They used to be the very affluent Zamindars once upon a time. It was before the partition of Bengal that the Zamindars had shifted to Kolkata to take pleasure in life. Their lavish lifestyle was raved about by the entire city.
Gradually, the Zamindars and their lifestyle became a part of the local gossips. However, these Zamindars could not maintain their glorious past for very long. Their palatial mansions in North Kolkata started to wear down. A majority of their possessions were divided among people, which became the reason of constant conflict or a long-lasting fight among the stakeholders.
No matter what the condition of their finances, there are many Zamindars who still organize the Durga Puja every year with the same zeal and religious fervour. Thus, the Zamindars are undoubtedly a very important part of Kolkata's heritage of the "Bonedi Bari" (Zamindar's mansion), which is re-visited during the festival of Durga Puja.
These royal families not only come together to celebrate the annual ritual, but they also cordially invite a large number of guests to relish scrumptious meals. This is also a Zamindari legacy that has been passed on for generations.
There are more than 20 Zamindari (or Bonedi Bari) Pujas that are celebrated all over Kolkata. Moreover, each puja is almost 150 years old. Some of the most famous Bonedi Bari Pujas are organized by the Sovabazaar Rajbari Puja, Chatubabu Latubabur Bari Puja, Thanthania Dutta Bari Puja, Darjipara Mitra Bari and Rani Rashmoni's Puja. All these Bonedi Baris stick to the puja rituals and traditions that have been passed through the centuries.
The following are the brief descriptions of some of the well-known Bonedi Bari Pujas in Kolkata:
Thanthania Dutta Bari Puja
The Thanthania Puja is more than 200 years old. The specialty of Thanthania Durga is that she is seen on Shiva's lap without any arms and she has no vehicle (or vahana) with her. Moreover, unlike the other Durga idols, she is seen without any demon (or asur). This form of Durga is also called "Shiv Durga" or "Hara Gauri".
Rani Rashmoni's Puja
If you are well acquainted with Kolkata's famous temple of Dakshineshwar Kali, you must be familiar with the name "Rani Rashmoni", as she was the founder of the temple. She was also the one who began Durga Puja at her own residence, which is located at the S. N. Banerjee Road, Kolkata. Since then the legacy to organize Durga Puja every year at Rani Rashmoni's place has been passed on for generations.
Earlier, the Rashmoni residence had witnessed cultural functions which included Kabi Gaan and Jatras (or folk theatre). In these functions, the artists and performers used to come from all over Bengal. The celebrations continued with the same zeal even after the death of Rani Rashmoni and it remains the same till date.
Everyone is welcome at the Rashmoni Bari Puja every year and the traditional "Bhog" (or Prasad) is offered to all and sundry. If you are in Kolkata and want to check out this place during the Durga puja, just head off to experience the Rashmoni Bari Puja, which is rejoiced with great pomp and show. At present, the Hazra family performs the Durga Puja here.
Sovabazaar Rajbari Puja
Raja Nabakrishna Deb founded the Shovabazaar Rajbari Puja. The traditional Durga Puja of Shovabazaar Rajbari is celebrated at two houses, both were built by Raja Nabakrishna. One residence is situated at 33 Raja Nabakrishna Street and the other one is nestled at 36 Raja Nabakrishna Street. The legacy continues to be the same here.
The Durga idol is crafted at the Nat Temple. Here Durga is revered in the form of Goddess Uma. Maa Durga is offered the "Mithaai Bhog", which is served in a big "Thaal" that consists of assorted sweets. The courtyard (or Thakur Dalan) is adorned beautifully and behind the idol of Durga, you can see a painted backdrop that portrays the legend of the Goddess and her various incarnations. Ved Path is a very integral part of the Sovabazaar Puja.
Chatubabu Latubabur Bari Puja
Ram Dulal Dey was the founder of this puja, which was started at his residence (in 1770) located at the Beadon Street in North Kolkata. After the death of Ram Dulal, his sons carried on the legacy. The specialty of the Durga idol of this puja is that you will not be able to see Saraswati with a Veena and Lakshmi with the rice pot. They can be seen raising their hands and bestowing blessings upon the devotees.
The backdrop behind the Durga idol is also called "Chalchitra", which is the prime attraction of this puja. You can see Jaya & Bijaya (the companions of Devi Durga), Ram, Hanuman and Lord Shiva on the Chalchitra.
Darjipara Mitra Bari Puja
The Darjipara puja was considered to be one of the top 3 Bonedi Pujas in Kolkata. The luxurious building of the Mitra family was built by Durgacharan Mitra who was a famous jeweller in the court of the renowned Nawab Shirajuddoulah. It is believed that Durgacharan's nephew Nilamani Mitra continued the heritage of organizing Durga Puja every year. Later, Nilmani's grandson, named Radhakrishna, again started the old legacy in 1807.
This puja is celebrated at two locations. The first residence (located at 19, Nilmani Mitra Street) is a big building with a big and well-maintained courtyard (or Thakur Dalan) and the second one is a small residence (located at 42, Beadon Row in North Kolkata) with a small courtyard.