If you want to know how many Bengalis live in an area, the best way is to just land up at the local pandal during Durga Puja.
The festival is not only the biggest religious event in the Bengali calendar, it also brings together the probashis (Bengalis in exile) for five days of exuberant celebration.
The first private Durga Puja in Delhi was celebrated in 1842 by one Majumdar of Rajshahi, followed by some other Puja celebrations that continued for a few years. The first baroyari (community-based) Puja is that of Kashmere Gate, first started in 1910 and still celebrated with the same fervour and traditions.
“The first Puja was held at Roshanpura by Bengalis who lived in the walled city,” said Kamaleshwar Sen, a member of the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti. “Their descendants have now moved to all parts of Delhi and NCR but every year they congregate during the Puja.”
After the first Puja, the venue shifted to the Laxminarayana Dharmshala and after Partition, at the Women’s Polytechnic at Kashmere Gate for many years before shifting to the present venue, the Bengali Boys Senior Secondary School.
Following the influx of more Bengalis after the shifting of the Capital, the newcomers became part of the Kashmere Gate Puja but as was their wont, they soon carved out a separate Puja at Timarpur, where the government employees lived. The Timarpur & Civil Lines Puja Samiti, started in 1914, is the second oldest Puja in the city.
“Newer Pujas, organised by government employees of the Government Press and AGCR departments, were later held at Minto Road and Mata Sundari Road,” said Himangshu Bose (71), of the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti. “Other older Pujas are celebrated at Karol Bagh and PUSA Road and after that newer Pujas were started almost every other year,” he said.
Another essential requirement was that of a Kali Bari. The first Kali Bari of Delhi is the one at Tis Hazari, which still exists. The idol and Kali Bari were first established in 1840 but the temple was destroyed during the 1857 revolt. The idol was later salvaged and a temple built in Roshanpura but as the space started to fall short to accommodate the devotees, land was bought and the present temple built at Tis Hazari in 1917.
The Bengalis settled in Gole Market soon felt the need to have a Kali Bari close to their homes. After much struggle, land was allotted on the Reading Road (Mandir Marg), where the New Delhi Kali Bari came up in 1938.
In the last 100 years, many more Kali Baris have come up across Delhi and NCR and the Pujas in Delhi now number nearly 350.