The only constant in history & tradition - Change
Utsav Basu analyses the history of Durga Puja in Bengal — how it began and how it eventually evolved as the biggest carnival of the state.
Hundreds of years ago, when themes did not exist, one topic accumulated a lot of richness and tradition — Bengal's very own Durga Puja.
In 1757, when the famous Battle of Plassey took place, a sly 'munshi' (accountant) of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula sided with the British and plotted against his king. It is believed that he was instrumental in paving way for the British who later set up the East India Company and ruled the country for the next 200 years. This accountant was none other than Nabakrishna Deb who would later on become a very influential zamindar of Bengal.
It is believed that Nabakrishna Deb, after the battle, built the famous Sovabazar Rajbari and started his Durga Puja. However, a section of historians engage in a never-ending debate on this. Some believe that it was Raja Kanshanarayan of Taherpur who started Durga Puja way back in the 17th century.
After the Battle of Plassey was won, it is believed that Nabakrishna Deb stole the royal treasury worth Rs 8 crore and built his palace at Sovabazar. History says that Lord Clive wanted a grand thanksgiving ceremony but the only church in Kolkata had been razed to the ground by Siraj ud-Daula, during his attack a year earlier. Deb convinced Clive to offer his thanks at the goddesses' feet at his Durga Puja.
The Durga Puja at Sovabazar Rajbari was, however, a mere extended party session for the British. Ironic but true, a "traitor" accountant with only Rs 6 as salary, paved way for Bengal's Durga Puja that eventually grew into a major celebration.
Deb's puja became a status symbol among the aristocratic Bengalis of the time. Slowly, every who's who of the state started copying him and started their own Durga Pujas, paving way for the upsurge of a plethora of "bonedi barir" pujos in Kolkata.
The next very famous puja of the same genre in Kolkata is of Hathkhola Dutta Bari. In 1794 AD Deewan Jagat Ram Dutta settled at 78, Nimtala Ghat Street. He also initiated both Durga and Kali pujas from that year. A post of the Hathkhola Dutta Bari says: "Duttas were one of the very few families of old Calcutta which did not resort to appeasing British officials to create wealth and fame for themselves. There are no dancing halls in this house. There were no balls or parties and no nautches held during Durga Puja to appease white sahibs. But even then, members from this family held extremely important positions of office in colonial times and were widely respected throughout India."
The next is Dutta Barir Puja in Thanthania. Started in 1855 by Dwarka Nath Dutta, the Duttas of Thanthania worship "Hara Gouri" idol or the "Shiva Durga". The idol is unique because here Goddess Durga is seated on her husband Lord Shiva's lap and they are riding Nandi instead of Durga's usual ride, the lion.
A very important 'bonedi barir pujo' is of the Laha Barir Pujo. Durga Puja of Laha family near Thanthania is more than 200 years old. The first generation of Laha family — Madhu Mangal Laha run a business at Saptagram. Durga Puja of Laha Bari was started by Late Bhagibati Charan Laha. The Puja flourished during the time of Late Prankrishna Laha, who had developed a huge profitable business.
Naming only a few of those that create a foundation of Durga Puja's history in Bengal, it is important to mention that the list is almost never ending with Kolkata being the hub of Pujas that date back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and at times, with a debatable history.
However, the true equality of caste and creed was marked by Simla Byayam Samity Sarbajanin Durga Puja which was established by Revolutionary Atindra Nath Bosu. He believed that if "Maa Durga" belonged to everybody and if organising Durga Puja was for the well-being of society, then, people from all caste, creed and religion should have the right to attend it. The main purpose of organising Sarbojanin Durgotsav was to organise the youth power of that time through the worship of the deity. This youth power would by means of this organisation actively participate in India's struggle for freedom against the British at that time. Thereafter, 12 friends of Guptipara organised a Durga Puja known as the Barowari Puja and the pujas of this kind gained the name but with a different connotation.