A Durga Puja freedom fighters started in a bid to throw the British police off their tracks will be celebrated this year as it was 121 years ago.
“Even after so many years, we have not made any change to our Puja. That is the special attraction of our Puja,” said Subhendu Ghosh, secretary, Suryodyan Puja Celebration Committee of Bangali Akhara in Langar Toli.
The roots of this Puja are intertwined with the struggle for freedom from colonial yoke.
“The library and gymnasium at Bangali Akhara used to be a popular meeting place for freedom fighters at the beginning of the 20th century. The British police got an inkling of it and started to keep tabs on them. So, the freedom fighters with some residents of Langar Toli started the Puja to keep the police off their tracks.”
A special attraction of the Puja is its unflinching continuity. Ghosh said: “If you come here after 10 years, you will find that the Durga idol looks the same.”
He also explained the reason for the idol looking the same for more than a century. “To begin with, Calcutta-based artisan Shailen Pal used to make the idol for us. Now, his grandson, Nimai Pal, makes our idol. So, the features of the gods and goddesses at our Puja look the same.”
Another Puja being celebrated for more than a century is the one at Gardanibagh Thakurbari. The popular Puja, which is accompanied by a fair, will turn 111 this year.
Priest Nagendra Jha said: “Earlier, a pandal would be erected and a clay idol of the goddess would be worshipped. But now there is a permanent idol in the temple.”
He added: “Almost all chief ministers of the state — from Krishna Singh to Nitish Kumar — have graced our Puja.”
Besides history, the celebrations at the Gardanibagh Thakurbari are also popular because of the fair that is organised along with the Puja.
“Visitors can enjoy various rides and savour street food at the fair,” said Jha.
He added that the special attraction of the Puja was that the rituals were performed according to both Mantra and Tantra traditions. “Our Puja is the only one that follows both the traditions,” said the priest.
Nostalgia is the keynote at Debendra Kutir, the 83-year-old house of the Ghosh family of the Janak Kishore Road in Kadamkuan. The Puja organised here is as old as the house.
“This Puja was a community celebration to begin with,” said Tripti Ghosh, 83, the seniormost member of the family.
She added: “The Puja was organised for the first time in 1930. For the first few years, it was organised by a committee and held at the house of advocate Indu Bhushan Biswas. But the Puja at his house had to be discontinued because of problems and our family decided to take over.”
But all is not well with this family Puja.
“The charm of the celebrations has depleted in the past few years. Earlier, during Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami, cultural programmes used to be held. Dance dramas, song and dance performances — all used to be organised here. Artistes from Calcutta used to come to perform. But now, all this is missing from our Puja. We can’t afford to invite artistes now because we have to organise this Puja on our own,” said Tripti.
There is, however, some hope in sight for the Puja of Ghosh family. Tripti’s brother Subroto Ghosh said: “Our neighbours take active part in our Puja. Many of the residents help us prepare bhog (ceremonial meal) and decoration of the idol.”
Do you know of any historic Puja in the city? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org