For the Bengali community, there is a proverb called “Baro Masher Tero Parbon” (“Thirteen festivals in twelve months”). It indicates that, for Bengali, festivals are throughout the year.
And of all festivals, ‘Durgapuja’ is in the lead.
Durga-Puja in Bengal is celebrated in two formats, Barowari and Bonedi (or ‘Zamidari’ Durgapuja).
‘Barowari festival is organized with funds raised from the public at large through donations or subscriptions.
‘Durga pujas’ is held privately in several families, some of whom were affluent and stalwarts in yesteryear, especially during the Colonial Regime. The Durgapuja organized by these families is called Bonedi Durgapuja or ‘Zamindari Durgapuja.
In my dwelling place at Chandannagar, there are few ‘Zamindari’ or ‘Bonedi ‘Durga pujas,’ which are still being continued in keeping with the age-old tradition and rituals of the family. However, ‘Unveil Press’ visited some during the ‘Durgapuja this year.
Bose Bari Durgapuja, Khalisani Bosepara,Chandannagar
Ancestors of Bose’s began this Durgapuja at ‘Tamluk in Midnapore district five hundred and Thirteen years ago. Later, the ‘Puja’ had to be shifted to Chandannagar due to the migration of the Bose family.
For more than four hundred and fifty years, the ‘Puja’ has been going on in ‘Bose Bari’ of Chandannagar.
‘Tamluk’ falls in the East Midnapore district of West Bengal. Since ancient times, ‘Tamluk’ has been the center of trade.
Briefing the ‘Unveil. Press’ about this age-old Bonedi Durgapuja, Debkumar Basu, ‘the current patriarch’ of the Bose family, said that Dasarath’ Bose was a trader. He was one of the descendants of the ‘Tamluk’s Bose family and used to come for maritime trade to Saptagram. Saptagram was then the only port here in this region.
In business, he often came to Chandannagar by crossing the river Saraswati. He came in close touch with the then ‘Diwan of this region under ‘Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah. The ‘Diwan was very impressed with the intelligence and honesty of Dashrath Bose and offered him the job of revenue collection in and around the area.
For professional convenience, Dasrath Bose later migrated to Chandannagar and his family. “As I learned from my grandfather, the then ruler under the regime of ‘Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, had gifted us the ‘Khalisani area for the impressive performance of Dasharath Bose. We thus acquired Zamindari”, said Deb Kumar Basu.
Dashrath Bose was the father of ‘Karunamay Bose.’
During the period of Karunamoy Bose, the Bose family’s ‘Durga’ ‘Puja’ was shifted to the present premises of Chandannagar from ‘Tamluk. For the past four hundred and fifty years, the Bose family has celebrated ‘Durga ‘Puja here on the same premises, said Debkumar Basu.
“No, we do not raise money from the public for our family ‘Durga’ puja. But, on the strength of contribution from the Bose family, the tradition of this age-old ‘Durga ‘Puja has been continued for years”, said Deb Kumar Bose.
“If anyone outside our Bose family voluntarily helps us, they are most welcome.
Goddess Durga is not worshiped here by ‘Vaisnav’ rituals. The Bose family does not have sacrificial rituals of goats for offering to the deity called ‘Puta Bali.’
“But once upon a time, ‘Bali’ was an important part of our celebration, but it had to be abruptly stopped.”
Bose went on, “In our ‘Thakur Dalan’ (dalan in Bengali means corridor), Ma Kali was also worshiped earlier. Once on the day before Kali Puja, a member of our Bose family had a weird dream of Mother Goddess Kali.
In the dream, Mother Kali desired human blood to quench her thirst. The dream turned into the truth.
On ‘Kali puja,’ his brother drowned in a nearby pond. The dream interpretation led to the stoppage of Kali puja in Thakur Dalan, and the goat sacrificial was stopped forever after that.
Since the descendant of the Bose family, Dasarath Bose, arrived in Chandannagar by crossing the Saraswati river, the idol used to be immersed in the Saraswati river as a mark in earlier days of respect.
The bathing ‘Kolabou’ ritual is still done on the bank of the river Saraswati. Kolabou (banana plant) symbolizes the wife of Lord Ganesh.
