The Evolution of Durga Puja: From Colonial Roots to a Celebration of Unity

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October 26, 2023

The Evolution of Durga Puja: From Colonial Roots to a Celebration of Unity

Colonial and Anti-Colonial Roots of Durga Puja - Civilsdaily


  • Durga Puja, a vibrant festival celebrated across India, holds deep religious significance. However, its modern roots are intertwined with the colonial era. This article explores the evolution of Durga Puja, tracing its origins from the aftermath of the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to its transformation into a celebration of nationalism and inclusivity in the 20th century.

Robert Clive and the Mythical Beginning

Multiple Origin Stories

  • Durga Puja boasts various origin stories, but one popular tale links it to the aftermath of the pivotal Battle of Plassey. This tale, however, faces scrutiny from historical records, yet it symbolizes the social beginnings of Durga Puja in Calcutta.

Robert Clive’s Role

  • Following his victory at Plassey, Robert Clive sought to express gratitude to a higher power. In the absence of a church, his Persian translator, Nabakishan Deb, suggested offering prayers to Goddess Durga. This marked the initiation of Calcutta’s first Durga Puja.

Historical Scrutiny

  • While widely known, doubts linger about the accuracy of this narrative. Nevertheless, it signifies the connections between Bengali zamindars, merchants, and the East India Company, paving the way for future celebrations.

Sociological Changes under Colonial Rule

Rise of Zamindars

  • The decline of the Mughal Empire empowered Bengal’s zamindars, hereditary landowners who effectively governed their territories. The Permanent Settlement Act of 1793 formalized their role as intermediaries.

Emergence of Prosperous Merchants

  • Calcutta burgeoned as an urban center during Company rule, witnessing the rapid ascent of affluent Bengali merchants. Economic opportunities led to the rapid accumulation of wealth by families like the Tagores and the Mullicks.

Conspicuous Consumption

  • Durga Puja became a platform for the nouveau riche to showcase their affluence. Lavish celebrations, gold-adorned idols, and entertainment from nautch girls characterized these grand events, igniting competition among rival families.

Durga Puja Takes a Nationalistic Turn

Late 19th-Century Nationalism

  • In the late 19th century, nationalism surged among the Bengali intelligentsia. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s “Ananda Math” popularized the phrase “Bande Mataram” and introduced the concept of the “mother” nation.

Durga as a Symbol

  • Goddess Durga, revered as “Ma” (mother) Durga, symbolized the nation and its potential savior from foreign rule. Durga Puja became integral to the burgeoning nationalist movement.

Response to Partition

  • Lord Curzon’s decision to Partition Bengal in 1905 fueled the Swadeshi Movement, with “Bande Mataram” as its rallying cry. Communal festivities, including Durga Puja, played a pivotal role in forging collective consciousness and action.

Shift towards Public Celebrations

1920s Transformation

  • In the 1920s, public Durga Pujas emerged, signifying a shift from exclusive festivals for the elite to inclusive celebrations for all. The first “sarbojanin” or “universal” Puja was organized in 1926 in Calcutta’s Maniktala area.

Inclusive Tradition

  • These public Pujas, organized by locality, welcomed people regardless of their caste or residence. Temporary temples, known as pandals, sprung up in public spaces, making the festivities accessible to a broader audience.


  • The evolution of Durga Puja, from its colonial-era origins to a celebration of nationalism and inclusivity, reflects the dynamic nature of culture and society. It has transformed from an occasion for the elite to showcase wealth to a festival that unites people across backgrounds, embracing unity in diversity. Durga Puja continues to be a cherished tradition that weaves together history, culture, and the essence of Bengal.

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The Evolution of Durga Puja: From Colonial Roots to a Celebration of Unity | Vaid ICS Institute