Durga Puja at the ‘Bonedi’ households of Kolkata

pic1 Preparing for the celebration without much grandeur at the Dutta residenceEvery year in Bengal autumn brings a special message with it – the time for celebration has come once again! In Bengal, especially in Kolkata, there is a certain exuberance in the air… big hoardings obstructing almost every sight, huge pandels blocking roads and lanes, thematic lights along the city streets, long queues of people either to enter the shops for last minute shopping or to enter the puja pandels– the city is simply charged up to celebrate the biggest Bengali festival of the year – Durga Puja.

pic4 Painting the Thakurdalan before the Pujas at the Dawn residenceAlong with the thousands of small and big budget community puja pandels in every nook and corner of the city, there are quite a few households who worship Devi Durga in traditional but simple and serene way. In this city of theme dominated puja celebration, these ‘Bonedi’ households (the homes of the traditional aristocrats) have been still celebrating this autumn festival in its true, original form for centuries. These families remember the occasion along with the associated age-old rituals, which have been passed to them over generations like a family heirloom. The Behala Sabadna Roy Choudhury’s Durga puja is perhaps the oldest puja organised even before the city Kolkata was officially born. This family was the landlord of 3 villages- Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur, which they gave to the East India Company and thus the city Kolkata eventually emerged. They started the puja long back in the year 1610 and till now the family celebrates the puja in the same location. Another century old puja that still tries to maintain the same rituals and grandeur as much as possible is Shovabajar Rajbari. To celebrate the win of East India Company in Battle of Plassey (1757), Raja Nabakrishna Deb (who was the teacher and translator of Lord Clive) started the puja in his palatial residence. This was the first puja in a household where British officers, along with Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, were invited to witness the idol. Apart from these households, there are many aristocrats in the city who started hosting Goddess Durga in their family and they still continue to cary forward their tradition with or without much difficulty.

pic30The Past Glory:

These Bonedi families try to maintain and follow the century old customs and traditions, though sometimes there have been few changes over time. In Sabarna Roy Chowdhury’s, the scale and grandeur was much greater before. Nearly 5000 people were fed during puja in the past, which is reduced to 300 now-a-days. It is mentioned by the old timers that Durga adored herself with jewelleries from Jorashanko’s Shiv Krishna Dawn,s residence, had lunch at Kumortuli’s Abhay Charan Mitra house and entertained herself at Shovabajar Rajbari. This entertainment part of Rajbari consisted of Baiji dance, Kobigaan, theatre, fireworks and what not! Dawn family of Jorashanko (puja started in 1840) bought large quantities of jewelleries, diamonds and emeralds from Europe to decorate Chalchitra as well as the Goddess. It is said that to compete with Dawn family’s puja extravaganza, Jorashanko’s Prince Dwarkanath Thakur submerged his family’s Durga idol alongwith her expensive gold ornaments in the Ganges!

pic9 A quiet evening at the Thakurdalan of the Dutta FamilyThe Past and the Present:

Interestingly, most of these houses toned down the grandeur of the puja celebration with time. For instance, the Basu Mallick house of Potoldanga Street started puja in 1831 on a grand scale but they presently continue the festival on a subdued note. Earlier, the ritual of feeding 2000 people with ‘Bhog’, (food first offered to the goddess on silver or brass utensil and then distributed to others) does not seem practical in present day situation. Hutkhola Dutta Bari, who started the puja more than 200 years ago, is now celebrating the festival in their century-old ‘thakurdalan’ without any kind of exuberant show-off. Limited resources and fall in income standard (mainly after the loss of land-ownership after the introduction of the land ceiling and abolition of ‘zamindari’ system in many areas) are the main causes for some of them, while for others, it is the lack of time and helping hands that are required to make the event as grand as before.

pic31The Thakurdalans (courtyard of the goddess):