“I still remember as a child when the idol of Goddess Durga was immersed in the Saraswati river, and it was manually carried on the shoulder by the Bose family’s male member. But nowadays, immersion of idols is done in the river ‘Ganga’ while the immersion accessories of idols are done in the river ‘Saraswati”, said Debkumar Bose.
Saint Ramakrishna Paramahansha came here during Durgapuja. Giving out the details, Bose said one of the daughters of the Bose family was married to the son of Jhamapukur Rajbari of College street, Kolkata. Being the only daughter of that family, she got her share of the family property here at Chandannagar. ‘Ramakrishna Dev’ came there to perform puja of ‘Satyanarayan. At that time, ‘Ramakrishnadev’ also came to see the Durgapuja of our Bose family.
Rakshitbari Durgapuja in Baddipratha, Chandannagar
The celebration has entered 181years. It was during the French Colonial days that Rakshitbari Durgapuja started at Chandannagar with the initiative of Govinda Rakshit.
When I went to ‘Rakshit- Bari,’ it was Mahasthami day. I was eager to know about the myths associated with this century-old ‘bonedi-Durgapuja.’ But no senior members of the family were seen around.
So I chanced upon Debopriya Charan Rakshit, a youth who might be in the ’30s. Debopriya Charan is a great-grandson of ‘Durga Charan Rakshit.
“Govinda Rakshit had no children for many days. So he worshiped ‘Durga to have a child. ‘The worship bore the fruit. A male child was born to the couple. They named him ‘Durga Charan. Since then, Durgapuja has become our family Puja, Debopriyo Charan said.
‘Durga Charan grew up. He established himself nicely in the export and import business and achieved prosperity for the Rakshit family.
He built ‘Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat in Chandannagar stands in 1920. The elegant-looking pavilion consists of slender 4 columns with decorative stucco work consisting of elephant’s head and a floral design
Exercising his business acumen and foresightedness, he has built up an estate and enormous property, leading to the prosperity of the Rakshit family. He was the first Indian to be honored with the prestigious Legion d’ honneur, the highest French award, in 1896.
The expenses of Durgapuja are met from the revenues being earned from the properties and Estate. So nicely, ‘Durga Charan has streamlined the financial management for the ‘Durgapuja celebration that never at any moment we need separate contributions for ‘Durgapuja, said Debopriyo Charan.
The Rakshit belongs to ‘Dhaniakhali’ (falling in Hooghly district’s ‘Chinsurah’ subdivision). However, due to the oppression of the ‘Marathas, they had to abandon Dhaniakhali and move to Chandannagar in 1830, said DevopriyaCharan Rakshit.
In remembrance of Durga Charan Rakshit, the name of male members of our family are added with the suffix ‘Charan.’
Devopriyo Charan said that the family follows the commonality of Durgapuja rituals. “Maybe, senior members may highlight something more about our family-DurgaPuja which I do not in know,” quipped the youth. –
Mondal Bari Durga Puja in Gondalpara, Chandannagar
When I got into ‘The Mondal mansion on the evening of Mahasthami, the ‘Arati’ was in progress. The loud beats of ‘Dhak’ and ‘Kanshar’ ‘Ghonta’ pierced the silence of ‘Gondalpara,’ but the atmosphere was charged with the excitement of Durgapuja.
I came across Neline Mondal, ‘the daughter-in-law of the family.
‘Neline is a ‘French-speaking Belgian National. She is also a scientist, a heritage conservationist, a ‘French language teacher, and a documentarian.
Talking to unveil.press, Neline said as per documentary evidence available to her, the ‘Durgapuja in Mondal family started in 1825. Mondal’s family was then the wealthiest family of the region. They had fifteen ships and had their own private army during the colonial days. They were also traders of spices, oilseeds, salt, etc.
Story Of Mondal Bari Durga Puja
“Once their ships got trapped in a sea storm in the Bay of Bengal, some 3 or 5 ships sank. The loss of the ship led to a big financial loss for the business. Mother Goddess ‘Durga came in a dream to one of the ancestresses. She told her to start ‘Durgapuja to regain prosperity. “So, the Durgapuja thus started in the Mondal family,” said Neline.
