100 and still going strong - Senbari Puja melds Assamese and Bengali traditions

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By MAITREYEE BORUAH in Guwahati
  • Published 28.09.06
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Guwahati, Sept. 28: It’s the oldest family Puja in town, a 100-year-old tradition that may not have the glitz of large community celebrations but is loaded with an old-world charm that continues to pull in the crowds.

The Senbari Puja, held at Danish Road by the Senguptas of Panbazar since 1907, is truly unlike any other Durga Puja celebration — it’s a marriage of Assamese culture with Bengali traditions with local Kamrupiya drummers replacing the traditional dhakis and Assamese bhaonas being staged alongside jatras from Bengal.

Although the celebrations in the last two years were decidedly low-key, the Sengupta family intends to make the centenary edition a grand affair.

Septuagenarian Amol Mukherjee, who spent his childhood at Panbazar, has come to the city all the way from Calcutta to attend the centenary event.

Excited about being part of the celebrations again, Mukherjee vividly recalled the days when people would gather in front of the Senbari gates to soak in the ambience. “I clearly remember how the Senbari Puja used to be celebrated. It was grand in all respects — from the idol of the goddess to the food served to visitors, everything had a touch of royalty,” he reminisced. Started by Srimanta Sengupta, the Senbari Puja got the royal touch after the patriarch’s son, Rai Bahadur Kalicharan, inherited the legacy.

It was Kalicharan who made the annual celebration a colourful event.

The Senguptas, whose roots are at Faridpur in Bangladesh, have since added several elements of indigenous Assamese culture to the celebration. The food served during community feasts — the menu includes ilish curry and kheer (pudding) — is prepared by Kamrupiya cooks. The rituals are performed by the family purohit (priest) from Kamakhya.

For the entire locality, the centenary celebration will be about reviving old memories. “The Senbari Puja was once the talk of the entire town. People used to queue up to have a glimpse of the idol and offer prayers,” Dipankar Banerjee, a neighbour of the Senguptas, said.

This year, Srimanta Sengupta’s great grandson Debjyoti is organising the Puja. “Our Puja is not just a religious ceremony but a means of social bonding, the coming together of people of different communities. That is why we thought of reviving the grandeur of our family Puja,” he said.

Debjyoti’s uncle Ashis echoed him. “The celebration of Durga Puja is not just a religious obligation for us. It is the time when the entire family, neighbours and friends come together to bask in the joy of celebration.”

The centenary of the Senbari Puja indeed promises to be more than a historical milestone.