Freshly painted 'thakur dalan' of palatial mansions, pillars decorated in golden blossoms, old chandeliers lit up in full glory, the ladies of the royal family drawing intricate 'alponas' and doing 'Pujor Jogar' (prepping up for elaborate rituals) - a perfect setting in a typical 'Bonedi Barir Pujo' to welcome the Goddess.
While the new-age Theme Pujo draw millions to the City every year, Kolkata is home to a lot of traditional Zamindar Family Pujo or 'Bonedi Barir Pujo' as they are referred to in Bangla.
These Bonedi Barir Pujo have been an intrinsic part of Bengal's rich culture and heritage over centuries and their focus on traditions and rituals continue to charm those who like to bask in old-world classics and nostalgia.
Centuries ago, it was originally the affluent local landlords or Zamindars of undivided Bengal who arranged these yearly Pujo jubilations, as only the wealthy were able to bear the cost of such elaborate Durga Pujo.
With time, as the 'Zamindar' title was abolished and their finances dwindled, the family successors started pulling in their resources and came together for arranging these yearly get-togethers in order to keep alive the tradition of their ancestral Pujo.
The flamboyant display of wealth and the extravagant rituals may have been cut down or modified at these 'Bonedi Pujo' over the years, but the setting – the grand chandeliers, the traditional touch, the faith with which Debi Durga is worshipped, the reverence people show towards these heritage Pujo – is still alive in the same spirit.
Hosted in over 200 different households across Bengal, these sabeki barir Durga Pujo retain classic flavour of the festivities, which have been carried on by generations for the last 150 to 400 years or even more.
Built in the 18th Century by aristocrat Raja Nabakrishna Deb, the Shobhabazar Rajbari is one of the oldest and the most majestic royal mansions of Kolkata.
The festivities that started at this Rajbari situated in the Shobhabazar area of North Kolkata in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey, continue in its same glory till today, making it possibly the most popular Kolkata bonedi barir Durga Puja.
The Shobhabazar Rajbari Pujo has some signature traditions. One of them include the traditional idol worship that has been arranged for years at the regal 'Nath Mandir' or 'Thakur Dalan' (courtyard) where family members witness the transformation of the Kathamo (structure of the idol) into the Protima (the completed Debi idol).
Another interesting custom which used to be followed here was the release of the 'Neelkantha Bird' as a messenger to Lord Shiva after immersion of Maa Durga. Today, this tradition has evolved with a symbolic clay model of the Neelkantha Bird being worshipped instead.
Often referred to as the oldest Durga Pujo in West Bengal, the Sabarna Roy Choudhury Bari Pujo dates back to 1610.
This Bonedi Barir Pujo was initiated by Lakshmikant Majumder, who was titled as 'Roy Chowdhury' during Mughal Emperor Jahangir's time.
The family's Aat-chala Pujo (aat-chala, meaning eight eaves, is a style of temple architecture) is carried on by his future generations at their ancestral home in Barisha.
Lord Shiva and Lord Ram are also worshipped along with Goddess Durga at their 'Durga Dalan', with both their idols placed on her either side in this sabeki barir Durga Pujo
The Rani Rashmoni Bari Pujo dates back to the early 19th Century. This Pujo was initiated by Rani Rashmoni Roy at her home in Kolkata's Jaan Bazar area near Esplanade. Rani Rashmoni belonged to a well-off zamindar family of the time, and had famously set up the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. This Pujo here is now carried on by the descendants of her daughters.
One of the notable features of this Kolkata bonedi barir Durga Puja is that the 'Bhog' (food offered to the goddess) here is reportedly cooked with 'Gangajal' (water from the holy Ganges river). Another traditional ritual that deserves a mention is the 'Kumari Pujo' that is arranged for three days during the Pujo.
The 200 year old Thanthania Dutta Bari Durga Pujo set up by Dwarka Nath Dutta in the mid-nineteenth century is one of the most famous heritage Pujo of Kolkata.
Organised at Bidhan Sarani, near College Street in North Kolkata, this Pujo idolizes Durga in the 'Hara-Gouri' (Shiva-Durga) form, and worships her as a loving mother instead of the demon-slaying goddess.
At the Thanthania Dutta Bari Pujo, Durga is seen sitting on Lord Shiva's lap with no arms, no weapons, no Vahana, and without the demon Mahisasur. There is a serene expression on Debi Durga's face.
In addition to the unique Durga idol, the tradition of dhuno porano or dhunichi naach is something that is a must watch at Thanthania Dutta Bari on your bonedi barir durga puja parikrama. Married women clad in the iconic red and white sarees, holding burning earthen pots in their palms, seeking Maa Durga's blessings.
First organised in 1770 by Ishwar Ram Dulal Deb (Sarkar), a leading businessman of the time, this Pujo continues to be celebrated at the red-coloured grand building on Beadon Street in North Kolkata.
The festival traditions here are carried on by the families of Ram Dulal Deb's sons Ashutosh (Chhatu) and Pramatha (Latu) which earns the Bonedi Pujo its name as Chhatu Babu and Latu Babu's Pujo.
Debi Durga here is adorned with family heirlooms and ornaments which comprise a stunning 'Naulakha Necklace'. The Goddess here is attended by her two companions - Jaya and Bijaya - perched on beautiful lotuses.
The Pathuriaghata Rajbari Durga Pujo is famous for the majestic mansion's grandeur, housing a spacious inner 'Thakur Dalan' (courtyard) full of beautiful artefacts where the heritage Durga Pujo is held.
Located at Pathuriaghata Street in North Kolkata, the mansion's 85 feet long marble corridors, centuries-old Belgian cut-glass chandeliers and the spectacular dancing hall - all represent the eclectic taste of Babu Khelat Chandra Ghosh, who earned his fortune by working for the British East India Company and was also a bold entrepreneur of the time.
His successors have been following a ritual of offering homemade sweets to the goddess during the yearly Pujo, and the Debi here is also reportedly bathed with water collected from the proverbial 'Saat Samudra Tero Nadi' (seven oceans and thirteen rivers) and juices from twelve fruits.