A bit of Ben­gal in the Cap­i­tal

For the Ben­gali com­mu­nity in Delhi, Durga Puja is not just the most aus­pi­cious time of the year, it is also a great ex­cuse to meet old friends

HT Estates - - FRONT PAGE - Harini Sri­ram

Barun Mukher­jee has not missed a sin­gle Durga Puja in Delhi, ex­cept for the one in the year 1987. “Un­for­tu­nately, I was in Bharatpur then and couldn’t make it for the Puja here,” he says. Mukher­jee is one of the many Ben­galis whose fam­i­lies moved to Delhi from West Ben­gal in the early 1900s. A res­i­dent of Chandni Chowk, he sub­se­quently moved to Karol Bagh and then Noida (where a 2 BHK can set you back by ₹ 40 lakh, de­pend­ing on the sec­tor) be­fore set­tling down in his own apart­ment in Ro­hini (where a 900 sq ft apart­ment near a Metro sta­tion can cost you up­wards of ₹ 1 crore).

Mukher­jee has been as­so­ci­ated with the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti (also known as the Kash­mere Gate Durga Puja) for the last 50 years or so. Widely re­garded as the old­est Puja in Delhi, this pan­dal was started in Chandni Chowk in about 1910.

The Par­ti­tion of 1947 brought in streams of refugees to old Delhi and the or­gan­is­ers of the Puja de­cided to shift the venue to the erst­while Delhi Col­lege of En­gi­neer­ing (DCE) in 1948. “The refugees needed the place more than we did; so set­tling them was a pri­or­ity then. Which is why we shifted the venue to DCE and moved to our cur­rent venue at the Ben­gali Boys Se­nior Sec­ondary School, Civil Lines in 1967,” says Mukher­jee, who, in­ci­den­tally, stud­ied there. Things def­i­nitely have changed. Ear­lier, the prac­tice was to use an earthen pot as a sym­bol of Durga dur­ing the Puja.It was Par­mananda Biswas, a Ben­gali Christian, who is be­lieved to have helped pro­cure an idol from Varanasi and is cred­ited with set­ting up the Puja as Ben­galis in Delhi know it to­day.

A n u r a d h a M u k h e r j e e, Barun’s daugh­ter, ush­ers in guests like a gra­cious host­ess en­sur­ing that ev­ery­one has had the au­then­tic bhog khichuri (rice and lentils) be­ing served at the pan­dal. She says, “This is a spe­cial Puja and we keep tra­di­tional prac­tices alive. For in­stance, on the last day, after the Sandhi Puja, we take the idol to the Ya­muna river in a bul­lock cart. More than 1,000 peo­ple come here ev­ery day from all parts of Delhi.”

There is noth­ing that brings greater joy to the Ben­gali com­mu­nity than the Durga Puja. It’s the su­per­glue that binds the com­mu­nity to­gether and you can see the ca­ma­raderie at the pan­dal – it’s almost like a wed­ding in their fam­ily. As one of the vis­i­tors from Kolkata, points out, “We take care of the god­dess and the guests just like our moth­ers would take care of us when we go home.” Shaibal Mukher­jee, who is vis­it­ing the Puja from Sahid­abad, says, “Most of us hap­pen to be old stu­dents of the Ben­gali School here, and we were all neigh­bours at some point. So this is also a great way to re-con­nect with our past, cel­e­brate our tra­di­tion to­gether and meet old friends and fam­ily.” (Sahid­abad, an in­dus­trial area near Ghazi­abad, has 2 BHK apart­ments in the range of ₹ 30 lakh or more.)

It’s not just the older gen­er­a­tion that is in­volved in or­gan­is­ing the Puja. The younger gen­er­a­tion is just as en­thu­si­as­tic. Sush­mit Mazum­dar, a young­ster, is busy scur­ry­ing around the pan­dal and run­ning er­rands. Clad in a tra­di­tional dhoti and kurta, he has grown up see­ing his fam­ily per­form the Durga Puja. “I have also been in­volved in or­gan­is­ing the fes­ti­val ever since I was a kid. Ini­tially, you start out with gath­er­ing flow­ers for the Puja -

Sush­mit Mazum­dar (L) and Barun Mukher­jee at the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti, Civil Lines

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