The most elegant ‘thakurdalan’ of the bonedi houses in Kolkata is perhaps that of the Pathuriaghata Ghosh Rajbari. Build by Khelat Chandra Ghosh, this mansion’s pillared and arched inner courtyard is the most elegant one. Planned and designed by German architecture company Martin & Burn, the premises comprises of marble staircase with wood panelling on either side in a 85 feet long corridor lined with blue and white elephants, originally used as flowerpot stands. A Belgian cut-glass chandelier at the dining hall and a Thomasson Chronometre grandfather clock, brought from London to Kolkata in 1819, in the study holds pride of the place. The Laha Bari, near College Street, has porticos and colonnaded verandas that are a perfect foil to the exquisite chandeliers and stained glass windows inside. The thakurdalan of Shiv Krishna Dawn’s house is huge and often used for shooting purposes. The circular Thakurdalan has verandas which are of semi-circular shape and total effect was like gallery of opera’s in old European countries. The small but very interesting thakurdalan of Harinath Mookherjee’s house at Rajabajar shows statues of Habsi (slaves in pre-British India). On either side of the thakurdalan, statues of one man and woman chained at their legs can be seen. At the main entrance, there is unique design of stucco painted with multicolored figures and floral motifs. The thakurdalan of Potoldanga Basu Mallick house also has stucco floral decoration on its arches and above it a row of stucco figures depicting Dashavatar of Vishnu. Several statues of mercury can be seen in the courtyard which were used to hold gas lamps. The large thakurdalan and the lights on the courtyard of Colootola Badan Chandra Roy’s mansion look very beautiful specially at nights.

pic32The Idol:

The idols of most of these household pujas is ‘ek-chala’, simple and relatively smaller to make the immersion little easy for the labourers. They all still use manual labours to immerse the goddess by lifting the idol on the shoulder and thus it is very important to maintain the right height and weight. From Behala’s Sabarna Roy Choudhury’s (aat-chala) to Jorashanko Dawn’s to Thanthania’s Laha Bari, the idols are sculptured from the scratch in the household by the idolmakers. In some houses, the idols come straight from Kumortuli just before the puja begins. In some houses, the idols have some specific pattern, like, in Shovabajar Rajbari, the face of the lion looks like a horse. In Thanthania Dutta Bari (started in 1855) or in Darjipara Mitra Bari, Devi Durga sits on the lap of her husband Shiva and does not display a war mood. Here, the idols are not of ‘Mahishasuramordini’ but of ‘Hara Gouri’. In Chhatubabu Latubabu’s house, Durga is flanked with her sakhis (companion) Jaya and Vijaya (posed on lotuses) instead of Laxmi and Saraswati. Even the color of the idol can be different. Blue Durga (in the form of Goddess Kali) and red and maroon skinned Durga (described as tapta Kanchan color) are also worshipped in some of the families. At Bhowanipur De family’s puja, the most interesting part of the idol is demon Mahishasura who symbolises the British Empire. Here, the demon wears long coats and boots, golden hair and moustache like Englishman and thus Goddess Durga becomes the slayer of British Empire.

pic25The Bhog (food offered to the goddess):

The Maha Bhog of the Sabarna Roy Choudhury’s puja comprises of ghee bhat, Basanti polao with dried fruits, khichuri, curry of vegetables, traditional fish preparations, payesh and sweets. On dashami, Durga is treated with panta bhaat (rice soaked in water), kochu shaag, keshari daal and koi machher jhaal. Fishes are also being offered to Durga in Chorbagan Chatterjee Bari puja. In Shovabajar Rajbari, instead of Anna bhog (rice offering), huge amounts of monda mithai (sweets and snacks like pantua, peraki, radha ballavi, motichur laddu etc.) are offered which are painstakingly cooked by Brahmin cooks in the Rajbari premises.

pic26Special Rituals:

Each of these families has some distinct special rituals that they continue to perform over the generations. In Shovabajar Rajbari, as well as Jorashanko Dawn’s family, Sondhipuja (a special ritual of lighting the lamp) is performed with the sound of cannon fire. In Darjipara Mitra family (where puja started in 1807), mandatory 108 lotus flowers are replaced by 108 aparajita flowers, which are offered during sondhipuja. After the immersion of the idol, the women of this family sit on the throne of the Goddess in the expectation that the power of Durga will be transferred into them! A special rituals called ‘Kalyani’ puja is performed in Girish Ghosh family’s puja (started in 1856) instead of sandhipuja. This unique ritual was initiated by Girish Ghosh himself when his guru died during the time of sandhipuja. Kumari pujo (worshipping the virgin in the form of goddess) and dhunoporano (burning of earthen lamps on heads by women) are among the star rituals that are performed in many worshipping households. Some rituals had to change with time to cope up with the current situation like letting the Neelkatha bird fly off on Vijaya dashami (so that they could carry the news of Durga’s departure to Shiva) was forbidden by Wildlife Preservation Act.  Shovabajar Rajbari now-a-days immerge neelkantha made of clay with the goddess.

It needs mention that the images were clicked over the last three years including the current year, and due to our busy job schedule, we could barely accommodate sufficient time that is required for a more detailed coverage. Added to this, the difficulty to reach different ends of the city, especially to commute from south to the north, where most of the pujas are celebrated, posed serious constraints to provide a more detailed pictorial account of these rituals. We hope to update this presentation in future and make it more complete.

pic12 Designing the ornaments of the idolAbout the authors:

Sayanti Poddar I am a lecturer in geography by profession in Kolkata, West Bengal. My interest in photography was purely accidental, which initiated just to accompany a friend of mine during her photowalks. I bought my first dslr in 2011. Photography, to me, was merely pastime in the initial phase, but later it turned into my passion. I am a nature lover, so landscape photography is an automatic choice for me. From my childhood I loved painting and my passion for this guided me during my landscape photography. Travel and people’s photography are other areas of my interest. Being a resident of Kolkata has helped me to evolve as a photographer to a great extent.

Swati Mallik I am a journalist by profession currently living in Kolkata. Photography has been my point of interest since childhood. The first camera I bought was a KB10 camera while I was a schoolgirl. However, I started pursuing photography a little more seriously during my leisure hours after I bought a dslr camera in 2010. Being a nature lover, I always try to capture beauty of landscape through my camera. Travel and people’s photography are the other types that capture my interest.

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Mainak Tourist Lodge- a wonderful stay in Siliguri

Siliguri, sitting in the foothills of the Himalayas,  is the gateway to the beautiful Dooars and the Queen of Hills, Darjeeling.  Siliguri is actually known for its unique 4T; the T s standing for – Tea, Timber, Tourism and Transport.

mainak 1Our trip to North Bengal in May 2018 was amazing, stories of which I can probably share at a later date. During that journey, we had a short stay in Siliguri where we were put up at the WBTDCL owned Mainak Tourist Lodge/ Centre

Now, I am sure that all our readers have a fair idea of Government Guest Houses. Or Tourist Centres. They are homely, affordable emanating warm hospitality but somewhere lacking in formal etiquette; at times a bit of sloppy service, semi clean linen and  most often shoddy upholstery etc.

mainak 2 We were very very pleasantly surprised, thus when we were ushered in the Mainak Tourist Lodge. Clean and spotless rooms and washrooms, swanky corridors, fresh and clean linens, Wi-Fi services, Laundry services, LED Televisions and great food is what Mainak Tourist Centre now has to offer.

mainak 3 In the last 2 years the Government under the helm of competent and able authorities have been trying to bring about some changes for the better.  In fact, a small  piece of information- 43 guest houses (1000 rooms) across the state are being upgraded to 3 star levels. A time consuming effort no doubt but work is going on at a fast pace; and going by our experience at the Mainak, it’s well worth it.

What is even more heart-warming is that the same staff are being trained under the guidance of a renowned 5 star hotel of Kolkata.

