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Century beckons baroari bastion

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By SUDESHNA BANERJEE
  • Published 10.09.08
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When every puja in town is busy drumming up publicity, one puja is silently approaching a historic milestone.

Calcutta’s first community puja, organised by Bhowanipur Sanatan Dharmatsahini Sabha, is set to hold its pre-centenary edition in an alley that has been its address since 1910, when Durga puja was the preserve of the babus.

Balaram Bose Ghat Road in Bhowanipore is where it had all begun. “The puja may have receded from the spotlight but it never stopped, not even during the famine of 1943,” says Anil Mukherjee, the 83-year-old puja committee president whose grandfather Khagendranath Sashtri, a Gita scholar, was one of the founders.

The area was home to author Premendra Mitra, mathematics teacher Keshab Chandra Nag and Justice Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who were all involved with the puja. The souvenirs still carry a list of the office-bearers since 1910.

The idol is now made on the thakurdalan facing the twin Shiva temples that date back to the time Balaram Bose constructed the ghat. “The place used to be a crematorium with even a satidaha taking place there in 1829,” says Jyoti Chatterjee, a resident.

The city’s first baroari puja had its share of entertainment, too. “We have seen jatra, Kali kirtan and Chandigaan. Shehnai masters have performed here,” recalls Mukherjee.

While the theatrical performances have ceased, shehnai recitals continue. Also thriving is the tradition of giving clothes to the poor.

Local youth traditionally participate in the rituals. Mukherjee remembers that Sheetal Mukherjee, filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s father, would do the Chandipaath. “My father conducted the Sandhi puja anjali for 40 years. I, too, did duty for 15 years,” says Shivaranjan Banerjee, another resident.

The puja that started in the backdrop of the anti-Partition agitation is a survivor. In the 70s, the Basus, who own the ghat, had wanted to raze the structure. That attempt was stalled, but the shadow of realty looms again. “The building where we prepare the bhog will soon be gone. Where will we store puja utensils or cook next year?” wonders Chatterjee.

Such worries have not diminished the thrill of the centenary countdown, though. The budget has increased by 40 per cent. The secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan, Swami Sarbalokananda, and singer Dwijen Mukherjee will attend the inauguration on October 4. The puja that does not compete for any award will then be gearing up for a greater glory— a century of existence.