Tracing the chronology of the ‘Maha’ festival- the Durga Puja
Durga Puja is the greatest festival of the Bengalis. Millions congregate each year to celebrate this carnival of togetherness, this triumph of good over evil. Yet, historical texts are hard to come by as only a few written sources of information exist today. From these records, many of which are in the form of poems or paeans, we can trace the chronology of the Bengali form of Durga Puja dating back to the 16th century AD.
Bengal-16th Century A.D.
The later part of the 16th century AD and the early part of the 1600s was a tumultuous period in the history of Bengal. It is said that it was in this era that the first Durga Puja was performed in Bengal by the zamindars of Malda and Dinajpur.
According to various sources, the first recorded Durga Puja in Bengal was organized by Bhabananda, an ancestor of Maharaja Krishnachandra of Nadia.
The Roy Chaudhuri family of Barisha organized their first Durga Puja in 1610. It is considered to be the first Puja in Kalikata, even before the British settlements.
1757 -First Durga Puja in British ‘Calcutta’
The first ever Durga Puja in Calcutta (after the three settlements were bought by Job Charnock) was celebrated by Maharaja Naba Krishna De at the SovaBazar Rajbari in 1757. It is said that Colonel Robert Clive, fresh from his victory at the Battle of Plassey, attended this Puja and prayed before the Goddess.
Durga Puja in those days was primarily celebrated by the zamindars or the landlords where the common people attended in numbers. In the late 1700s, twelve friends from Guptipara in Hoogly decided to break this tradition and performed the first of its kind Durga Puja organized by the common folk. Thus the term ‘Barowari Puja’ or the ‘Puja of twelve friends’ came into being.
As the years rolled on, the ‘Barowari’ form of the Puja slowly gained in popularity. Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar was a patron of this form of Puja and it is said that he helped introduce ‘Barowari Puja’ in Calcutta in 1832.
With the British Government transferring the capital of India to Delhi from Calcutta, a large number of Bengalis migrated to the new capital city. In 1910, the first Durga Puja was celebrated in Delhi.
From “Barowari” to “Sarbojanin”- With nationalist ideas reaching its peak in the 1920-30s, DurgaPuja became an expression of freedom and the term “Barowari” was replaced with the more social “Sarbojanin”. The revolutionary Atindra Nath Bosu, the founder of the Simla Byayam Samity introduced the first “Sarbojanin Durgotsav” at the Samity compound in 1926. At about the same time, in 1930, Durgacharan Bandyopadhyay renamed Nebubagan/Baghbazar Barowari Durga Puja to Baaghbazar Sarbojanin. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose served as its president between 1938 and 1939.
Late 1960s till date
In the late 1960s, Durga Puja transcended boundaries as Durga images were flown overseas for the first time.
From its humble beginnings in Bengal, Durga Puja today has transcended all boundaries to truly become a global event involving millions of people worldwide. It is now an unique event where tradition and contemporary themes are infused into one.