We had a fantastic stay at the Mainak. I am sure next time you are in Siliguri, you will definitely try to book a room and stay there, just to see the amazing changes it has brought on itself.mainak 4

About the author:

20645580_10214196528336851_2516256641502696590_oMousumi Sengupta is a Jack of so many diverse trades. Studied Economics from St Xaviers College, but has worked in diverse fields. Taught Maths in her alma mater Modern High School for Girls for sometime, joined the hospitality industry for a while (Park Hotel as Sales and PR exec) but soon realised that media was beckoning. So she joined Times Of India where she worked for3 years and then was part of the group that launched the first FM station Times FM (now Radio Mirchi). She was the first trilingual RJ of Kolkata. Her one hour programme on the modern women PAROMA was very popular. Next step was the electronics media. She was part of the team that started the first private news KHAASH KHOBOR that created history, along with the travel prog CHALO JAI and the sports program DOSH MINITER KHEL. She next became part of the newly introduced television dept ABP TV for the Anandabazar group and introduced a full-fledged film studio. She was a news producer and anchor as well. Her next step was as the Executive Director of the investigative prog KHONJ KHOBOR that brought so many skeletons out of various criminal’s cupboard and became a rage. She gave up full time job after her daughter arrived. Was a media consultant to companies like RPG for a while. Currently she does all kinds of media work, consultancy etc but completely on a personal basis. Now she is heavily into social service and loves to sort problems on a micro basis. Is a social media activist as she fights for so many causes with the help of various social media and other platforms. She is a columnist and a story teller who writes regularly for the popular food magazine HYANGLA HENSHEL. She also has her own blog, which deals mainly with human psychology. In addition to all this, she has dabbled in modelling, anchoring (Was a tv news anchor) acting in serials and films.

Rasmancha- heritage crafted in Terra Cotta

Bengal is the perfect example of the true amalgamation between culture and heritage. Each and every part of Bengal has a history of its own. Every district through architecture tells their own story of their glorious past.

However, there’s so much in Bengal that has been left unexplored and is unknown to the majority.  The ‘Rasmancha’, located at Bishnupur is probably one of the most underrated architecture not only in Bengal but in the whole of India.

Rasmancha3HISTORY

This edifice was built in the year 1600 with the commissions by the king of Mallabhum- Hambir Malla  Dev, also popularly known as Bir Hambir. As the name suggests , the Rasmancha was established to celebrate the ‘Ras’ festival, during which each  and every ‘Radha-Krishna’ idols from all other temples in Bishnupur would be brought here for a public exhibition .

rasmancha2ARCHITECTURE

Placed on  a raised square laterite base , the Rasmancha has a pyramidal structure. The beautiful temple which is 24.5m in breadth and 12.5m in height , includes within it three successive circular galleries. The arches of these galleries are beautifully decorated with terracotta lotus motifs . Surveys have revealed that this style of architecture is unique and cannot be seen anywhere else in India.

Inside the temple, there is a single chamber- a sanctum santorum adjoined to which there is an elongated tower surrounded by hut shaped turrets . There are cannons that are placed around Rasmancha which date back to the Malla period .

IMG_20180203_112306FACTS

The Rasmancha which has now been made into a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is also considered to be the oldest brick temple in  India.

The exquisite terracotta craftsmanship on temple walls will leave you spellbound! A light-show in the evening is also a visual treat one shouldn’t be missing out on.

Victoria Memorial- in memory of the Queen

“Let us, therefore, have a building, stately, spacious, monumental and grand, to which every newcomer in Calcutta will turn, to which all the resident population, European and Native, will flock, where all classes will learn the lessons of history, and see revived before their eyes the marvels of the past.”

This was said by Lord Curzon, who was the first to propose the construction of a grand building with a museum and gardens to commemorate the late Queen Victoria of England, when in January 1901 the first Baron Curzon of Kedleston, the then-viceroy of India, suggested the creation of a fitting memorial . v2

King George V laid the foundation stone of this imposing edifice on 4th January 1906,  and was officially opened for the public in the year 1921.

