Guptipara: By the placid waters, an idyllic city sits on the banks of river Hooghly known for never seen like before Durga Puja. A town where one can still find yellow ambassador taxi, a town that basks in glory of its traditions, a town that lives in time past and present, a town where it all began. While nativity of Durga Puja is traced to West Bengal, has it ever occurred when, where and how the celebrations dawned in the civilisation? If lores are to be believed, a tranquil town named Guptipara is believed to be the birthplace of this gusto filled festival in its well known form- barowari puja or community puja.Also Read – Durga Puja 2022: From Metaverse To Vatican City, These Trends In Kolkata Just Cannot Be Missed This Season
Ranked as one of the oldest places in the state, Guptipara is known for its Vaishnava terracotta temples, and sweets like gupo sandesh.
DURGA PUJA: WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Like myths and legends have myriads of version about the same plot, there are a few versions that make rounds on how barowari puja began. According to some version, it commenced sometime around 1759.
Some believed that long ago a group of women from the village went to the zamindars place to offer their prayers but were prohibited from entering. This prompted rage amongst the villagers and few men decided to begin their own community puja.
The zamindar bari in questions is believed to be a 400-year-old Sen Bari that was constructed in pre-British architecture. But there still some scrutiny over the place because according to scholars, there little authenticity to the claim that this is where the conflict occurred first.
While there is no gurantee where it happened, but ithe incident did take place at a zamindar’s place during Durga Puja.
12 STRONG MEN
One of the earliest written records in English on the barowari puja can be found in an article published in the May 1820 edition of the newspaper The Friend of India, a predecessor The Statesman newspaper.
The newspaper report from May 1820 delves deeper into the formation of the barowari puja and how the villagers of Guptipara eventually succeeded in setting it up, “They elected twelve men as a committee, from which circumstances it takes its name and solicited subscriptions in all surrounding villages. Finding their collections inadequate, they sent men into various parts of the country to obtain further supplies of money, of whom many according to current report have never returned,” the article says.
RELATION WITH JAGADDHATRI PUJA
Sen believes that the villagers of Guptipara who set out to solicit donations possibly travelled across the modern-day Hooghly district and the undivided Bengal province in pre-Independence India, creating the concept of soliciting ‘chaanda’ that is still in existence today. “Having thus obtained about 700 rupees they celebrated the worship of Jugudhatree for seven days with such splendour, as to attract the worship from a distance of more than a hundred miles,” The Friend of India article says.
Because the people could not celebrate the homecoming of Maa Durga, they decided to set their own festivities in the next festival that celebartes –Jagaddhatri- an avatar of Durga- and is celebrated a month after Durga Puja
DO YOU KNOW WHY THERE IS SO MUCH FUN AND FROLICKING DURING DURGA PUJA?
They obtained the most excellent singers to be found in Bengal, entertained every Brahmin who arrived and spent the week in all the intoxication of festivity and enjoyment. On the successful termination of the scheme, they determined to render the pooja annual, and it has since been celebrated with undeviating regularity,” says The Friend of India article.
By the turn of the century, the concept of the barowari puja had reached Calcutta, where it evolved even further. The first barowari puja in the city started in the 19th century, in the locality where the neighbourhood of Kalighat and Bhawanipore meet, near the Adi Ganga, off Balaram Bose Ghat
Many Durga Puja in Bengali communities is named as Sarbojanin. The word trabslates to for all men. It came to be used in place of barowari . Today, many across West Bengal and elsewhere where Durga Puja and other forms of the goddess are worshipped through the year, interchangeably use ‘barowari’ and ‘sarbojanin’ to indicate the communal nature of the festivities.
FIRST BAROWARI PUJA
Back in Guptipara, the location where the first barowari puja started is now identified as the Bidhyabashini Barowari tola, named after the goddess Jagaddhatri who is worshipped here in the avatar of Bidhyabashini. The term ‘tola’ is a Bengali word for the location where a deity’s idol is placed.
“It is a misconception that the concept of barowari puja started with Durga Puja. It started with Jagaddhatri Puja and then became widely adopted for other festivals, especially associated with the goddess,” says Sen.
EXPLORING GUPTIPARA – QUICK GUIDE
Best time to visit: One can visit this place any time of the year but autumn sets the tone right. Starting from late September-Ocotober till February is the best time to enjoy in the pleasant wintry weather.
How to reach: According to a Facebook user Rajdeeb Bhattacharjee, road, the journey takes about 1.5 to 2 hours from Kolkata and you can cover Guptipara and Somrabazar easily in a whole day trip. There is also another way which is most easiest, quickest and economical if you travel by train. Local Trains will take one and half hour from Howrah and you will reach Guptipara most comfortably
Other places to visit : Ishwar Gupta Bridge, Hangseshwari temple, Ananta Basudeba Temple or visit Bandel for a wholesome experience of this town.
Wander through the alleys of this old town and unravel the hidden heritage of Bengal.