300 Years Old | Grand Bonedi Bari Pujos of Kolkata


Durga Pujo The Call of Homecoming

Sarod Utsav is
celebrated in Autumn, predominantly in the month of October. The crisp cool
breeze welcomes the anticipation of winter. Cotton-like fluffy clouds float
across the sky against the expanse of white Kans phool billowing on fields,

Doesn’t it bring
back the ever-nostalgic memory of the iconic Apu-Durga scene from Satyajit
Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’? That epiphanic moment when they stood awestruck in a
similar picturesque landscape gazing at the majestic railway locomotive, as it
whistled by for some far-away lands, leaving behind a plume of upheaval
emotions? A scene that perhaps stirs the call of homecoming in every Bengali
soul, inevitably.

Durga Pujo, in
those five passing days of celebration, ruffles a similar epiphany in our
hearts that we tend to clinch onto, until the next year.

The City Starts Embellishing

There is certain
exuberance in the air of Kolkata right now. Big hoardings being pulled up,
half-done pandals coming into being, streets adorning with thematic alpanas – the City of Joy has already
started preening for Durga Puja.

The city boasts a
kaleidoscope of myriad Pujo Pandals and their colours, fervours and lights. And
in the heart of this rich tapestry, are woven some ageless luminous jewels that
remain as a testament to the city’s traditional magnificence, a fusion of
heritage and modernity. – the Grand
Bonidi Barir Pujos of Kolkata

Kolkata Tales — The Chronicler of

As a dedicated
chronicler of Kolkata, in this blog,
Kolkata Tales is thrilled to take you on a journey into the mesmerising
world of these age-old traditions that grace the charming Bonidi Bari

Imagine stepping
into a realm where time seems to stand still, where courtyards (dalan ghor) are adorned with colourful alpana patterns, and where the air is
filled with the sweet scent of incense and dhuno.
It’s a time when the city’s old-world charm and contemporary vivacity merge

In this blog, we’ll
delve into the interesting ancestral stories behind the aristocracies, the
rituals that have been passed down like heirlooms through generations, and the
modern twists that keep these 300 years old traditions alive and relevant even
in the 21st century.

So join me in
unravelling the magic of these celebrations, where faith, culture, and
innovation converge to create an unforgettable experience.

What is Bonedi bari Pujo?

Bonedi Bari Pujo is
the pujo that is organised by the original aristocrate families of the city and
not by any community. In Kolkata, the jamboree comes with a side of nostalgia.
Especially within the grand halls and courtyards of the erstwhile zamindari
houses, or bonedi baris where grand processions and affluent celebrations used
to be held, welcoming villagers from all around, feeding thousands and
thousands of subjects, have now settled down into a mere stance of tradition.
In an attempt to strike a balance between the fading royalty and the ushering
modernity this is understandable.

However, even
today, these Bonedi Baris throw open their doors to their hearts and homes
during the five days of Durga Puja, asking visitors to bear witness to their
centuries-old tradition every year.

Some of these
families have celebrated Durga Puja even before the city of Kolkata came into

Oldest Bonedi Bari Pujos & their
Stories — Some Older than the City itself

Sabarna Roy Chowdhury Aatchala

In the heart of
Kolkata glitters a nugget of history that predates the city itself – the Aath
Chala Durga Puja of the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. Hailing from Barisha,
this family once was the zamindars owning the three villages of Kalikata (now
Kolkata), Sutanati, and Gobindapur, which were eventually sold to the East
India Company in 1698, marking the birth of Kolkata. The British East India
Company paid an annual rent of Rs. 1,300/- to the family till the Battle of
Plassey in 1757.

It was in 1699 that
the first Durga Puja celebrations began at Roy Choudhury’s residence, and for
nearly three centuries, they have continued this tradition at the same

As time passed, the
family branched out, and today, there are eight families celebrating Durga
Puja, with the Aath Chala Puja being the main one. This extraordinary tradition
was initiated by Lakshmikanta Majumder in 1610, and the Majumders received the
prestigious title of Roy Chowdhury in 1626, thanks to the recommendation of
Raja Man Singh at the Mughal Durbar.

