Kobir lorai in the thakur dalan, jewellery from Germany and France, elaborate rituals and quaint traditions passed down generations - Durga Puja in the bonedi families of Calcutta has always been an integral part of the city's lore and identity.
Over the years, financial, legal and manpower constraints have compelled the families to trim down the pomp and show. But the old-world charm of these century-old pujas still holds forth amid the glitz and glamour of the modern-day thematic spectacle.
Eighteen lucky winners of Tanishq Sanatani Puja Parikrama, presented by Tanishq Sanatani in association with Ananadabazar Patrika, visited five bonedi bari pujas on Sashthi with their family members, beginning with the Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar ( baro bari) in Barisha, on the southern fringe of the city.
The team went around the Durga Mandir and also the Sabarna Sangrahashala (museum), a treasure trove of rare coins, stamps and artefacts.
Devarshi Roy Choudhury, family member and spokesperson of Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad, attended to the guests and answered their queries with patience. "We try our best to keep the rich legacy alive. Ours was the first family to have worshipped Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh along with Ma Durga. The rest, as they say, is history," he said.
Mother-daughter duo Manjusree Roy and Sakhi Roy were thrilled to be a part of the tour. "There is so much that we still do not know about the city and its heritage. This is a wonderful experience," said Manjusree, a resident of Kasba.
Chandana Debnath, 62, was happy that she had ignored her health problems to join in. "It is just a question of one day. I did not want to miss the opportunity," she said.
Next on the itinerary was Narasinha Chandra Daw Bari in Jorasanko. Here, the excited group witnessed the goddess being decked up in vintage jewellery.
Right next door is the Shibkrishna Daw Bari. Legend has it that Gokul Chandra Daw adopted Shibkrishna Daw in 1840 and celebrated the occasion with a Durga Puja. Here, too, the idol had gold jewellery all over her. "Our ancestors imported jewellery from Germany and France for the occasion. Times have changed and budgets have come down, but we still adorn Durga with the traditional jewellery that have been handed down to us through generations," said Ashim Chandra Daw, a septuagenarian member.
Sovabazar Rajbari (boro torof), with its white pillars at the entrance and the ekchala idol, caught the fancy of the visitors. Here, the devi's vahaan (carrier) resembles a horse. Rituals have remained the same but festivities have changed, explained Tapas Bose, a member of the family. "We no longer hold kobir lorai or theatre shows like in the late 18th and 19th centuries. However, the family still gathers in the thakur dalan during Durga Puja. These are small things that keep us going."
For Parvinder Kaur, a gynaecologist, it all looked a little larger than life. "I am familiar with the glitzy community pujas of the city. The warmth and the old-world charm of these traditional pujas are a big relief from the cacophony all around," she said.
The last stop was Chorbagan Sil Bari, where the idol has a sword in one of her hands instead of the kharga. "The men in the family prepare the idol decor months in advance. The young ones, too, take part in the preparations," said Biman Bihari Sil, trustee board member.
Bratati Halder, a student of electrical engineering from Behala, couldn't stop gushing about her Sashthi sojourn. "I can't wait to upload pictures from the tour on Facebook and make my friends jealous," she said.
The tour ended with a quintessential Bengali lunch with actress Ushasie Chakraborty. A brief adda over luchi, pulao and kosha mangsho was followed by selfie sessions, where Ushasie happily obliged her fans. "It was fun sharing my pandal-hopping experiences with the people here. Some of them even appreciated my work and promised to watch Byomkesh Bakshi, where I play Satyabati, after the pujas," she said.