Durga Puja – Bonedi Baris of Kolkata


I have many qualities. But patience ain’t one of them. I believe I have an attention span of that of a kid. With me pondering on this thought for the past two hours, I heard the pilot announce, “We have landed in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport and wish you all a very Happy Durga Puja!”.

Finally after five long years, I made it to Kolkata during Durga Puja. Homecoming is always special. It becomes more special during Durga Puja in this part of the world.

Durga Puja is a ten day festival which starts from Mahalaya and continues till Dashami. It is considered to be one of the biggest festivals in the world.

As the festivities started, we planned to visit the bonedi baris of Kolkata. The term ‘bonedi‘ comes from the Urdu word ‘buniyaadi‘ which in turn comes from ‘buniyaad‘ meaning foundation. Bonedi baris are ancestral houses of Bengali babus, dating back to the 18th century.

We started our bonedi bari puja hopping from Shobabazar. Shobabazar has two rajbaris, one is known as the Shobabajar Rajbari and the other is known as Maharaja Naba Kissen Thakurbari. Maharaja Naba Kissen was the Dewan of Lord Clive and was considered to be ‘Calcutta’s premier zamindar’ during his time and his palace in Shobabazar was thought of as the foremost in the list of North Calcutta’s great houses. Originally, built by Sobharam Ghosh in the early 18th century, Naba Kissen came to own the property in 1757. After acquiring the palace, he began a series of alterations and renovations.

The Thakur Dalan was completed in just three months, in time for a lavish Durga Puja Festival. Such was the prominence of Naba Kissen in the North Calcutta Society that other durga puja ceremonies could only begin after the firing of Naba Kissen’s palace canon. The original palace building features Mughal and medieval Bengal temple-style architecture. However, some areas that are partially restored show European influence. The durga puja at Shobabajar Rajbari is still celebrated with ample grandeur.

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Shobabazar Rajbari

After this we moved on to Khelat Ghosh Rajbari in Pathuriaghata. Pathuriaghata was once the home of Bengali babus, now mostly dominated by the Marwaris. The Tagores were one of the oldest residents of this neighborhood. Babu Khelat Chandra Ghosh was the grandson of Warren Hasting’s clerk Ramlochan Ghosh. His mansion is filled with marble sculptures, paintings, crystal chandeliers and other art objects. All Bengal Music Conference is held here and is patronized by the Ghosh family. All Bengal Music Conference was founded in 1937 in the halls of this house. Indian classical music was still in a nascent stage then.

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47 Pathuriaghata Street

Then we moved on to the durga puja of the Daws of Jorasanko. Late Shri Nrisingha Prasad Daw, after shifting the family business from spices to gun powder and as the business expanded, the business and family shifted here in Kolkata. Late Shri Narasingha Chandra Daw, known to the British as Nursing Chunder Daw, laid the first stones for the gun business that the family boasts of today. He handed over the family business and tradition over to his sons who took it further ahead.

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The Daws of Jorasanko

Moving on from the northern part of the city, we went to Esplanade. Janbazar near Esplanade used to be known for the Rani Rashmoni Family. Rani Rashmoni was the founder of the famous Dakshineshwar Temple, who also remained closely associated with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. She is the one who appointed Sri Ramakrishna as the priest for the Dakshineshwar Temple. Apart from this, she had contributed in other constructions like the road from Subarnarekha river to Puri for the pilgrims, Babu Ghat, Ahiritola Ghat, Nimtala Ghat, Imperial Library (now known as the National Library of India), Hindu College (now known as the Presidency University) and many more.

There are three durga pujas here. One at Rani Rashmoni’s ancestral house and others at her two daughters’ houses.

Rani Rashmoni's Ancestral House
Rani Rashmoni’s Ancestral House

The bonedi baris are a big proof of Bengal’s glorious past. They still stand strong holding the cultural and historical significance of the place. Sadly, Bengal, once a business center, is now struggling to keep their sons and daughters in Bengal as most of them end up leaving the state for better opportunities.

Bengalis have failed greatly to do justice to the pre-independence slogan, “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”.

But come what may, most of us find out a way to return home every year during Durga Puja.

Akash Chaudhuri
Email Id: akashchaudhuri93@gmail.com
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