Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Sabarna Roy Choudhury The Oldest Durga Puja in Kolkata

In the 10th century AD five great Sanskrit scholars of India by the names of Sriharsha, Bhattanarayan, Dakshya, Vedagarva and Chandha came to Bengal to improve social conditions and recultivate Vedic Customs, at Imperial orders from Kanauj.Their descendants later assumed titles of Gangopadhayay, Bandopadhyay, Chattopadhayay, Mukhopadhyay etc. Sabarna gotriya Vedagarva, the son of Maharshi Shaubhari Upadhyay, is held as the founder of the Gangopadhyay (Ganguli) family of Bengal. The 21st descendant of this family was Jiya Gangopadhyay (1535 – 1620) was a Versatile Sanskrit scholar with gifted talents over the Nayay School of philosophy. He was a Vidya bachaspati and under his leadership Halishar became famous in India as a center of classical education only next to none. Jiya was married to a noble lady of extraordinary charming beauty named Padmabati. Their hard penance at Kalighat and discovery of the earthly remains of Satis mortal body earned them a child. Soon after the birth of the child on the day Kojagari Lakshmi puja in 1570 AD Padmabati died. The son was named Lakshmikanta. Highly grieved at the demise of his wife, Jiya renounced worldly life. He entrusted Atmaram Brahmachari, the priest of Kalighat and a wet nurse with the duty of upbringing the infant. Jiya took up the life of an ascetic and became a parivrajakacharya. Atmaram consecrated him as kamdeva Brhamachari. After touring many holy places, Jiya ultimately settled at Varanasi, where later he consecrated Mansingha the Moughal general as his chief disciple. In the mean time Lakshmikanta grew up to a tough warrior, a versatile scholar of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic languages. He joined the administration at Jessore and proved as the most the trustworthy and able official of Pratapaditya. When Pratapaditya became corrupted and murdered his Uncle Basanta Rai and declared himself as a Independent ruler of Bengal, Lakshmikanta denounced the royal service and returns back to Kalighat to lead a religious life. Mansingha defeated Pratapaditya and came to Kalighat to meet his Guru’s son Lakshimikanta.

Laksmikanta Gangopadhyay in 1608 was granted Jaigirdari of large areas ( nine parganas ) in and around Dihi Kalkatah by Man Singha as Gurudakshina. He was also conferred the titles of “Ray” and “Choudhury”. Henceforth his decendants came to known as members of Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. It was Laksmikanta who developed and civilized the land and made the place well known to the world for its cottage industries and cultures. He started the oldest durgapuja of Bengal in the year 1610 at Barisha.
In the year 1690 Job Charnock landed at Sutaluti and settled there as a tenant of the zamindars. He died on 10 th January, 1693. His son-in -law Charles Eyer fetched a firmaan from the Moughal court which asked our the then zamindar Vidyadhar Roy Choudhury to give the three villages of Sutaluti, Govindapur,& Kalkatah to the the British. But the then governor Azim-us-maan adviced Vidyadhar to make the transfer of the three villages of Kalkatah, Sutaluti,and Govindapur to the British but through an invalid dalil. This dalil was signed by two minors and was executed at Barisha Aatchala on 10 th november, 1698. We have fetched the copy of that dalil from the British Museum.
It should be remembered that much of the land thus bestowed upon Laksmikanta was uninhabited jungle and unculturable waste. Laksmikanta converted the whole of the area by his own indomitable energy, unflagging industry and unrivalled sagacity into habitable and culturable land and fetched thousands of people belonging to different caste, creed and profession to settle there upon.

