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Tradition rules

Celebrating the goddess has been their passion for hundreds of years. Calcutta’s old families — once ranked at the top of the city’s social order — have converted the rituals associated with wooing the goddess into a fine art. In times when there were no baroari (community) pujos they came to be known for their opulence and extravagance as they gave the Pujas their signature touches — which they have preserved even today.

Each generation passed on the baton to the next. And despite financial constraints, the families have adhered to these rites. Little wonder then, that thousands of devotees flock to catch a glimpse of the families and their rituals that were once the talking point of the town.

Ghoshbari, Ghosh Lane, off Vivekananda Road

Sandhipuja may be the norm for a majority of Calcuttans on Ashtami, but not for the Ghose household in Ghosh Lane off Vivekananda Road. Instead of offering Sandhipuja prayers, the family — that’s celebrating its 154th year of Puja this year — gathers for Kalyani Puja in the morning and evening. This tradition was started by the family patriarch Girish Chandra Ghose. The story goes that on this day Ghose’s guru died during Sandhipuja. “Ever since, the practice of Sandhipuja was discontinued and Kalyani Puja is held to seek the blessings of the goddess,” says Arkaprovo Ghose, a seventh-generation member of the family.

Dawnbari, Darjipara

If you visit Jagannath Ghat in Baghbazar on a Saptami morning to witness the Nabapatrika Snan (bathing), you’d be greeted by a quaint sight. Don’t be surprised if you come across a procession carrying Kalabou (considered by some as Lord Ganesha’s wife) under an opulent velvet umbrella that’s embellished with gold jari-work. “This is the Dashavatar umbrella that’s been part of the Dawn family Puja since its inception in 1840,” says Asim Dawn, the family head.

Khelat Ghosh’s House, Pathuriaghata

Here, the Nabapatrika Snan ritual is held at the family natmandir and not by the Ganges, as is the usual practice. “This ritual is always held at home because the women in our family never ventured out in the past. Though times have changed, we have retained the tradition,” says Pradip Ghosh, head of the family.

The family also uniquely worships Lakshmi and Saraswati as Kamala and Kamini — two other forms of Durga. During Ashtami, a math (sweetmeat) made of matha chini (a kind of sugar made in Varanasi) is symbolically sacrificed.

Duttabari, Hatkhola

This Puja, that dates back to 1794, does a lot of things differently. The sari that the idol wears is not a real sari and Kartik is dressed like soldier in uniform.

“The clay is first given the drape of a sari and the jewellery too is created with clay and then painted upon,” says Somnath Dutta, a member of the family. Another interesting feature of this Puja is the khirer putul (a doll made of thickened milk), about 6-in to 10-in high, is sacrificed as a symbolic gesture.

Lahabari

At the Laha family Puja, which is conducted over three ancestral family homes in different parts of north Calcutta, the goddess takes the Shivadurga avatar or the Abhaya form. This is perhaps the only idol of its kind in all of Calcutta. In this 187-year-old Puja, the goddess is seen seated on Shiva’s lap and the bhog consists only of sweets all of which have been prepared at home.

Basumallick Bari, Pataldanga

The lion is perhaps one of the most interesting features of the Puja in the Basumallick home near Sealdah. For, it’s not really a lion and takes the form of an animal that has the body of a horse and the face of a dragon. An explanation is that early idol-makers referred to the description of lion in Chandimangal and gave the majestic creature their imaginative touch.

“Another interesting ritual of our house is the kadamati khela in which men (from the family and visitors) participate after the symbolic sacrifice. They play with clay and mud and dance to the beat of dhaak — to commemorate the triumph of the gods over the demons,” says Ashokendra Basumallick, a member of what is considered the sixth generation of the family.

Mitrabari, Darjipara

In the Mitra house in Darjipara in north Calcutta, the mandatory 108 lotus flowers for the Puja are replaced with as many aparajita flowers to appease the goddess. While the images of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati have beatific faces, Kartik and Asura are given human faces known as Bangla mukh. What’s more, the idols are placed on a huge throne.

“On Dashami, after the boron, the women in the family take turns to seat themselves on the throne in the hope that they too will imbibe some of the goddess’ strength. For us, Durga is like the daughter of the family,” says Anasuya Biswas, a member of the family.

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