficult to say which one is better from the other. But here is a list of my personal favourite pandals and baris. Check it out for yourself.
Community pandals are where barowari pujas are held. Pandals from South Kolkata are more famous for their glam and glory, while the Northern part of the city is known for its traditional aesthetics.
A side-note from Akash Mondal:
The word barowari has come from the words ‘baro’ meaning 12 in Bengali and ‘yaari’ or friends. It is said that 12 friends got together to start such pujas. That’s how the word was coined.
Calcutta is said to be the biggest canvas of art and culture, and every year Suruchi Sangha proves to be its live example. This year’s pandal showcased a magnificent Bhutanese temple.
Each milestone of the Himalayan kingdom was depicted across the structure. Monks were invited from the Himalayas. And yes, special mention to their brilliant organisation and crowd management skills!
Recognised for recreating famous temples around the country, Ekdalia Evergreen Durga Puja Pandal raised a beautiful replica of Meenakshi temple this year. Intricate carving was seen on both the exterior walls and interior.
Artisans are called from the remote villages of West Bengal to create such masterpieces. The work starts 5-6 months before the festival, and is admired throughout the 10 days of Pujo.
This is the place where I got pulled in a sea of pandal-hoppers. Look at the grandeur of the pandal. No wonder people flock in huge numbers; huge enough to cause a fatal stampede. This year’s theme was tribal art and expressions.
The beauty of this one is its idols. All the five idols, viz., Goddess Durga, and her four children – Lord Ganesha, Kartikeya, Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi are carved meticulously. The modesty of Ganesha, pride if Kartikeya, Lakshmi’s affluence and Saraswati’s composure reflect through their eyes.
The blue and silver ornamentation of these idols looked very unique, and stole the limelight from pandal art and chandeliers.
Jodhpur Park, Jadavpur
Words will fall short to describe the efforts put together in designing this pandal. I would say, this was not a pandal, but a piece of art. Unique theme, amazing colour combination and a great sense of aesthetics is what made this pandal one of a kind.
BONEDI BARIR PUJOS:
I observed that most of the bonedi baaris pujas are held in North Kolkata; the reason being all the affluent families of yesteryears lived in this area. After independence, Zamindari system was abolished, and the financial condition of these stalwarts started declining. However, nothing of this affected the grandeur with which bari pujas are performed. Some of the pujas are over 200 years old, yet all the traditions and rituals are maintained till date.
These pujas are often overlooked by the pandal-hoppers. Hence, locating these houses were a big task for me. With a little information available online, persistent pestering calls to friends and friends of friends, and a little bit of good luck, I managed to attend these pujas and witness some highlights.
On the 3rd day of Puja, while I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline at wee hours, I stumbled upon a friend’s post. ‘Our family Pujo got covered.’, it read. It was 5 o’clock in the morning, but I shamelessly sent him a long message about how I’m interested in visiting his house. But Pradosh, sweet fellow that he is, messaged me all the details of his over 210 years old family puja, right away.
I visited Mitra Bari in Darjeepara to attend Kumari Pujo. It is performed on Ashtami Puja day, where young girls are worshipped. Girls between the age group of one to sixteen are said to be a symbol of the virgin form of Goddess. This purest form of divine power (Aadi Shakti) is the root of all creations.
The Kumari is worshipped by the whole family. The pandit chants mantras, feed her the Noibiddo and water. Once the puja is done, he bows down and touches her little feet as if he’s praying to the Goddess herself.
The women in the family, then, adorn her feet with aalta (red dye), give her presents and seek blessings from the little devi.
After Kumari pujo, it was time for Pushpanjali – offering of flowers to the idol.
The idol was also very different from the barowari pujas. In fact, the elements were also very unlike others. For instance, while all the Durga idols are always riding lion, this one was on Devsingha. Devsingha is essentially a combination of a horse and a lion. It symbolizes the speed of a stallion and strength of a lion.
Chhatu Babu Latu Babu’s Thakurbati.
Ramdulal Nibas, fondly known as Chhatu Babu Latu Babu’s Thakurbati is just a few lanes away from Darjeepara.
