Sunday, October 16, 2016

Durgapujo of Shovabazar Rajbari – History, Tradition & Immersion rituals.

The Durgapujo of Shovabazar Rajbari is one of the oldest in Kolkata and dates back to the year 1757, the same year the battle of Palassy took place. The man behind this puja, Raja Nabakrishna Deb (1733 -1797) along with Mir-Zafar & Amir Beg, was instrumental in plotting and executing the fall of Siraz Ud-Daula, the last standing Nawab of Bengal. Thus Nabakrishna Deb played a key role in history which saw India under the British rule for the next two centuries.
Once a clerk to Governor Drake, he swiftly rose to power by associating with Warren Hastings. He had amassed huge wealth as a reward from East India Company for helping them win the battle of Palassy. It is said that after the victory and execution of Siraz Ud-Daula, Robert Clive wanted a celebration. However during Clive’s time, Kolkata hardly had any facilities to host an event of such large magnitude which Clive was desirous of. The only church in Kolkata, where it might have been planned, was already razed to ground during Siraj’s invasion.

Shrewd that he was, Nabakrishna Deb turned this into an opportunity and somehow talked Clive into believing that this victory must be celebrated with Durgapuja which symbolizes victory over evil (Read the ill-fated Nawab). Though Clive was initially hesitant as there wouldn't even be a hint of Christianity in the entire affair, which was integral part of the British life, Nabakrishna eventually talked him into agreeing to the idea. That was the beginning of the Durga Puja at the family’s palatial house at Shovabazar, and Nabakrishna made it sure to pump in enough grandeur to dazzle the British and thus make his position firm & secure amongst the new harbingers of power. 

The courtyard of the Shovabazar Rajbari (New House)

The pujo of Shovabazar rajbari quickly gained popularity for the nightlong song & dance performances at the ornamented ‘nachghar’. Eminent hindusthani classical vocalists, musicians and the famed ‘Baijis’ graced the nocturnal “Majlish”. The important men in the British East India Company, and other eminent Englishmen poured in and they were appropriately pampered by the best of food and wine available this part of the globe. This custom continued in subsequent years with same gusto and so much was the attachment of the British in this Puja, commoners started calling it “Companir Pujo” which translated stands to “The Puja of the East India Company”. This was the exact ploy of Nabakrishna, to use the Puja to show his proximity to British, and he had no doubt succeeded in it to the hilt.

The family members in front of the idol.

In one way, the interest of business, amassing wealth and opportunity to walk through the corridors of power, far outweighed the religious interests behind such Pujas and this holds true for almost all houses of the riches which we know today as ‘Bonedi bari’ (houses of the aristocrats) of Kolkata. The sole aim was to appease their British masters to open up business opportunities, create more wealth and acquire fame by earning titles which helped them rise up the social strata in a brazen display  of wealth. If you care to trace back, the history of most of such families are murky and their money reeks of the stench of opium trade, hoarding, slave trading and many more atrocities. In fact this class of people is largely responsible for crushing the economy of Bengal and causing the famine that ensued in later years.

Even today many such ‘Bonedi Bari’ continue their Puja’s with much pomp and show, though much of the exuberance of their hallowed past have waned off. The Shovabazar Raj family also continues with the Puja and every year Rajbaris are flooded with people gawking at the expansive courtyard with arched Thakurdalan, the expansive courtyard, Lion gates, crystal chandeliers, the ornate Nat Mandap, and the aristocratic looking family members milling around in their pristine white dhoti & Punjabis and ladies in their red bordered silk sarees & adorning heavy jewelry from head to toe.

Ladies of the house gathering before the idol.

The marble floored Thakurdalan.

The idol,this is traditional and kept unchanged over the years

If you are interested in knowing the details of ‘Bonedi Barir Pujo” in Kolkata and may be inclined to take a tour to these houses during the Puja’s, the following blog of my dear friend Amitabha Gupta, which he had painstakingly created with most elaborate details, will be a perfect guide for you. ust click on the link below.

The Immersion:

The ritual of immersion begins at Baghbazar Ghat

This year I was witness to the immersion process of Shovabazar Rajbari which takes place at Bagbazar Ghat. I saw the idol of the ‘choto rajbari’ came for immersion at Bagbazar Ghat. This is the old house wat 33 Raja Naba Krishna Street. Nabakrishna bequeathed this house to his adopted son, Gopimohon, after his own son Rajkrishna was born and he moved to the new palace which he had built just opposite to the old mansion which today stands at 36, Raja Nabakrishna Street and known as Baro Rajbari. The old one, ‘Choto Rajbari’ is in a dilapidated state compared to the new mansion. 

The journey begins

Their ritual is different from the common practice, which is to immerse the idol at the ghat, after the bearers make seven rounds on the steps of the Ghat. The Rajbari’s idol is not immersed at the ghat, but idol is placed on a wooden plank and held with bamboo poles in between two boats and ferried to mid-river. The boats make seven rounds on the river as is the ritual and then moves away from each other letting the idol drop into the river water.

Just before the immersion, as an old custom, the family members release Nilkontho birds (Indian Roller). 

A family member raises the symbolic Nilkontho bird, made of clay, before it's dropped into the water.

Lord Shiva is also known as “Nilkontha” (one with the blue throat) as he took the vicious poison which arose out of samudra manthan (churning of the ocean) by the Gods and Asuras which threatened to obliterate the clan of Gods. Lord Shiva, in a bid to save the Gods from destruction, swallowed the poison and in resultant effect his throat became blue. Since Indian Rollers also have blue throat, it is somehow linked to Lord Shiva. As per religious customs, It is believed that they are messenger birds and carry the news of the beginning of the return journey of Parvati, to Shiva, her husband, at his abode at Mount Kailash. 

There is a frantic attempt by the photographers to take a shot before the clay bird is released into the water

Due to restrictions imposed under Wildlife Protection Act, live birds are not used since some years and instead clay replicas of the birds are used as a symbolic representation of the earlier ritual.

Shot Taken just before the boats move away letting the idol sink into the water.
This is quite a spectacular event to watch. You can see the glimpses of the event by clicking this YouTube link. 

In this short one minute video, I tried to capture the ritual.

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