The Victoria Memorial, which had been funded by Indian states, the British Government in London and individuals of the British Raj, is today almost a synonym of the state, and the city it was built in. For people in Kolkata or away from it, the name itself is an emotion.v3

Planned and designed by William Emerson, the president of the Royal institute of British Architects, the entire architecture of the building has influences from various architectural styles like Islamic, Deccan, Venetian and Egyptian. But it’s for certain that the architects took their main inspiration from the “Indo-Saracenic Revivalist Style” which includes within it a mixture of the British and the Mughal architecture.

Built out of white Makrana marble, the building rises to a height of 56m and has the area of 103m by 69m. The beautiful lush green gardens were conceptualized by Lord Redesdale and David Prain, while Vincent Jerome Esch idealized the garden gates and the bridge on the northern part of the plot.

A lot of intellectuals have the view that The Victoria Memorial “echoes” the Taj Mahal. Not just because of the use of the white Makrana Marble but also because of the high portals, terrace, dome, the four subsidiaries and the domed corner towers. The two galleries, namely The Royal Gallery and The Calcutta Gallery include magnificent paintings, artefacts, and documents.

_O8A2460The beautiful memorial that lies on the grounds of the Maidan by the bank of the Hooghly River and was once the prior symbol of the British Raj and the domination in India shall remain a Kolkata icon, may that be for its architecture or for the landscaped gardens you can stroll around in. Not that there are people who haven’t ever visited The Victoria Memorial, but one can always go back by planning a days outing at this serene plot in the heart of the city.

Image courtesy: Anuradha Chatterjee

Kathgola Palace, Murshidabad- heritage glory

Interested in history? Still intrigued by the treachery of Mir Jafar in the Battle of Plassey fought on the 26th of June 1757, where the last independent Bengal Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah was wrongfully defeated; paving way for the British to begin their colonisation of India?

The place that you must visit then is Murshidabad – the city of Nawabs. While in Murshidabad, Kathgola Palace is one of the best places to be seen when doing a tour. Situated by the river Bhagirathi , just 5 kms away from Hazarduari, this palace stands with all it’s heritage glory.

kath 1Kathgola Palace is a four storeyed ornate and palatial building  in the Kathgola Gardens. It also has a small pond and a ‘Baoli’ or steep well, generally unseen in this part of the country. It is said that once the garden had the most unusual black roses, but now it has mango trees only.  Inside the huge garden there is a statue of Michelangelo.

This historical palace was built by Lakshmipat Singh Dugar, who was said to be close to Jagat Seth – the rich money lender and trader. It is here that William Watts met the traitor Mir Jafar , just three days after the battle of Plassey in 1757  to discuss  the payment  promised to him before the historical battle.

The palace is full of grandeur. It has an ornamented façade with extremely valuable paintings, priceless artefacts , furnitures and decorative mirrors.

The Adinath Temple also known as Paresh Nath Temple or Kathgola Temple is situated inside the huge lush gardens of the Kathgola Gardens. The temple is dedicated to Bhagwan Adhishvar and has a 90 CM white coloured idol in the Padmasana posture. The idol is considered to be atleast  900 years old.  Along with this there are 17 other idols of the Jain Tirthankars.kath

How to Go

Distance between Kolkata to Murshidabad is approximately 6 to 7 hours via road. There are plenty of trains like Hazarduari Exp (13113), Bhagirathi Exp (13103), KOAA LGL Express (13117) etc. and the minimum time taken on train is around 4 hours.

Where to Stay

Numerous private hotels of all pocket pinches are available. There is also the Baharampur Tourist Lodge  (https://www.wbtdcl.com/home/lodge_search?Lodge_id=MTM&Lodge_destinationName=MTE where one can stay.

Baluchari- timeless tales weaved in warp and weft

Bengal has always made it’s mark in the history of textiles. From the legendary muslins to fine cottons and silks- the weavers of Bengal have spun their magic in textiles for thousands of years.

A name that stands out for it’s intricate weaving technique and unique visual narration is the ‘Baluchari’ saree- a saree that has been granted the prestigious GI status for it’s uniqueness.

baluchariHistory:

The history of Baluchari silk has close ties with the history of Bengal.