The red pillars
that flank the path to the Thakur Dalan, the courtyard where the Puja takes
place, bear witness to an incredible history. It was here that Roy Chowdhury
and Job Charnock engaged in discussions about the transfer of Sutanuti,
Gobindapur, and Kalikata, which played a pivotal role in the city’s evolution.

Sabarna Roy
Chowdhury’s name is etched in history as the previous owner of these villages,
with a legacy intertwined with numerous significant events in Kolkata, from the
construction of the first road and pucca house to the establishment of the
Kalighat Temple Complex. This Durga Puja, like the family itself, stands as a
testament to Kolkata’s rich and enduring heritage.

26, Sabarna Para Road, Kolkata – 700008.

Sovabazar Raj Bari Durga Puja

The Sovabazar Raj
Bari is a venerable zamindar family mansion that hosts one of the city’s oldest
Bonedi Durga Pujas. Legend has it that the Goddess Durga herself graces the
Rajbari with her presence to listen to its music, as the mehfils are held in the famous Nachghar (Dancing room) during the
Puja’s nights.

It is known that
after Robert Clive’s victory over Siraj-ud-daula at the Battle of Plassey, Raja
Nabakrishna Deb extended invitations to Lord Clive and Warren Hastings to
partake in the Durga Puja at this Raj Bari in 1757.

Traditionally, the
Sovabazar Rajbari had a unique practice of releasing Nilkantha birds into the
sky on Dashami, the final day of Puja. However, this practice came to an end
due to legal constraints imposed by the Wildlife Preservation Act. Now, they
immerse clay models of these birds alongside the Durga idols as a symbolic

What sets this
Bonedi Bari Puja apart is its unique feature – the representation of Durga’s
vahana (vehicle) as a horse, instead of the traditional depiction of a lion.

So if you are in
Kolkata you can’t miss this time travel back to this significant point in
history written on this very courtyard of the Rajbari.

Address: 36
and 33, Raja Nabakrishna Street, Sovabazar, Kolkata – 700005.

Darjipara Mitra Bari Durga Puja

Durgacharan Mitra,
a prominent businessman of his time, held a significant position as the court
jeweller for Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula. His nephew, Nilmoni Mitra, continued his
legacy. (Nilmoni Mitra Street is named after him). However, the family’s
fortune waned over time. It was Nilmoni Mitra’s grandson, Radhakrishna Mitra,
who successfully revived the family’s prosperity. Radhakrishna Mitra initiated
the tradition of the family’s Durga Puja.

In the past, during
the immersion of Durga idols at Nimtala Ghat Street in the Ganges River, two
Nilkantha birds were released by Radhakrishna Mitra’s family members. One would
fly towards the Kailash mountains, the sacred abode of Lord Shiva, to inform him
of Goddess Durga’s departure from Earth to her heavenly realm. The other bird
was directed towards the Mitra Bari (house) to signify that Goddess Durga had
pledged to return the following year. This family ritual, meticulously observed
since 1809, came to an end just like the ritual of Sovabazar Rajbari, following
the implementation of the Wildlife Preservation Act.

The Darjipara Mitra
Bari Puja holds a prestigious position in North Kolkata, ranking among the top
three Pujas alongside Jorasanko Daw Bari and Sovabazar Rajbari. Notably, the
idols are placed on a magnificent throne that has stood for over 210 years,
adding to the Puja’s historical significance.

