Calcutta – 1951
Few friends who were body builders decided to start a Kali Puja and on the grounds of Dey’s Medical factory. It was more like a suburban fair with a mini circus, magic shops, well of death motorcycle stunts etc. Then after few years of celebration the puja venue had to be moved since new industrial reforms were starting in the city and this ground was selected for the Dey’s Medical factory. Seeing this the organizers decided to shift the venue to somewhere else.
During this shift, however, the puja split into three different groups, one made their pandal just opposite to the old venue, another group shifted to Ballygunge Phari and a third group shifted to Christian Para (Para means locality in Bengali). As the name suggest Christian Para is a small locality where a handful of Christians lived and the main reason why it was called a Christian Para was that there was a small Church built by that small Christian community.
Over the years this Puja grew by size and slowly became a very well established Kali Puja in Ballygunge locality known as Ballygunge Sharbojonin Shyama Puja. In fact, this was actually a Shyama Puja, the easy difference is the color of the idol which is somewhat blue-black.
I was 21 and all my friends including me were waiting for this year for nearly a decade since this was the year our para Shyama Puja was to celebrate Golden Jubilee that is 50 years of nonstop celebration. Planning’s had been done over a year and finally, it was time. The budget was much bigger and for a change, the Pandal was shifted a bit back from its original position in order to accommodate a large stage and also to create an overall feeling of a magnanimous surrounding. The new location of the pandal was right adjacent to the new church that was built in the para.
To mark this occasion the puja committee had decided to celebrate the celebrations in a bit different way. To start with the inauguration ceremony was to be conducted by not one single person but a group of persons. This group would include a Christian Pastor, a Muslim religious leader, a monk from Ramkrishna Mission and a religious leader from a Sikh community. The main reason for this was to show the unity in diversity that this Shyama Puja had, for generations this puja had been taking place in a Christian Para with equal participation from the community in terms of event support and other logistical help.
The five-day event was a grand success and was covered by many newspapers and television channels since it took such innovative and bold step. Actually, it was nothing bold as such, for generations this locality had multi-religious communities who have been living together in perfect harmony.
Instead of seeing the difference in each other we have adopted the uniqueness of each community and that makes it all special. Be it a birth of a child, marriage or a death the para in celebration and in sad moments always stood by each other.
The Christian Para
This unity is not only seen during Shyama Puja but during Christmas celebrations also, many young boys turn up to decorate the streets with streamers and stars during Christmas. Of course, they also line up for their share of Christmas cake that they get on Christmas morning.
As a tradition, we have a family lunch on Christmas day and this lunch also includes our extended family members. One such member was that of Mr. Sharma, being pure vegetarians my mother used to cook their food separately but they always had lunch along with us. Somehow there was no boundary between us and the same was seen on Diwali evening when we used to have our share of Puri, Sabzi & Halwa all prepared by Mrs. Sharma in their home.
Our para is a confluence of culture and religion and to add to this mix we have Angrez Singh and his family from Jalandhar, his son Sukhdev used to be our cricket team wicket keeper. During Lohri, they used to invite us to enjoy the sit out next to the fire and enjoy their songs along with a hot cup of tea.
The moment my daughter heard the Dhaak (drums) beat she started dancing and without any inhibition, she along with her cousin sister started dancing to the beats in front of the pandal. This was perhaps inbuilt into her DNA and for her, it was just a way of expression.
Over the years the number of Christian families has shrunk as most of them have either shifted to a different city for work or have shifted to apartments in some other locality but still this para is called “Christian Para”. Decades have passed by the spirit remains the same, when people in the country are worried about intolerance, religious divide etc. I would ask them to follow our example and learn to live side by side. We are one because we are different, our difference is the bonding factor.
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