Durga pujo is said to be the greatest festival of the Bengalis. We Bengalis have a different way of celebrating the Durga Pujo. It is not just a festival to worship the Goddess; Durga Pujo is a carnival. It is the time for family, friends and reunions.
Durga Pujo is held every year between September-October (Bengali calendar month of Ashwin). This is to celebrate Lord Rama’s invocation of Goddess Durga before he went to war with the demon king Ravana. This autumn festival is different from the conventional Durga Pujo celebrated in the springtime. As this is held out of season, this pujo is popularly known as 'Akal Bodhan' or out-of-season ('akal') worship ('bodhan'). Lord Rama first worshipped Goddess Durga in the form of 'Mahishasura Mardini' or the slayer of the buffalo-demon, by offering 108 blue lotuses and lighting 108 lamps, at this time of the year.
History sources suggest that Goddess Durga was first worshipped in the late 1500s. It appears that the landlords (zamindar) of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Pujo in Bengal. According to another source, Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur or Bhabananda Mazumdar of Nadiya organized the first Sharadiya Durga Pujo in Bengal in c.1606.
The origin of the community pujo can be credited to the twelve friends of Guptipara in Hoogly district, West Bengal who collaborated and collected contributions from local residents to conduct the first community pujo called the ‘barowari’ pujo, or the ‘twelve-pal’ pujo, in 1790.
According to Somendra Chandra Nandy in ‘Durga Pujo: A Rational Approach’ published in The Statesman Festival, 1991, the barowari pujo was brought to Kolkata in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar, who performed the Durga Pujo at his ancestral home in Murshidabad from 1824 to 1831.
The barowari Durga pujo subsequently gave way to the sarbajanin or community pujo in 1910, when the Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha organized the first truly community pujo in Baghbazar in Kolkata with full public contribution, public control and public participation. Apart from “Bonedi bari Durga pujo” the commonest form of Bengali Durga Pujo is the “sarbajanin Durga pujo. The initiation of community Durga Pujo in the 18th and the 19th century Bengal contributed vigorously to the development of Hindu Bengali culture.
The traditional household Pujos of Kolkata are also known as Bonedi Barir Pujo in Bengal. The Bonedi Bari Durga Pujo in Kolkata is not just a remembrance of the past; it is an emotion for the family members. The earlier sheen of these pujos may have been lost with time, but these grand old mansions get charged up during the days of Devi Paksha. Some of these families have celebrated Durga pujo for over 400 years well before Calcutta city came into existence with the customs and rituals being passed down from generations. The oldest of these is the Sabarna Roy Choudhury’s Atchala Durga Pujo which has been held since 1610. Few other notable ones are the Sovabazar Rajbari & Mallick bari of Bhowanipur.