After my blog post “Durga Puja of “Bonedi Families” at Kolkata”became immensely popular among viewers, many have asked me to start writing blog posts on such bonedi families of West Bengal outside Kolkata. Members of many such families have also e-mailed me their details and asked me to visit their places.
Since no one is sponsoring my travel for writing such blog posts, I decided to start with Howrah. Howrah is nearer to Kolkata than many other districts. At Howrah, many age-old DurgaPuja gets celebrated in the residence of many bonedi families. In this blog-post, I will start with describing Pujas of few such families residing at Shibpur, Andul, Salkia and Panchla. This list will increase with the passing of time.
I was standing beside a waterbody with dense fog around. I could see several silhouettes of human being walking in front of me besides this shallow mass of water. I felt as if I was dead and standing in afterlife. The shadows seemed like spiritual aatmas (souls). The waterbody looked Vaitarani River which lies between Earth and Hell as mentioned in many Hindu religious texts. It is also said that all sinful souls are to cross this river after death to purify them.
Among the many folk festivals of Bengal, Gajan festival, Charak Puja and Neel Puja has a special place even in today’s modern age. Although it is celebrated predominantly in rural Bengal, the festival is till celebrated in some pockets of the Metro city of Kolkata.
Hindus celebrate the festival mainly on the last two days of the month of Chaitra.This period is known as Chaitra Sankranti when Sun will enter Pisces sign. Chaitra Sankranti begins on 14th March of every year. People observe fast during this period devoting themselves to their God.
Discussing in details about this festival can take a long space, so I will try to be compact and brief as possible.
Over the last 10 years or so , a small village in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal comprising of Bengali artisans named Potuas alias Chitrakars (picture makers) specializing in creation of painted narrative scrolls (pot) is getting famous. The Potuas paint tales from Mangalkavyas (narratives of Hindu Bengali religious Text), Hindu Epic Ramayana and Mahabharata, even incidents like 9/11 attack, and social messages on long canvas fixed on scrolls of cloth and sing them as they unfold the scrolls. The Potuas have their own songs written by them. These songs are known as Poter Gaan.
This is the village of Naya in the Pingla block of West Midnapore district. With the support of NGO banglanatak dot com and the European Union, the narrative scrolls have found new markets and new audiences. Since 2004, banglanatak dot com is working with the Patuas to bring life to this dying art form. Since 2010, a three day festival at the end of November named Pot Maya is being held at Naya, where the artworks are being displayed. Usually it takes place during end of November.
During Durga Puja festival at Bengal the star attraction are the different Barowari Pujas conducted by several clubs and associations. The themes of Pandal and idols of these pujas change every year. Latest themes of Pandals and idol are the talk of the town.
Generally overlooked by the Pandal hoppers are the Durga Pujas held privately in several families some of whom were affluent and stalwarts in yesteryear, specially during the Colonial Regime. Although the financial condition is not affluent as it was in earlier days (mainly because the Zamindari system was abolished post independence), yet these families till date perform Durga Puja with dedication maintaining all the rituals. The Pujas are all of 100+ years, some even 200+ and 300+ years old. Everyone of the families gather to celebrate Durga Puja with pomp and show as an annual get-together.
It is still being mentioned by the old timers that Goddess Durga adorned herself with jeweleries at Jorasanko’s Shib Krishna Dawn’s house, had lunch at Abhay Charan Mitra’s house at Kumartuli and enjoyed music and dance at the Shovabazar Rajbari.
The Puja of Abhay Charan Mitra’s house who served gigantic sized sweets has stopped since long. But the other two houses of Shib Krishna Dawn and Shovabazar Rajbari still celebrate Durga Puja with great pomp and show.