Delhi’s oldest Durga Puja, better known as the Kashmere Gate Durga Puja, celebrates its centenary this year. A hundred years is always an important milestone and in this case, it’s evidence — if any were needed — that Bengalis have a long, long association with Delhi.
In a lot of ways, the history of this puja is the history of the Bengali community in Delhi. The Kashmere Gate (the organisers stick to the anglicised spelling) began in 1909, two years before the British shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. Presumably, the first lot of Bengalis accompanied this historic shifting.
There was no idol at this puja held at the Roshanpura Temple in the Chandni Chowk area, only a mangal ghat — a pot filled with Ganga jal — signifying the goddess. The idol worship started in 1912, when the deity had to be brought in a boat from Varanasi.
The history of the Kashmere Gate Durga Puja also goes hand-in-hand with two similarly old institutions. One, the Bengali Boys School in the Civil Lines area started in 1894, where the puja is now held; and two, the Bengali Club, going back to 1925, from whose ranks the organisers, the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti (DDPS), are drawn.
Unlike the smarter, more popular pujas of south Delhi, the Kashmere Gate puja is known for its traditional fervour. “In all the 50-years or so that I have been associated with the puja, very little has changed,” says Barun Mukherjee, who looks after the religious rites.
The idol is the traditional ek-chaal, that is, all five deities, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik, are staged on the same pedestal. On Dashami, it’s taken for immersion in a old bullock cart to the nearby Gita ghat.
No rock bands or film stars figure in the cultural events held every evening — only Rabindrasangeet and plays and jatras. This year too, the organisers have lined up similar fare, with some ‘stars’ from Kolkata like singers Shivaji Chattopadhyay and Arundhuti Hom; actors Ksharaj Mukherjee and Manoj Mitra, and a Bangladeshi troupe, Chena Mukh (Known Face).
Also the same will be the biriyani, the korma and shammi kebabs — a huge attraction at this puja — which has, for the past 25 years, been prepared by Mohammed Yasin of Chitle Kabar, Chandni Chowk. For around 25 years before this, his father Bhoopi Mian, had made the biriyani.
But there will be one important break with tradition — “This year’s puja will be ‘green’,” says Dipayan Mazumdar, vice-president of the DDPS. So the idol will be built with fast-dissolving ‘khuris’ (clay cups); all the dieties’ ornaments will be removed before immersion; and vegetable dyes used as colour. Even the flowers used in the puja will be given to an NGO to be recycled into organic colour.