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We all know Durga Puja is one of the biggest festivals in Bengal and as well as in India. And not only in India but in all corners of the world. In long years the Puja has changed in many ways. But one thing remained unchanged. That is the pure bliss, the joy, the excitement that has never changed throughout the years. The style of Durga Puja in Calcutta during the British period was a little different. Even before the British rule, the Durga festival was celebrated in Calcutta even during the Muslim period. Earlier, Durga Puja was not so glamorous at that time, then Raja Krishnachandra of Nadia was the first to bring great splendor to this festival. And seeing his glorious Durga Puja festival, those who became rich during the time of the British government also started the same glorious worshiping of goddess Durga.

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Durga Puja Invitation

From the middle of the eighteenth century till the rule of the famous Act No. 10 of 1840, Durgoutsab was the best social festival in Calcutta irrespective of the class of the society. The joy of the natives in this festival is more than that of the company. From Esplanade to Enntali, from Latbahadur to normal clerk, no one could have dreamed of leaving Calcutta during Pujo. Most of the time they were almost ready to wait when Pujo’s invitations would come from different big houses.

Nemantanne ( Invitation) never made mistakes. During Durga Puja, Durga Puja tickets or invitation cards used to go to different houses. At that time generous advertisements were published for the common people on behalf of the big zamindars. Advertising was an invitation for everyone. Because Babura knew, even though the occasion was Durga, this festival was the festival of the company. In the beginning, just like the money given by the company, in the end, the only desire was to get the company’s favor.

Britishers Holiday During Durga Puja

In the late nineteenth century, British officers based in Calcutta started going out of Calcutta with their families during Durga Pujo. They went on vacations to various places in Shimla, Manali, Darjeeling. Following in the footsteps of the British, the Babu community in Calcutta at that time used to leave Calcutta. At that time, Durga Puja meant to them to travel outside Calcutta like the British. The Barwari Durga festival did not start in Calcutta at that time. Durga Puja used to perform only in the house of the big zamindar of Calcutta. Durga Puja was not performed in large numbers, as all the zamindars or big people in Calcutta used to travel outside Calcutta. At that time Pujo was not so glorious in Calcutta. But from that time onwards this touring tradition began. So far, the people of Kolkata have gone out of Kolkata for the Pujo holidays.

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Debt-Ridden Prisoners

Apart from various pleasures of dancing, singing, and drinking during the puja, the people of the Babu community in Kolkata used to free the prisoners who were in debt. In the old days, a class of prisoners could be released only if they repaid the loan. At that time some rich people used to repay their debts and release those prisoners. They used to release more English prisoners to please the British government. As a result, during the puja season or at the small causal court, a crowd of underage people would gather. They want to go to jail right now, before Pujo. Because there is the hope of liberation soon.

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50 Rupees Durga Puja

At that time British officials used to perform Durga Puja with their own money. One of the employees of the company used to do Durgotsab with his own money. He is John Chips, the famous manufacturer of Hunter’s Annals of Rural Bengal. The popular ‘Sree Chikbahadur’ of Birbhum. When Chips set foot in Calcutta as a writer for the company in 1782, he was only sixteen years old. Within a few years, it was heard that he had been appointed Auditor General of the company. In due course (1787) he was appointed the first commercial agent of the company in Birbhum. The company then traded in cotton, silk, lacquer, dyes, etc. Chips added to that, personal business. The company’s office was in Sonamukhi, and Chips’ home was in Surule, near Santiniketan. Shyamkishore, a descendant of Lord Singh of Raipur, was the dewan of chips.

He started Durga Puja in the words of his Dewan Shyamkishore to improve his business. Chips already knew about the company’s official mood about Durgotsab. He organized the Durgo festival of the people with pomp and circumstance. And he used to believe that this Durga Pujo was the reason why his business flourished and every year Chips continued to perform Durga Pujo in his place. Mr. Chips used to spend only fifty rupees a year on this. Pujo costs only seventeen rupees. With the rest of the money, the people of the village used to get new clothes, and a full feast on the day of Mahasthami.

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The Sonajhuri Haat:

I met little Goddess In Shantiniketan. I do believe in GOD. God for me is there as the air, sometimes breezy, sometimes still, sometimes stormy. God is like my heartbeat, which goes fast, faster, or the fastest like the graph of my emotions. Or like the tiny hand which suddenly holds my pinkie finger on a sunny day in Sonajhuri Haat, Shantiniketan on a random day of a winter morning. That sudden warm, unexpected touch make me see the Goddess Kali standing beside me. 

