Evolution of Durga Puja
History and Origin of Durga Puja
Durga Puja – the worship of Adishakti or the supreme force of the Universe – is one of the most important festivals of India. This festival is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm all around the world. For the Bengalis, Durga Puja is a much-awaited event in the year. This is quite evident when the Goddess is taken for the immersion on the last day where the chant in everyone’s mouth echoes as, “Asche bochor abar hobe” (Until next year).
Durga Puja is also celebrated with much grandeur and artistry. Durga Puja in Kolkata can capture your imagination – be it vast expansive pandals to an Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal or a Tibetan Monastery to even spotting a walking robot on the streets! So, let’s flip through the pages of history to find out where it all started and how it gained so much popularity over the years.
The earliest mention of Durga Puja can be found in Durgabhaktitarangini by the Maithili poet Vidyapati in the 14th century. Durga Puja in the mediaeval times was mostly a private affair. It used to be celebrated in the house of the zamindars (landlords). Grand arrangements were made for music, dance and lavish feasts in the house. Gradually, from being a grand celebration reserved for a privileged few, Durga Puja went outside the doors of the zamindars. Baro-Yaari and Sarbojanin pujas became frequent and involved the participation of all in the community.
Baro-Yaari Puja and Beginning of Mass Celebration
The origin of the community puja can be credited to the twelve friends of Guptipara in Hooghly, West Bengal, who collaborated and collected contributions from residents to conduct the first community puja called the baro-yaari puja or the twelve-pal puja in 1790. In an article for the Statesman in 1991, Somendra Chandra Nandy writes that the baro-yaari puja was brought to Kolkata in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar, who performed the Durga Puja at his ancestral home in Murshidabad from 1824 to 1831.
Origin of Sarbojanin Puja or Community Celebration
The baro-yaari puja gave way to the sarbojanin or community puja in 1910, when the Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha organised the first community puja in Baghbazar in Kolkata with public contribution, support, control and participation. The institution of the community Durga Puja in 18th and 19th century Bengal contributed vigorously to the development of the Hindu Bengali culture.
Durga Puja Comes to Delhi
In 1911, with the shifting of the capital of British India to Delhi, many Bengalis migrated to the city to work in government offices. The first Durga Puja in Delhi was held in about 1910, when it was performed by ritually consecrating the mangal kailash, symbolising the deity. This Durga Puja, which celebrated its centennial in 2009, is also known as the Kashmere Gate Durga Puja and is currently organised by the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti on the lawns of Bengali Senior Secondary School, Alipur Road, Delhi.
Evolution of Pratima and Pandal
Returning to the spotting of an Eiffel tower or a walking robot on the streets of Kolkata, Durga Puja has evolved over the ages keeping in pace with technology and rapid consumerism. The traditional clay image of Durga (pratima) takes the centre stage along with her four children – Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The pratima is embellished with the white sholar saaj and even gold and silver jewellery in some pujas.
Modern pandals are innovative, artistic as well as decorative, offering a visual spectacle for the numerous visitors who go pandal-hopping during the four days of Durga Puja. Theme Pujas are quite common. Artists work for months to give the audience a unique experience from making a spaceship to the Indus Valley Civilisation to a Tibetan Monastery to even replicating the Wonders of the World.