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Reminiscing golden years of Durga Puja

WITH THE first Bengali Durga Puja in the City gearing up to mark its 50th year, veterans in the City are filled with reminiscences.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2006 15:06 IST

WITH THE first Bengali Durga Puja in the City gearing up to mark its 50th year, veterans in the City are filled with reminiscences.

“When the reorganisation of State took place in 1956 and Madhya Pradesh was formed with Bhopal as capital, a large number of Bengalis came here from Nagpur, Indore, Gwalior and Rewa—all State headquarters and Bengali Durga Puja started in 1957,” IAS (retired) and Ramakrishna Ashram president Shashank Mukherjee said.

“The Bengali Association which is celebrating its 50th year started the first Bengali Durga Puja in Bhopal in front of Kwality Restaurant, New Market where the New Market Traders’ Association currently celebrates Navaratri,” Mukherjee added. Later the puja shifted to the ground where the present TT Nagar Kalibari stands.

There was no temple or stadium then, he recollects. When Durga puja started in 1957, the first president was Dr Saroj Kanti Bose.

Dr SK Bose was among the first few Bengalis who came from Kolkata to reside in Bhopal. A gold medalist MBBS from Calcutta Medical College, he came here in 1938 as personal physician to Nawab Hamidullah Khan.

Dr SK Bose’s son and senior BHEL executive Rupak Bose recalls that at that time there were just a few other Bengali families in Bhopal. They included chief engineer of Bhopal Electric Supply Ardhendu Dasgupta, a doctor of army hospital Dr Sen, a homeopathic practitioner Dr Banerjee, health officer Girija Shankar Chakraborty and Mukherjee who was in charge of the sugar factory at Sehore, he added.

“These few families started puja activities in 1942 with celebration of Saraswati Puja in 1942 at 3, Civil Lines in the residence of Dr Bose,” he said. “The few Bengali families celebrated puja like an extended family and we always felt the Nawab’s silent assent in all social, cultural and religious activities of our community,” Dr Bose’s wife Beena Bose said.

As Bengalis have an intrinsic love for drama, the advent of Bengali drama in Bhopal coincided with the beginning of puja activities. “Again Dr Bose was the inspiring figure,” Mukherjee said. Ladies did not participate in plays at that time and men would shave their beards and mustachios to play female roles.

“The first mixed drama staged during the first Durga Puja in 1957 in TT Nagar was ‘Kankabatir Ghat’ (a social play) in which ladies also participated. Jaya Bachhan’s mother Indira Bhaduri, Dr Bose’s wife Beena were among the first ladies who acted in dramas,”Mukherjee added.

Renowned journalist (Jaya Bachchan’s father) Tarun Coomar Bhaduri, Secretary(public health) PD Chatterjee and TTTI principal N Sanyal were among the prominent active figures during Durga Puja of the time. 

Since then drama has gone hand in hand with puja. Many well- known plays like Tagore’s comedy Chirokumar Sabha (Sabha for confirmed bachelors) and  Tagore’s Dakghar (Post Office) have been staged along with modern plays like Banchharamer Bagan (Banchharam’s garden). Shashank and his wife Pragnya Mukherjee have been the inspiration behind many plays.

From less than 100 families during the first Durga puja in 1957, the Bengali population in Bhopal has increased to about 5,000 families. 

Now each prominent residential locality like BHEL, Arera Colony and Shajahanabad have also gradually started their own pujas - each in a big way.