The Pujo this season was special because yours truly went to Kolkata to experience the way Bengalis in West Bengal celebrate Durga Puja. I was charmed.
Words are not enough to describe the hue that envelopes the City of Joy during Durga Puja. It's a week-long carnival of devotion, creativity, culture and competition. Streets lined with lights lead into pandals built after a year of planning, designing, budgeting and haggling. Puja organising committees are in a race against time and each other as they rush to book the creative minds that put together these stellar pandal masterpieces year after year.
Tucked away in this glowing world are the Bonedi Bari Pujas. What is a Bonedi Bari? Pronounced bone-ae-di baa-ri, it is the term for homes of aristocrats and eminent families that were in existence before Calcutta was formed. In Bengali language, bari means home. With several members of these families having played crucial roles in the history of India and Calcutta, these palatial homes have become landmarks. Over the years, several of these homes have lost their sheen, their mammoth sizes making maintenance a challenge.
But come Durga Puja and a new life breathed in these structures. Families from around the world gather to welcome the goddess into their homes, follow the rituals as they welcome strangers to join festivities.
In most Bonedi Baris, puja is conducted in the courtyard where the idols are placed against the chalchitra (a decorated semi-circular background), flanked by European architecture inspired pillars that dot these grand courtyards. The puja (act of worship) is marked different by traditions specific to the families, adding to the grandeur of festivities.
The elder sister, a cousin brother and I decided to join a Bonedi Bari puja trip organised by a local company to satisfy our curiosity. I wish I could say the three of us had a good time with the tour company. But visits to the charming Baris and snippets of conversations with indulgent hosts salvaged what was a disappointing experience and made the trip a success.
I've already decided to spend part of the Durga Puja in Kolkata next year exploring some of the Bonedi Bari pujas that I missed. Hope this post gets you thinking about it too...