The silks of Bengal were so coveted amongst the Europeans that a virtual ‘Silk Rush’ started from the early 17th century, when the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English focussed on converting Murshidabad into a centre for manufacturing silks, and started setting up factories. Moreover, as Murshidabad also emerged as the capital of Bengal, the weaving flourished under royal patronage.

The emergence of Baluchari sarees can be traced back to 1704 CE, when Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan, the Mughal Governor of Bengal shifted his capital from Dacca to Murshidabad, also bringing with him a community of skilled weavers who were settled in the village of ‘Baluchar’. Over the years, these artisans developed their distinct weaving style with exquisite mythological designs, which gave birth to the legendary Baluchari sarees.

The motifs:

What makes a Baluchari saree a unique piece of art, is the ornate pictorial themes woven in the ‘pallu’, depicting designs that draw inspirations from mythology, folk tales and social themes.

It is very interesting to note how the changing social canvas also brought changes to Baluchari design. During the Nawabi era, the weaving pattern incorporated Persian motifs and architectural styles, while the rise of the British empire introduced designs like pictures of East India Company officials, and even motifs of steam engines!

By the late 19th Century, the Baluchari weaving technique had started to spread from the village of Baluchar, and a series of devastating famine and other natural calamities forced the weavers to relocate to Bishnupur, around 200 kms away. This shift also caused changes in the weaving patterns, as the artisans incorporated the motifs that adorned the terracotta temples of the Malla kings.

This exquisite weaving tradition was revived by Shubho Thhakur, a noted artist and the erstwhile director of the Regional Design Centre, Calcutta. He pioneered the technique of Jacquard weaving in looms to craft Baluchari sarees and gave this a new lease of life.img_7692_2816x1880

Mahishadal- stories of yesteryear

The Zamindaris may have given way to newer democratic systems long ago, but some have still retained their majestic grace and their regal charm. They are silent witnesses of an era gone by and have tales hidden in every nook and corner.

mrOne such beautiful Palace is the Mahishadal Rajbari. Situated in East Midnapore, just 100 kms away on the way to Digha. The history of the Mahishadal Raj family is fascinating, having started from the time of Akbar and thereafter the reigns of the estate have changed numerous hands. Kalyan Roy Chowdhury, was the first Zamindar of this Zamindari to have been bestowed with the title of Raja. Finally, Janardhan Upadhyay, who arrived from Uttar Pradesh managed to get the estate  back on its feet paying off the outstanding debts in the middle of the 16th century and got a charter bestowing him with the title of Raja.

Much later, a woman was at the helm of things in this Rajbari. At around 1770, Rani Janaki, the widow of Raja Anandalal Upadhyay took the reigns of this zamindari in her able, educated and skilled hands.  She was known to be an extremely generous ruler, with a sharp intelligence and acumen for leadership and built an army of her own. She also constructed many temples, notable among them being the MadanMohan temple. mahish 15

The Mahishadal Raj estate comprises two palaces- the old and the new. The old palace built in 1840 is known as the Rangi Basan Palace and currently is not inhabited. The new palace, built in 1926 is known as the Phulbagh Palace  and is grand and picturesque. The  Shikar Room or the Game Room, filled with   stuffed animals is definitely an impressive sight, and those who are interested in Taxidermy, will definitely have a great time. There is also a Billiard Room and a Music Room to see. There are also very interesting items to see in the palace. We were awed to see a child’s perambulator or the palanquin or Palki which had carried so many erstwhile inhabitants of this royal abode.mahish1

Lal Kuthi, which is an interesting place of attraction is just behind the Phulbagh Palace. Puja and regular arati is carried out in all the temples till date with much devotion and zeal. The orchards, the Parikhas or the moats surrounding the palace are ideal picnic spots and are picturesque.  The Rathayatra and DurgaPuja are two extremely important occasions celebrated with great fanfare in Mahishadal.mahish 12