People who have some knowledge of the difficulties of reclaiming waste lands, will understand the enourmous cost, labour, industry, intelligence and attention to details which the reclaimation of the total area within Laksmikanta s Jagir and Zamindaris must have entailed upon him. As the result of hard strenous work spread over half a Century, Laksmikanta managed to raise the comparatively small income of his landed properties to something over twelve lakhs of rupees per annum. He was recognised as one of the greatest Bhumiyas of Bengal and was loved and honoured by all.
This is also to be noted the Renowned Bengal Poet Bipradas Piplai in his magnum opus and well known Poetical work Manasa Vijaya, written in 1495 has described the place called Kalikatah, the old name of Kolkata. Also the name appears in Ainee-Akbari written by Abul Fazl in 1596. Thus Kolkata was present before the birth of Job Chornock and whatever lease of the land was given to the British was done much after his death. So, as believed, Job Charnock cannot be considered as the Founder of Kolkata. The Hon’ble Kolkata High Court in a lndmark Judgement delivered on May 16, 2003 has also clearly declared that neither Charnock is the founder of the City nor 24 th August is the birthday of the City. No one alone can ever found a city. But if at all somebody is to be given the recognition and honour as the Father of Kolkata then it should be my ancestor Laksmikanta.
The Sabarna Roy Choudhury family today is spread throughout the whole World. The main settlements are at Barisha, Halisahar, Uttarpara, Nimta, Birati, Kheput etc. In all these places the family members believe in one  tradition, culture and faith. Everywhere the legacy of Laksmikanta continues.
At the biggest settlement at Barisha itself about two thousand family members live. The settlements at Barisha are divided into nine houses. Today each of these nine main houses have expanded into a number of other buildings creating a Para on the name of the main house due to expansion of the family. But still the basic bond of a single joint family has not been destroyed due to the western influences. During any festivals or social programmes every member of the family try to participate and enjoy the very occasion.Thus everywhere in the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family, a bond of brotherhood and an idea of a big joint family can be seen.

This is a typical image of our Durga.  The oldest  idol of Aatchala. All the eight Durga Pratima are being created almost in the same manner. The uniqueness of the Pratima is that it has Chaalchitras divided into three parts and have pictures of the the ten different images of Ma Shakti known as the Dasamahabidya. On one side of the Pratima there sits an idol of Shiva and on the other side its Rama. They are also being worshipped. The colour of the Durga is reddish or it can be of light golden as mentioned in the Durgabhaktitarangini. The Asura is green in colour depicting the evilness and jealousy in him. Here Karkikeya is dressed in the princely style. In total the Image brings hope and prosperity for the worshippers.

The  first settlement of the family at Barisha. Lakshmikanta constructed some sort of a Kutchery Bari soon after receiving his estates in circa 1608. Here he later constructed a traditional Chandi Mandap to house the first ever Swaparibara Durga Puja celebration of Bengal in 1610, inspired by his wife Bhagawati Devi. This brought for the first time Goddess Durga being worshipped with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Today this Puja is considered as the oldest Durga Puja in Kolkata and is highly regarded among the masses. The adjacent Radhakanta temple and the twelve Shiva temples are also of traditional architectural pattern and are objects of interest to tourists.
Sabarna Barta is the annual tabloid published by Sabarna Sangrahashala during Durga pujo which highlights the new research works and activities undertaken by the Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad. Articles on various topics are also included in the four page tabloid.
When one thinks of the Durga Pujo of Kolkata, the very first name that comes to mind is that of the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. Really here the pujo is not only unique but also a fusion of history, heritage and tradition.
After the grant of tax free Jaigir of eight parganas by Emperor Jehangir, Ray Laksmikanta Gangopadhyay Majumdar Choudhury and his wife Bhagabati Debi started Durga Pujo in autumn at Barisha in 1610 CE. For the very time in history Goddess Durga was worshipped along with her children – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya in the same Chaalchitra, which later became the normal custom in the Hindu society. 
In the Sabarna family the Durga Pujo is performed according to the rites and rituals as prescribed in Durgabhaktitarangini by Bidyapati. 
As Sabarna family settled at different places and family grew bigger, it was decided to establish a few more Durga pujos in the family so that each and everyone could learn the rituals and carry on the legacy and traditions of the family generation after generations. Therefore today a total of eight pujos are being held. Aatchala Bari, Baro Bari, Benaki Bari, Mejo Bari, Kalikingkar Bhawan, and Majher Bari in Barisha while the seventh is at Birati Bari and eighth one at Nimta-Pathanpur Bari. 
Exclusive rituals, rites and customs are followed during the pujo. A special pujo called Mashabhaktaboli is offered Mahasthami and Mahanabami to the presiding powers of Trilok including the Yoginis and the Upadevatas, believing that they too have cooperated with us to perform the pujo successfully. This is also the only Hindu family whereby Tri-dhara Sangam- Shakta, shaiba and Baisnab traditions are followed together reflecting a unique fusion of spiritual ideology. 
It will not be untrue to remark that the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family has successfully upheld traditions and customs in its purest form for more than four Centuries now, and the legacy still continues…

Durga Pujo was founded in the Sabarna Family in the year 1610 CE

Courtesy: Subhadip Roy Choudhury 
(Member of Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad)

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