‘Mondal family celebrates ‘Durgapuja following ‘Vaisnavi rituals. The sculptor comes to our house to make the idol of Goddess’ Durga, but keeping up the custom, they have to wear our male member used dhoti while working, Nelin stated.
The ‘Kathamo puja’ (worshiping the framework for an idol) starts on the occasion of ‘Janmasthami. Dietary restrictions begin after that. Family members cannot eat non-vegetarian food, onions, garlic, or lentils (mushoor-dal ).
Another perceptible feature of Mondal bari Durgapuja that makes it stand out from the crowd of the other ‘Bonedi and Barawari Puja’ is that Durgapuja commences from ‘Pratipad.” In contrast, in most other pujas it starts from Mahashashti.
‘Pratipad’ falls a day after ‘Mahalaya’. Mahalaya is considered the day Goddess Durga defeated the demon Mahishasura, while Pratipada marks the arrival of Goddess Durga to the earth.
“The ancestors of the Mondals thrived on the shipping business. As a symbolic gesture, our family’s Goddess Durga was placed between two boats for immersion in Ganga. The boats separated to let the goddess in the river. Unfortunately, there was a heavy flood in 1972, so the tradition had to be stopped”, added Neline.
Sett Bari Durga Puja in Palpara of Chandannagar
This Durgapuja of Harihar Sett family is about five hundred fifty years old.
The Thakurdalan here is conspicuous by its massive pillars. Durgapuja is celebrated here following ‘vaisnabh tradition.
Earlier, the idol was sculpted in the Thakur Dalan itself. That practice has been stopped. After ‘kathamo puja, the framework is sent to the sculptor who shapes up the idol and sent back to ‘Thakur Dalan’ for Durgapuja.
Gautam Sett and Tapas Kundu both are current descendants of the Harihar Sett family. However, they said that this ‘Bonedi’ Durgapuja does not have lineage with the Sett family or their ancestors.
“One of our ancestors married a woman. The present ‘Durgapuja had its genesis in the woman’s family. She had no brother. No one in the woman’s family would carry forward the Durgapuja when her father would be no more. So the marriage was solemnized with the condition that ever married her had to carry forward the family ‘Durgapuja.
“We, in a way, got this Durgapuja as a dowry, though it is inappropriate to call it a dowry. But in other words, this Durgapuja was acquired from the woman’s father’s home (called baper bari of Stri in Bengali)”, said Gautam Sett.
But at that time, this mansion had only one floor. Later, Harihar Sett expanded the house to its present form.
Harihar Sett was a businessman. He was an Iron trader and had a significant contribution in bringing social reforms in Chandannagar.
“There was a tradition in our family on those days that women could not attend our family Durgapuja. There was a series of iron rods across the left window of Durgapuja Dalan on the first floor. The iron rods of the window in Bengali is called ‘Sheekh.’
The women entered the back of the house to watch the Durgapuja from the iron-bar window.
Harihar Sett brought a change in this tradition. He abandoned the ‘veiled practice.’ Instead, he promoted women’s education.
Durgapuja is celebrated here by ‘Vaisnav’ custom, and there are no sacrificial rituals.
As a part of a tradition, there used to be gunshots in the air on every Mahasthami of Durgapuja. But now there is a legal ban on it.
The surname of the family is Nandi. The title Sett was conferred as an honor. But both Gautam Sett and Tapas Kundu could not tell when and why this honor as ‘Sett’ was granted to Harihar (Sett).
The Government has declared the whole house as a heritage house. “Emotions of Harihar Sett and Durgadas Sett are associated with this house. Having now declared this house as a heritage building by Government, it is now a prime responsibility of Government to ensure its proper preservation without disrupting the heritage characteristics”, opined Gautam Sett.
Aloka Sett, Tapas Kundu and Gautam Sett take the lead role in Sett Bari Durga Puja.
Aloka Sett was mother of Gautam Sett. She passed away during this year’s ‘Durgapuja on the day of Maha Shashti. “Her demise will cause a void in our family Durgapuja in coming days,” rued her son Gautam Sett.
“Manpower and financial constraint and indifference of present generation have raised a question mark on the sustainability of this age-old Durgapuja in the days ahead,” apprehended Gautam Sett.