It was a week before Kalipujo, 8 days before Diwali. Last minute frantic phone calls were going through – “How much are the tickets going for, now? My leave has been sanctioned!” … “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it this time” … “Most of the young ones will not be able to join in this year… let us make the arrangements on a smaller scale, one we would be able to manage” … “But you have to maintain the tradition… the pujo has to be from midnight till the dawn!” …
The House, however, had no idea. A large two-storeyed building, it sits on the bank of the Tolly Nala or canal (fondly referred to as “pukur” or pond by the household). The adjacent ground is dotted with mango, guava, jack-fruit and bael trees; the front lawn strewn with a few flowering shrubs; 5 or 6 coconut trees standing sentinel by the far boundary wall. The House mostly sleeps nowadays, dreaming of the days gone by – when it was filled with the sound of laughter, little feet running up and down the stairs, the man of the house telling off a stray hawker. When delicious aroma wafted from the kitchen every morning and night. When the little boy secretly learned to drive the car by driving around the ground…
It all comes alive for a week now each year, when everyone comes back for the annual festivity of Kalipujo; the House becomes a Home again.
The Guha Majumdars are originally from Bhajondanga within Faridpur district in Bangladesh, later shifting to Faridpur town for education and work. The eldest son moved to Kolkata in the early 40s and eventually built a house in Kudghat, Tollygunge. The ancestral Kalipujo dates back more than 200 years, originating in Bhajondanga. The Kolkata pujo started sometime in the early 50s, parallelly with its counterpart in Faridpur. That chapter is closed now, the Kudghat household being the sole torchbearer of the tradition.
As the Bard pointed out, there is the task of preparing the wick before you light the candle. The preparation starts as early as Mahalaya – confirming the dates with the family purohit, the decorator, the electrician and the head cook or “thakur”. These are mere formalities though, since the associations go back a long time. The guest list is prepared during Durga puja gathering – how many for the Kalipujo, what about the next day “bhog khawa”? Invitations are rolled out during Bijoya visits.
The real work begins after Lakshmi pujo – finalising the “bhog” menu, getting the list or “phordo” from the cook, checking the “dashakarma” list with the decades old “pujor phordo”, listing and procuring everything to run a full-fledged 30-people household for a week – from mustard oil to Good Knight; selecting and placing an order for the idol, booking the “dhaki”, doing the actual shopping… the to-do list is endless!
Three days before the Kalipujo, Ponchu or Samad or Arjun gets on the loft to take out the “pujor bashon” – huge brass, copper and silverware along with marble and granite plates, bowls and tumblers. Under the watchful eyes of “Chhordi” of the family, they are scrubbed and washed till they shine brighter than the Sun! The day before Kalipujo a sweet-making ceremony, beautifully named ‘Rachana’ or creation, is held by the ladies of the household. They prepare khoi-murki, along with naru and tokti with the coconuts picked from the garden, for the puja offering.
The Kalipujo day starts before daybreak, with the younger men bringing in the idol of Ma Kali amongst much conch-blowing and ululation. Most of the family members keep a fast that day, drinking only tea and sharbat. The ladies prepare for a Chandi puja in the morning, the whole family gathering around freshly bathed for the anjali. After it is over, preparation for the big puja starts, everyone taking it slow, gearing up for the long night ahead. Adda, merriment continues along with segregating the durba and bael leaves, washing the fruits and vegetables, soaking the rice etc.
The cook arrives in the late afternoon. Able “Boroboudi” takes charge, guiding the seasoned cook with the “bhog” preparation – khichuri, 7 types of fries, labda, phulkopi, chutney, luchi and payesh. As dusk falls, the ladies change into red-bordered “gorod”. The junior brigade, lead by “Chhotoboudi”, starts preparing for the actual puja – cutting the fruits, laying out the "naivedya", putting ghee-soaked wicks on the huge 108-headed brass lamp; “Didi” and “Chhordi” oversees all, while “Mollydi” of the extended family runs around readying everything for the “thakurmoshai”. With the gathering darkness, guests also start to gather, all of them bringing sweet offerings, saree, alta-sindoor for the puja. It is a separate task to carefully label each and put them on trays and layout in front of the idol.
“Thakurmoshai” arrives around 10:00 pm. It is a “nishi puja”, one that starts late at night and goes on till the wee hours of dawn. All the preparation complete, everything laid in front of the Goddess, the puja starts soon, with “dhaak”, conch-blowing and ululation.
The next five hours is a jubilation for the soul. The fragrance of incense and “dhuno”, the sombre chanting, the tinkling of the brass bell, rhythmic beat of the “dhaak” and “kansor-ghonta”, and above all the face of Ma Kali… one is captivated by the devotional euphoria. The puja reaches a crescendo during the “yajna” when the eldest son of the family sits with the purohit to perform “hom” or give offering in the fire. This is followed by arati, pushpanjali and finally, sprinkling of shanti-jal on all and sundry. Everyone breaks the fast by having some “bhog” and then heads for the bed. 2-3 male members of the family responsible for the safekeeping of the “bhog” for the next day, keep a vigilant watch.
Relatives, friends and neighbours are invited for lunch the next day to partake “Ma-er bhog”. With grandsons meeting great-aunts, cousins meeting cousins after a year, it is a complete celebration. Fatigue of the previous night is forgotten with shared laughter and mishtimukh. The lunch continues well after the Sun starts to slant West. It is often early evening when the last guest leaves.
After sundown, it is time to prepare for the immersion. Decked in “gorod”, the ladies perform “dhunuchi” dance to bid a teary-eyed farewell to Ma Kali. “Debi boron” is the last ritual to be performed, adorning the Goddess with vermilion and feeding her sweets. The eldest couple whispers in her ear, requesting to visit again next year. The male members perform “saat paak” or seven rotations with the idol, then chanting “ashchhe bachhor abar hobe!” (once again, next year!) immerses her in the dark waters of the lake; a burning oil lamp in the empty “pujo dalan” the sole reminder of the festivities of yesterday.
This, is the story of my "shoshurbari-r" ancestral Kalipujo.