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Chittaranjan Das to Subhash Bose – illustrious Presidents of Baghbazar Sarbajanin

6 October, 2021 15:38:44
Chittaranjan Das to Subhash Bose – illustrious Presidents of Baghbazar Sarbajanin

Kolkata is gradually getting into the festive mood and people are agog with excitement to participate in the annual Durga Puja. One of the oldest traditional pandals in Kolkata, Baghbazar Sarbojanin Durgotsav is an inseparable part of history and progress of Bengali culture for over a century (Baghbazar Sarbojanin celebrated 100 years in 2018). The puja has been a silent witness to the changing times. Baghbazar Sarbojanin was the first Puja of Kolkata organised by people communally and not inside a Zamindar home.

After the Battle of Plassey, the next 150 years from1757 was a dream run for ‘loyal’ Bengali babus and Durga became their icon. Families rose and fell, but the institution of zamindari was at its peak and their pomp and splendour reflected through ostentatious Durga Puja celebrations. ‘Nautch girls’ from Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Kawnpore were brought in to entertain their British guests who graced the palaces of the fawning, nouveau riche babus, where wines flowed freely and mountains of food were heaped on the tables. Commoners gaped in sheer awe at all the splendour.

From the 1830s, contemporary newspapers like ‘Samachar Darpan’ and the ‘Calcutta Courier’ published news of several trader associations and groups of commoners had also started organising their own brand of Durga Pujas, through public collections. Here, piety mattered more than pomp. When the Congress session was held in Kolkata in 1910, a full-fledged public celebration of Durga Puja was organized. The new middle-class built its own model and never looked back – as soon community worship and feasts brought in more solidarity among them.

In 1918, the inhabitants of Baghbazar decided to organize Durga Puja for all -- where anyone and everyone could participate. Accordingly, Baghbazar Sarbajonin Puja was celebrated at the residence of the Sarkars on Baghbazar Street, at the junction of Nebubagan Lane and Baghbazar Street. The Sarkars had been celebrating Durga Puja privately at the site for years but due to paucity of funds, they couldn’t afford to organise it anymore. Residents of the locality contributed money and continued the Puja and it was named as ‘Lebubagan Baroyari Durga Puja.’ It was held on the plot for the next five years and then in 1924, the venue was changed to the intersection of Baghbazar Street and Pashupati Bose Lane. After a couple of years, in 1926, the puja was officially christened Baghbazar Sarbajonin Durgotsav.


At that time, space crunch was a major impediment for organizers of Baghbazar Sarbajonin Durgotsav. So, they approached ‘Desh-Bandhu’ Chittaranjan Das, who was the Mayor of Calcutta then, and sought his help. There was a sizeable plot in Baghbazar, named ‘Metal Yard’ that remained vacant most of the time. The land was Calcutta Corporation’s property and it was used as storage place for metal scraps of the road-repair department. Das approved their request to use the plot during the Pujas. This gave the organizers access to the land for more than a month during the Pujas. Gradually, Metal Yard became the permanent fixture for holding Durga Puja and the tradition continues to this day. Many eminent citizens have patronized this puja and many prominent personalities have been associated with this celebrated Puja. A glance at the list of distinguished personalities who officiated as President of the Durgotsav Committee over the years is very impressive indeed. Between 1930 and 1933, Durgacharan Bandopadhyay officiated as the President of the Puja Committee. Butto Kristo Paul’s son, Sir Harishankar Paul was the President of the committee twice. Sir Harishankar was a brilliant student who went to Europe after completion of his studies from Presidency College. He was elected Councilor of Calcutta Corporation and remained in that post for 24 years at a stretch. 

Distinguished nationalist, journalist/ editor and benefactor who encouraged education and sports, Kumar Biswanath Roy had also officiated as President of the Baghbazar Sarbajonin Durgotsav Committee. Saradacharan Dash, successor from the illustrious house of Nabinchandra and Krishnachandra, creators of the iconic confectionary, ‘Rasogolla’ were also involved with this puja and worked as President of the committee. But the most prominent President associated with this puja was none other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1938-39, Bose was at the helm of affairs as President of the Puja committee. In the exhibition held on the adjoining ground that year, Calcutta Collapsible Gate Company Limited was awarded a ‘Certificate of Merit.’ The certificate, signed by Bose, is carefully preserved to this day by the puja authorities.

From 1930 onwards, the inaugural ceremony of the five-day festival at Baghbazar Sarbajonin Durgotsav has always been a star-studded affair, a melting pot of dignitaries from all walks of life including, authors like Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi, Achintya Kumar Sengupta, educator Dr Triguna Sen, entrepreneur Prafulla Chandra Roy, Shyamaprasad Mukhopadhyay, cine star Bikash Roy et al have graced the occasion. 

Another integral part of this Puja is the ‘Birashtami Utsav’ held on the morning of Maha-Ashtami Puja. Before Independence, Durga Puja was used as a platform to carry out anti-British protests. The festival was the perfect backdrop to promote anti-British opinions and stoke the fire of Swadeshi among visitors. Participants were encouraged to display their proficiency in indigenous sports like body building, ‘lathi khela’ (game of sticks), wrestling, duel with swords and knives etc. These sport events motivated youths to participate in physical activities and increase stamina. It is believed that members of the underground Anushilan Samity often mingled with the crowd during Birashtami performance to sow the seeds of nationalism in the minds of impressionable youths. 

Since ancient times, Goddess Durga has been symbolic of the Divine forces (positive energy) that is used against the negative forces of evil and wickedness. She represents pure energy (positive), known as divine light or jyoti that is the embodiment of feminine and creative energy and the organizers of Baghbazar Sarbajonin Durgotsav Committee have been spreading this message since the inception of the puja. This is what sets this puja apart from other baroyari pujas.

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