Address: 19,
Nilmani Mitra Street, Kolkata – 700006

Rani Rashmoni Family Durga Puja

The founder of
Dakshinewar Kali Temple, Rani Rashmoni’s family Durga Puja is another renowned
Bonedi Bari celebration that has retained its grandeur since the British era.
Coming from a lower caste Rani Rashmoni, had to overcome a lot of social
stigmas to establish the Durga Puja at her courtyard. Their opulent mansion
boasts a spacious thakur dalan, a courtyard where the deity is worshipped. All
the idols’ faces, including Devi Durga’s, are made by hands, and Durga’s skin
tone matches that of the Shiuli flower’s stem. This attention to detail gives
the idol a unique and sometimes a slightly asymmetrical appearance. The house
features a square-shaped courtyard, and the Goddess is of the traditional
‘ekchala’ type adorned with ‘daker saaj’ decoration.

Originally initiated
by Rani Rashmoni’s father-in-law, Babu Pritaram Marh (Das), in 1974, the Durga
Puja at their Janbazar residence is now more commonly known as Rani Rashmoni’s
Durga Puja. Presently held at 13, Rani Rashmoni Road, this very courtyard was
once where Sri Ramkrishna Paramahansa
conducted his own Durga Puja.

Rani Rashmoni, a
revered philanthropist and social reformer, made a lasting impact on Bengal’s
history. Following her passing in 1861, her daughters and their husbands
continued the tradition at their respective residences. The Durga Puja at 13,
Rani Rashmoni Road is currently organised by the Hazra family. The second Puja
is conducted by the Chowdhury family at 18/3, Surendra Nath Banerjee Road,
while the third Puja takes place at 18, Rani Rashmoni Road, hosted by the
Biswas family.

Address: 13
Rani Rashmoni Road, 18/3 S.N. Banerjee Road and 18 Rani Rashmoni Road, Kolkata

Narasingha Daw Family Durga

Commenced in 1859
at the Dawn Mansion on Vivekananda Road, the Narasingha Daw Family Durga Puja
also known as The Gunmakers’ Durga Puja, is renowned for its unique traditions.
Originating from Kotulpur in Bankura, one of the Daw family’s ancestors,
Narasingha Prasad Daw, expanded the family’s spice business to Rishra and
eventually to Calcutta. The foundation of their gun business was established by
Narasingha Chandra Daw in 1835, and they successfully competed with British
counterparts. In 1859, the Daw family initiated the Durga Puja, which later
took place in the thakur dalan, organised by Nandalal Daw.

One of the most
striking features of the Daw family’s Puja is the use of a cannon during the
Sandhi Puja and arati ceremonies. This unique ritual, introduced by N. C. Daw
continues to be faithfully observed by family members. The 17-inch cannon,
crafted by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, possesses all the
functionalities of a standard cannon gun. The thakur dalan displays various
images of guns, pistols, and rifles, enhancing its distinctive atmosphere. The
Goddess’s idol is adorned with intricate ‘daker saaj’ decoration, radiating
beauty and grandeur. Another exceptional tradition within the Daw family is the
offering of a gun salute to the Goddess on Dashami, just before the immersion
of the idols, marking a truly distinctive and memorable conclusion to their
Puja celebrations. So this year, bring out some time to go and witness this
unique Bonidi bari Durga Pujo.

Address: 20
Vivekananda Road, Kolkata – 700006

A City Steeped in Tradition

As we just explored
these time-honoured celebrations, we’ve journeyed through the annals of history
— from the opulent rituals of the Aathchala Durga or Sovabazar Raj Bari to the
resplendent Gunmakers’ Durga Puja with its cannon salute. We’ve witnessed the
devotion of the Radhakrishna Mitra family and the enduring legacy of Rani
Rashmoni’s descendants. These Pujas not only offer a glimpse into the city’s
rich past but also reflect the resilience, creativity, and spiritual fervour of
its people.

As you navigate the
bustling streets of Kolkata, remember that beyond the glam and glitz of the
city’s mainstream Durga Puja celebrations, these Bonedi Bari Pujos offer an
intimate connection to history and tradition. They are a testament to the
enduring spirit of Kolkata, a city that seamlessly blends the old and the new,
the traditional and the modern.

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