Though people from across Delhi make a beeline to pandals in Chittaranjan Park, purists still head to the oldest Pujo in the capital–organised by the Bangla Senior Secondary School. To understand its significance, one must go back into the pages of history. It is believed that families from Bengal first migrated to Delhi way back in the 19th century. In 1864, a railway line was laid out, which connected Calcutta to Delhi, allowing many Bengalis to travel to and settle down in Delhi for better opportunities in the field of medicine, law, administration, and more.
Today, Chittaranjan Park might have become synonymous with the Bengali community in the capital. However, the oldest settlement lies in the lanes of old Delhi’s Kashmere Gate. The first Kali Bari was established in 1840 near Nigambodh Ghat. During the first war of Independence in 1857, the idol from the temple was rescued and placed in a new one near Tis Hazari in 1917.
Old Delhi, over the years, became home to several noted Bengali personalities such as Doctor Hemchandra Sen. With the coronation of King George V, the capital of India shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, and a set of Bengal migrants moved to the new seat of power to avail of better employment opportunities. Old Delhi, which was already home to a sizable number of Bengali families, provided a new space to these new settlers, who made the stretch till Delhi University’s North Campus their home.
In 1899 the first recognised Bangla School, namely the Bangla Senior Secondary School, was established in Chandni Chowk. The institution helped Delhi’s Bengali community hold on to their cultural heritage. And when in 1910, Delhi’s first Durga Puja was organised in RS Laxmi Narain Dharmshala, everyone from the residents of old Delhi to students of Bangla school, almost everyone was involved in the grand festivities. At that time, the school did not have enough land to organise a puja within its premises, so they booked the dharamshala in Chandni Chowk for this purpose.
Today, this tradition has stood the test of time. “Not even once did we not organise the Pujo,” says Robin Bose, one of the members of the puja committee. “The school shifted to its current space in Civil Lines, where the puja has been celebrated for the last 95 years.”
The idol is made within the premises of the school. Idol makers from Krishnagar, West Bengal are brought in, whose families have been practicing the art from generations. Bose also states that during the two years, the pandemic, while many puja committees discontinued the celebration, the school did not.
“We did not get an idol. However, we continued with the ghot pujo (ghot is a pitcher placed under the idol during pujo). Instead, the pitcher was symbolically worshipped, and the banner of Durga Idol was put in place,” he elaborates. This year, however, great excitement has gripped members of the committee as the puja is being celebrated with former gusto after two years. “CR Park is a newbie compared,” says 85 year old Jhorna Sen, an alumna of the school. For her and many others, their heart lies in Kashmere Gate, from where it had all started.