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The Goddess
The Goddess

My First Reaction

The goddess surprises me not only with her unexpected occurrence but also with her 4 feet height and a purple sweater underneath her gorgeous blue dress. Goddess look at my poker face also. For a moment, doubt overpowers me, how can I see a God, that too, so small, a childlike. After a few moments of doubt, something inside me slams me saying, I am killing a lifetime opportunity of meeting God. I together all my slept devotions, and think of asking a boon. But the surprise does not end for me yet. Before I Can, the Goddess asks, “Can you give me 5 rupees? I will have pickles”. A few moments ago, my mind used all its energy in thinking, clearing doubts, mounting my devotions, smashing my central logic, so it decides to take a break after hearing this question. What else I can expect? God wants money! 5 rupees! for pickles! So, I can’t answer anything and keep staring.

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And The Start

God is kind, as she thinks of giving me another chance. She must know well that people don’t see God’s every day like cattle, so they tend to confuse. She shrugs me and asks again but with now little command, “Give 5 rupees”. And my hand itself slips inside my pocket and comes out with a 10 rupees note. As I stretch it towards her, I experience the difference. We want more than we need, but the Goddess knows what exactly she wants. As, she takes the note and tells me, “oh, you don’t have a chance, wait here, from the pickle seller I will bring you the change”. I look at the pickle seller, who is doing fail attempts at protecting pickles from the flies.

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After she buys some pickles, she comes to return my money. And the sight touches me. That’s the power of simplicity and purity. My heart suddenly feels lighter when I see her coming towards me with the change in one hand, and licking the pickles from the other. All thoughts release my mind and hurt from its clutch. And I kneel in front of her and ask: “can you please spend the day with me at the fair? We will roam around, and I will feed you on time”. After a moment’s thought, she says: “Okay, but my brother will join me in an hour. Can you feed both of us?”. Goddess Kali’s brother? I never heard or read about him. Should I dare to ask? What if my ignorance upsets the Goddess? But the God is Omniscient. She says, “My brother’s name is Rohit, you will see him”. Excuse me, what! Isn’t “Rohit” a modern name? She starts walking by my side while licking the pickle. GOD is the big prankster, I must say.

Me With My Goddess
Me With My Goddess

The Experience

In the fair, the bauls (Bengal’s folk singers) are singing loud in colloquial phrases, but the rhythm and the music are so soothing that we could not resist going there. They welcome us, one of them waves his hand to the Goddess and says: “Pinky, is everything alright at home?”. And hearing this, my mind speaks again, “PINKY! The Goddess has a nickname too! Why all the Bengalis have to keep a nickname, and that to the Goddess too. No wonder her brother’s name is Rohit”. Pinky smiles and tells them to sing a song.

Now the Goddess tells me her story that she stays very far, in an interior village. And she loves this Sonajhuri fair, so every week Saturday and Sunday she visits here, sometimes as Goddess Kali, sometimes as Lord Krishna, sometimes as Shiva. Not only that, she bunks her Saturday school every week to come here. She is an artist, a polymorphous.

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Rohit

I feel like offering her some food. But the Goddess is a little reluctant to have anything else; she refuses ice cream, chocolate, more pickles, rice, and fish curry until Rohit comes and joins us. Rohit has no Godly elements, he is an 11 years old, cool dude, in the winter he has unbuttoned his upper chest. He sits calmly under a tree with a hesitant smile on his face.

Now we eat together, listen to the baul songs. I am feeling enlightened, never felt that pure ever. End of the day Rohit’s hesitant smile changes.

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Sister and Brother
Pinky and Rohit

The End

Our time ends like magic. Finally, Goddess tells me, “We will leave now”, it feels like a Dashami day, I again kneel in front of her, asking her, “can I give you something, whatever you want”. She nods a no, then she says, “if you come tomorrow, then we will meet again”. But I have to return, but one part of me wanted to ignore all the responsibilities and stay for one extra day, but that was just not possible. The Goddess understands me again without me uttering a single word. She gives a smile and is about to leave. Then suddenly she comes back, holds my pinkie finger again, and asks: “can you buy me a small size Saree?”

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