The book furnishes vivid details of the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta and its suburbs in
the first half of the twentieth century. It focuses attention principally on the themes of
nationalism, communalism, the Bengal Famine of 1943, and Independence, and their connection
with the Goddess Durga.
The gaiety and mirth accompanying the festival in Calcutta and its outskirts,
despite periodic black-outs and other restrictions imposed during the Second World War
consequent upon the ensuing Japanese air-raids on the city, have been portrayed remarkably
well in the book which contains a separate section on the impact of that War on the Durga
Puja in the city of palaces.
Also colourfully described is the Vijaya Dashami celebrations marking the
termination of Durgotsav.
The Study also dwells on the mystical, metaphysical and symbolic sides of the Durga
Puja, while detailing the reasons behind the transformation of the festival from a purely
household affair to an elaborately established community worship. And, although, the main
thrust is on the first half of the twentieth century, particularly the forties, the study
harks back to earlier times to emphasise the importance of Durgotsav to Bengali society.
About the Author
Born in 1949, the author, an alumnus of Presidency College and Calcutta University, capped
off his otherwise brilliant academic career with a Ph. D. from Jadavpur University.
Of late, he has served as a Research Officer in the Institute of Historical Studies,
Kolkata, where he was actively in locating and evaluating Christian Missionary documents
lying in and around Calcutta from the earliest possible date to 1947. He is currently
employed as UGC Research Scientist in History at Jadavpur University.
His earlier titles which have earned him wide publicity both in India and abroad
1) 'Muslim Society in Transition: Titu Meer's Revolt (1831)'.
2) 'Christian Missionaries on The Indigo Question in Bengal (1855-1861)'.
3) 'Nineteenth Century Bengal Society and The Christian Missionaries'.
4) 'European Social Life in Nineteenth Century Calcutta'.
5) 'Glimpses of European Life in Nineteenth Century Bengal'.
6) 'Child Marriage : An Adult Obsession'.
Activity associated with the Corpus Research Institute, Kolkata, in the capacity of Deputy
Director, Dr. Dutta is currently engaged in research on Fairs and Festivals in early 20th
century, Calcutta and its immediate environs, of which the present book is a valuable
This work was completed by me in the capacity of UGC Research Scientist (B), attached to the
Department of History, Jadavpur University, Calcutta.
The work, mainly concentrates on the first half of the twentieth century,
particularly the forties, including such themes as the freedom struggle, communalism, the
Bengal Famine of 1943, the Puja scenario after Independence, and the impact of the Second
World War on the Durga Puja in Calcutta and its suburbs.
Hindu-Muslim antagonism over immersion of Durga images during the pre-partition-days
has been vividly sketched in the study, along with the endeavours of leading political and
social personalities and forums after partition, both in West Bengal and East Pakistan, to
stem the tide of communal ill-feeling during the Puja-Id week in October, 1947. This has
been painstakingly furnished mainly from the files of the Amrita Bazar Patrika. The
miserable plight of Bengal's teeming millions particularly during the Bengal Famine of 1943
has been depicted in vivid colours from the contemporary Bengali daily, the Ananda Bazar
Patrika. Besides, an entire sub-section is devoted to the Vijaya Dashami marking the end of
Durgotsav. The relevance of Vijaya in the context of political as well as the socio-economic
upheavals of the time has been portrayed in details from a careful perusal of contemporary
source materials gleaned mainly from the files of the Amrita Bazar Patrika.
Although the area of study concentrates on the first half of the 20th century, the
contents of the book hark back to earlier times in order to make the reader well conversant
with the history of Durga Puja festival in Calcutta and the mofussil in the earlier
The first part of the book dealing principally with the spiritual basis of Durga
worship, concentrates on the spiritual, metaphysical, psychological, and symbolical aspects
of Goddess Durga and Her demon antagonist, Mahisasura. The social, religious, and symbolical
connotations attached to Devi Durga's companions, viz., Laxmi, Saraswati, Kartick, and
Ganesha have also been probed, together with the astrological implications of Her conveyors
to the Earth. The ethical side of Durga Puja along with its social significance have been
covered in great details to illustrate the true ambience in which it is held. The temporary
change in the Hindu mentality during the four days of the festival has also been explored to
bring out the spirit of mirth and gaiety on this auspicious occasion. Also highlighted in a
subsequent part of the book, are the un-orthodox reflections of Rabindranath Tagore on
Durgotsav in Bengal.
Parts of the book dealing with the historical and social perspectives contain
sections already highlighted earlier in this Preface. Of special interest in these parts are
the names and locations of as many household or community Durga Pujas in Calcutta and the
suburbs as I could muster.
One regrettable thing that marred the collection of research data on the subject in
the period under consideration lay in the paucity of materials. The reason as to why I had
to depend mainly on secondary sources for information from 1900 to 1937 was principally
because of the unavailability of primary source materials of the period. Book were either
misplaced or too brittle for consultation, while newspapers during this time were mostly in
such a state of decay that they could not be handed over to me for consultation by the
authorities in charge of them.
Nonetheless, I owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of numerous libraries of
Calcutta for the more or less successful prosecution of my work. These were mainly those of
the National Library, Kolkata particularly the National Library Newspaper Reading Room at
Esplanade East, Kolkata, and those of the Asiatic Society in the city.
Prof. Chittabrata Palit, Professor of History, Jadavpur University and Director,
Corpus Research Institute, along-with Dr. Ujjal Ray, Reader in History, Sonarpur College,
South 24 Parganas, provided me with great inspiration in writing this book. Thanks are due
to the Registrar, Jadavpur University and the Finance Officer, Jadavpur University, for
permitting me to get funds for publication, quickly from my contingency account.
I also express my debt of gratitudes to Mr. Aloke Krishna Deb of the Shovabazar Deb
Rajbati for providing me with a valuable photograph of the Durga image which graced the Puja
podium at the Rajbati premises during Sarodotsav, 1930. He also furnished me with another
photograph of the Fair that was held in 1936, adjoining the Durgotsav at the Rajbati
Thanks are also due to Shree Probal RoyChaudhuri of the Barisha Saborno RoyChaudhuri
family for allowing me to use a photograph of Durga which was incidentally worshipped at the
ancestral premises of the Saborno RoyChaudhuri at Barisha, during Durgotsav in 1920. The
same to the Indian Museum authorities at Calcutta for photographs.
Thanks are also due to Mr. Biman Dasgupta for printing, in computer, photographs of
the early images of Durga which I had so far collected, among which were two photographs of
Durga taken from the Ananda Bazar Patrika, Saradiya numbers of 1935 & 1936 respectively.
I cannot forget the help and encouragement rendered to me during the progress of my
work by my friend Mr. Debasish Adhikary & my young Research Scholar, Kaushik Ananda
My wife, Bharati, was also a stupendous source of inspiration while my son, Promit,
provided comic relief during moments of stress and strain while the work was in progress.
Lastly, thanks are due to Messrs Readers Service for taking the responsibility of
publishing the manuscript. The same to Mr. Sushil Kumar Das for expert proof reading and for
the preparation of the Index of the book.
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