The worship of Goddess Kali, it is believed, became popular only in the eighteenth century in Bengal. But the worship of the goddess continued in the households of bonedi families of Calcutta even before the eighteenth century. One such family is the Halder family of Calcutta (now Kolkata).
The Kali Puja of Halder Bari of 15, Ramanath Kabiraj Lane is more than 250 years old. The patriarch of this family was Lakshmi Narayan Halder, who came to Calcutta in the mid eighteenth century from Badla village, which falls midway between between Hooghly and Burdwan districts. He was the zamindar there. In Calcutta, they started their business which flourished during the time of Rakhal Das Halder. They had business in hardware items, tea gardens, ship repairing, etc. The Halders had retained the charm of the puja in every respect “despite the change of eras.” They held a high position in the business arena so much so that Rakhal Das Halder acquired membership of the so-called elite clubs like Calcutta Club, Bengal Club and Tollygunge Club. One important thing to note is in 1943 when the first fifty telephone connections were given in Calcutta, the Halder family had one, which they still retained.
The Kali idol was prepared in the thakurdalan itself where the Durga Puja was held with great pomp and splendour for more than 170 years. The goddess is ‘Singhabahini‘ and is made of ‘astodhatu’ (a mixture of eight metals). The structure or kathamo of Kali idol was worshipped on the day of Mahastami and the making of the idol started from the day of Lakshmi Puja (i.e, a fortnight before the Kali Puja). An artisan from Krishnanagar was entrusted the duty of decorating the goddess.
According to Sri Barun Kumar Halder, on the day of Kali puja, first Maha Lakshmi puja was held; after that began Kali Puja, during which all the electric lights of the household were switched off. The puja was performed in candle light and the whole house was decorated with candles. It was really a beautiful scene to watch.
A striking feature of the puja is the use of mashal or traditional torches during the time of sacrifice. Earlier goats were sacrificed but from 1946 onwards, the Halders switched to vegetables. Earlier the family had a tradition of immersing the Goddess Kali by boat in the middle of the Ganges, but now this practice was stopped. The house of the Halders had witnessed many historical incidents.
Date of posting: 20th October, 2017.