The mansion of the Das family of Belkulai village, located in Panchla Tehsil of Howrah district, is not only massive, but also very aesthetically pleasing. The arched windows, the elegant pillars and the long corridors with a large courtyard and a thakur dalan with five arches adorned by stylised columns impress visitors on first sight. The place looks like straight out of a Tarun Majumdar film set. Parts of the popular serial, Debi Choudhurani, was also filmed at this house.
The 'thakur dalan' has five arches adorned with stylised columnsAmitabha Gupta
Belkulai does not have any other Durga Puja being celebrated in any such traditional house — making it the de facto puja of the whole village. With residents of the village participating in it just like family members, it has become a wholesome carnival for the community.
Family member Sourav Das said that their Durga Puja is performed as per Vaishnava rituals. Thus, no animal, or even fruit and vegetables, are sacrificed during the Puja. Instead, a gota mass kalai (a type of pulses with its skin on) is symbolically ‘sacrificed’ after keeping it inside an earthen pot. Many pulses have so much protein that they are considered equal to animal protein.
Sourav also divulged a lot of other information about their Durga Puja. The family deities are Narayan (made of shalagram shila) and Biswershar Shiv. They are still worshipped daily outside the house in two separate temples. Previously, as Vaishnavites, the family would only celebrate festivals associated with Krishna — like Dol Utsav and Janmastami.
The entire village participates in the pujaAmitabha Gupta
Durga Puja began at this palatial house in 1934 after (Ashalata, grand daughter-in-law of) Kadambini Devi, a senior lady of the house, had a dream about the goddess. On Kadambini’s wish, her two sons, Chandra Kumar and Adhar Chandra, started Durga Puja on the thakur dalan of the house. Though the Durga idol here stands in the Mahishashurmardini posture, the expression of the idol is calm and serene. Unlike most other traditional households, Asur is painted brown and not green.
Although earlier, bodhon used to take place on Mahalaya, now it takes place on Sashthi under a Bel tree near the house inside a covered enclosure earlier made of Hogla leaves. There is a cemented altar around the tree, which was built in 1943 in memory of Adhar Chandra. During bodhon, the family deity Narayan is also brought to this enclosure.
With residents of the village participating in the ceremonies just like family members, it has become the de facto puja of Belkulai villageAmitabha Gupta
In the thakur dalan, a silver container filled with paddy grains, smeared with vermillion on the top and wrapped in a silk cloth is decked up as a symbol of Dhanyalakshmi (an avatar of Goddess Lakshmi). The symbolic Dhanyalakshmi is then placed beside the Durga idol in the thakur dalan. After this ritual, the Narayan Shalagram Shila is carried by the priest accompanied by seven married women to the thakur dalan. The group then circle the Durga idol seven times before placing the family deity besides Dhanyalakshmi.
On Saptami, rituals involve bathing the Navapatrika in the nearby pond, followed by another bathing ceremony in the courtyard in front of the thakur dalan with water from 108 waterbodies. During Puja, bhog offered to the Goddess includes luchi, various sweets and fruits. Among the sweets, the narkol naru is made in-house.
Women participate in Sandhi Puja, where 108 brass lamps are lit on banana leavesAmitabha Gupta
Sandhi Puja involves lighting 108 brass lamps. Many women from the village take part in the lighting ceremony. On Dashami, the Durga idol is immersed in a waterbody near the mansion.
Amitabha Gupta is a travel writer and a photographer who specializes in heritage and history of West Bengal. His work has been featured in many magazines and newspapers — both online and offline. He also conducts heritage walks and tours in and around Kolkata.