This more than 200 years old Puja was initiated by Ramdulal Dey, a man who was a pioneer of Indo-American trade, when USA was at the dawn of its independence. After Ramdulal, his sons Ashutosh Deb (Chhatu Babu) and Pramatha Nath Deb (Latu Babu) continued the tradition.
In order to carry forward this legacy, a trust was formed in the year 1919. Since then, all the ceremonies and functions are organized by the trust.
Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb Bahadur started this Durga Puja in the Thakur Dalan of his palace Sovabazaar Rajbati. During the colonial regime, Raja Nabakrishna Deb played a pivotal role in dethroning Siraj ud-Daulah. Impressed by his service, British started rewarding him with immeasurable wealth, and soon Sovabazaar literally started flaunting its Sova (affluence).
Another folklore says that during those times, heaps of grains were kept in the Thakur Dalan as a part of the offerings to Maa Durga. These giant heaps of golden grains used to look magnificent in the courtyard, making the baari look even more beautiful and affluent. Hence, the name Sovabazaar.
Its historic Thakur Dalan was also blessed by the presence of remarkable personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Sadhak Ramprosad Sen, Thakur Sri Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa Deb, etc.
I reckon, this is not just the richest, but the most historic bonedi baari in the whole of Kolkata.
Choto Sovabazar Rajbati
This rajbati is just across the lane, and is built by Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb Bahadur’s son, Radhakant Deb. Compared to the original one, this bari is slightly low key with respect to its glam and grandeur. It is much smaller in space, but reflects the same architectural sensibilities.
The definite distinction between the rest of the house and the temple area is seen in both the baris. However, I felt that this one was much quieter and more pleasant than the first.
Last but not the least! My visit to Mukherjee Bari in Ariadah is the most special one. I met this kind gentleman, Mr. Soumick Mukherjee during one of the field trips in Kolkata. When I got to know about his bari puja, I jumped on the opportunity, and paid a visit on a lazy Ashtami afternoon.
As I reached the entrance, I was bowled over by a long queue of people, holding big bowls and containers, waiting for their turn. The family was distributing food (Prasad) to the locals, as their small service towards God.
Mr. Mukherjee and his sweet family literally forced me to finish a plateful of sweets, followed by the bhog food. Bhog is the meal given to the Goddess. This meal is supposed to be eaten by only the family members. I was honoured to be a part of such a private affair; and not to mention, glad to taste a yummy fare!
The illustrious bhog.
After a lip-smacking, mouth-watering, tummy-filling, sleep-inducing meal, I decided to stay back till Sandhi Pujo. Later on, I thanked myself hundred times for taking that decision.
Sandhi Pujo preparations.
Sandhi Pujo is as beautiful a concept as its rituals. Sandhi means unification or merger. It celebrates the merger of the 8th and the 9th day of Puja. Sandhi Pujo begins from the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami. The puja has to happen during those 48 minutes precisely.
Durga is celebrated in her Chamunda form. It is said that she killed the demons Chando and Mundo at this very juncture. 108 earthen lamps were lit in front of the idol. It was a beautiful sight, as the floor turned golden.
As another ritual, 108 lotus flowers are offered to the Goddess. At Mukherjee bari, this ritual was done with beautiful garlands of lotus, bel leaves (wood-apple leaves), aparajita (butterfly pea) and rajnigandha (tuberoses) flowers.
Butterfly pea flowers, better known as Aparajitas, were always my favourite. Now they are one reason more favourite.
All this was performed amidst the echoes of dhaak, sounds of conch shells and bells, and spellbinding, rhythmic chanting of mantras.
It was followed by the ritual of Bali sacrifice. But instead of an animal, a vegetable was sacrificed. Thus, understanding the sentiments of sacrifice, without propagating any fallacy. I liked how an important ritual underwent a slight change with the changes in the society.
The day ended with heart-warming goodbyes as I left the Mukherjee house. Overwhelmed with the glory of puja, and the hospitality of the family, I promised myself to revisit this abode of happiness soon, very soon.
Mr. Soumick Mukherjee, one of the most kindhearted people I’ve met till date.
Which Barowari or Bonedi Bari Puja is your favourite? Did I miss a noteworthy puja during my stay in Kolkata? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section.