At many of Kolkata’s ‘bonedi baris', as the old aristocratic family homes are known as, you will find Durga Puja is being held for centuries, anything between 150 and 400 years. Most of these homes belonged to wealthy merchants and some were known for their ostentatious celebrations. Even though the celebrations have been toned down many notches, the city’s 200 odd ‘bonedi bari’ still manage to take you down memory lane, offering a glimpse into splendour of the bygone days. In most places, Goddess Durga is worshipped in the ‘thakur dalan’, a public courtyard attached to the homes.
Sabarna Roy Choudhury, Barisha
Head to the Atchala Durga Puja belonging to the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. This was the family from whom the English East India Company leased the three villages of Gobindopur, Sutanuti and Kalikata in 1698, which later became Calcutta (now Kolkata). Located in Barisha, a south Kolkata neighbourhood, the Puja is held in a specially designated area marked by pillars. Except for discontinuing the ritual of animal sacrifice, the family has not tampered with the old rituals.
Mallick Bari, Bhowanipore
Located in the old neighbourhood of Bhowanipore, in the heart of south Kolkat lies the Mallick Bari. Although the Mallick Bari pujo in Kolkata began way back in 1925, its popularity escalated when people realised that this was the home of Bengali cinema’s leading actor Ranjit Mallick. The veteran film star’s daughter Koel is now one of the leading ladies of Tollywood and hence this has now virtually become Kolkata’s answer to Mumbai’s Durga puja by Bengali cine stars. The Vaishnav way of worship is followed here. There is no animal sacrifice, and no offering of any rice items to the goddess.
Bhukailash Rajbari, Khidderpore
It was Maharaja Joy Narayan Ghosal who began the Durga Puja about 300 years ago at the Bhukailash Rajbari located in Khidderpore in the western neighbourhood of Kolkata. However, instead of the clay idol, they worship an ‘asta-dhatu’ (eight metals) idol, who is referred to as Patitopabani Ma.
Rani Rashmoni Bari, Janbazar
Located in Janbazar in central Kolkata is the home of Rani Rashmoni, the founder of the 19th century Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Now the Durga Puja, started by Rani Rashmoni herself, is held in the part of the house whose entry lies through Free School Street, not far from the Esplanade Metro Station.
Purna Chandra Dhar Bari, Colootola
The homestead of Purna Chandra Dhar in central Kolkata has seen everything from glamour to riots, says the present generation of the household. Although the Durga Puja was started over 150 years ago, it could not be held during the time the family had to flee under attack during the 1946 riots. However, the puja was resumed once the family returned. Here too, guided by the Vaishnav faith, they worship the goddess not in her demon slaying pose but as a benefactor, ‘Abhaya Ma’. The seated idol of Durga has two hands instead of ten. At her feet are two seated lions. She is surrounded by her children and her hand maidens.
Badan Chandra Roy Bari, Colootola
The homestead of Badan Chandra Roy family in Colootola, central Kolkata, is one of the best-kept traditional residences of old Kolkata. It is they who donated the land for the construction of the sprawling Eye Department of the state run Medical College. The arched ‘thakur dalan’, where the 160 old puja is held, is fronted by a beautiful quadrangle marked by pillars topped by decorative lamps. The family sacrifice fruits in place of animals.
Shibkrishna Dawn Bari, Jorasanko
Located in Jorasanko in north Kolkata, is the family home of Shib Krishna Dawn. The beautifully maintained house is a popular film shooting spot. The household Durga Puja was started by Shibkrishna Dawn’s father in 1840. But it was the son, a successful businessman, who added the glitz to the celebration. The thakur dalan sits pretty overlooking neat columns and overhanging balconies. The attire and the gold and silver ornaments of idols are still talked about.
Khelat Ghosh Bari, Pathuriaghata
Located in Pathuriaghata, north Kolkata, this homestead has probably the grandest ‘thakur dalan’ in Kolkata. The over 80-feet long marble corridor and the grand dancing hall (now Khelat Ghos Memorial Hall) are awe-inspiring.
Dutta Bari, Thanthania
This is one of the not-to-be-missed Durga Pujas of Kolkata which was started by Dwarakanth Dutta in 1807. Breaking away from the popular style, they worship an idol of Hara-Parvati, where the goddess sits on Shiva’s lap. Although some of the family rituals are not meant for outsiders, sometimes a nicely made request may yield results. One of the famous rituals include women placing clay plates containing burning coal on their heads and palms and offering prayers to the goddess for the welfare of the family.
Mitra Bari, Darjipara
The annual festival was started in 1807 by Radhakrishna Mitra after he succeeded in reinstating the family’s reputation as wealthy merchants. The Mitra family home located in north Kolkata’s Dorjipara has retained many of the old customs such as ‘ekchala’ (single backdrop for the idols) and the horse-faced lion (Goddess Durga’s mount).
Chhatubabu-Latubabu, Beadon Street
This Durga Puja was started in 1770 by Ramdulal Dey, whose rags to riches story is an episode worth telling. His sons, both wealthy merchants, introduced the pomp and pageantry. While the sons, Chhatubabu and Latubabu have passed away many years ago, the family puja is still famous by their names. Here you will find the goddess accompanied by her two companions Jaya and Bijoya.
Located in north Kolkata, this is the most famous Durga Puja in the city and tomes have been written about it, about how Nabakrishna Deb hosted Robert Clive at his home following the latter’s win in the Battle of Plassey. However, today people flock to see the unfolding of age-old rites and rituals during the five days of Durga Puja. In keeping with tradition, the Puja is held at the stylised ‘thakur dalan’.