The beginnings of Jagadhatri Puja in the former French colony of Chandannagar are mired in controversy. Some believe that the tradition of performing Jagadhatri Puja was started in the mid-1750s CE by Indranarayan Chowdhury, the Diwan of Krishnachandra, the celebrated Maharaja of Krishnanagar. According to another legend, Maharaja Krishnachandra himself started the tradition of Jagadhatri Puja in 1762 CE, first in his capital and later by asking his Diwans in different parts of his kingdom to perform the puja in their neighborhoods. Dataram Sur, his Diwan in Chandannagar, duly started the first Jagadhatri Puja in late autumn 1762 CE.
Whatever the exact date of the commencement of Jagadhatri Puja, it is certain that the festival has been in vogue among the aristocracy and the local business community of Chandannagar since the mid-18th century. In the 19th century, the French authorities in Chandannagar started taking an active interest in Jagadhatri Puja, effectively patronizing the festival with funds and infrastructural support, and turned it into a big community festival that it is today. It is believed that the decorative electric lights, and the grand pre-immersion procession that Chandannagar and Jagadhatri Puja are famously associated with, were also a result of the successful collaboration between the local community and the French Colonial authorities.
Before you go
Jagadhatri is a comparatively less violent form of Durga. Unlike Durga Puja, where Durga is worshipped along with her four children, Jagadhatri is worshipped alone. The idols are normally 30-35 feet tall, and are exquisitely adorned with intricate designs made from the root of the shola reed. The gold and silver jewelry used to decorate the idols is real, made of precious metals and gemstones. Also unlike Durga Puja in Kolkata, where the idols are made in Kumartuli and other idol-maker neighborhoods, all Jagadhatri idols are made in the pandals where they are eventually worshipped.
The Heritage Walk Calcutta team visited Chandannagar on Shoshthi morning, the first day of the festival, to explore the city on foot and chart out a route for a DIY tour that will take the visitors through the historic parts of the city while visiting the important Pujas. This walk starts from Mankundu Railway Station in South Chandannagar and ends at Chandannagar Railway Station in the north. The route can also be reversed.
If you are not interested in seeing the lights or want to avoid crowds, the best time to visit is early in the morning. The Howrah-Bandel and Howrah-Burdwan (Main Line) Local trains frequently ply between Howrah Station and Mankundu/Chandannagar, and cost INR 20 for the roundtrip.
It is best to avoid taking cars to Chandannagar, as the main thoroughfares are blocked after 15:00 every day during the Puja. If you are going in the morning, before 15:00, you can rent a cycle rickshaw or Toto (battery operated tuk-tuk) from the station to visit the pujas. However, be ready to bargain about the price.
This guide is prepared for those who would like to take it slow and walk at least some sections of the route. This DIY Tour is conceived as a heritage walk alongside a pandal-hopping experience.
The DIY Tour
After alighting at Mankundu Station, take the exit on Platform No. 1. The cycle rickshaw and toto stands are located right in front of this exit. There are also HDFC, SBI, and Axis Bank ATMs near this exit.
The first Pujo in this tour is Natunpara Sarbojanin, located on the Ditch Road. As you make your way west along Mankundu Station Road, the Ditch Road entrance of this Puja will be on your right 700m from the station, after crossing a culvert over a narrow canal. This canal was much wider earlier and was the ditch marking the boundary of the French colony of Chandannagar.
Coming back onto Mankundu Station Road, continue west. The entrance to Neogi Bagan Sarbojanin will be on your left. After visiting Neogi Bagan Sarbojanin, continue west on Mankundu Station road to Jyotir More. This is a busy four-point intersection where Station Road meets the Grand Trunk Road. If you are planning to explore mostly on foot, it is recommended that you take a rickshaw from the station to Jyotir More and start walking from here.
After crossing the Grand Trunk Road, continue west towards Tematha, which is a junction of three roads. Right at the junction there is a unmissable tall pandal that is the Tematha Mandir Sarbojanin. This is an old Puja in the southern part of Chandannagar, which is famous for making the tallest idol in the city every year.
From there follow the southwest-bound Moran Road. This neighborhood of Chandannagar is known as Gondolpara, the name of one of the three original villages that were purchased by the French East India Company to establish their settlement in 1688 CE. Later, the rich Bengali businessmen and others would build exquisite residences in Gondolpara. Moran Road gets its name from Monsieur Moran, a rich French official who built his sprawling mansion, surrounded by a large garden by the river, where Gondolpara Jute Mill now stands. Rabindranath Tagore stayed in Moran’s mansion in his childhood.
The first two stops on Moran Road are the 50-year-old Puja of Ambika Athletic Club and the comparatively newer puja of the neighboring A.C. Chatterjee Lane. The main puja on Moran Road is Moran Road Sarbojanin, which entered its 59th year in 2017. To reach this Puja, you will have to come back to Moran Road after exiting the A.C. Chatterjee Lane puja and follow the road west.
From here, follow Moran Road till it ends at the Gondolpara Jute Mill. The Jute Mill was the location of Monsieur Moran’s mansion and garden; the mill itself was only constructed in 1880 CE, when jute industries were mushrooming on the western bank of the Hooghly. From the end of Moran Road, turn left onto Rabindranath Tagore Road, and walk along the walls of the Jute Mill. If you are an architecture enthusiast, this road has some beautiful old colonial-style houses, dating from the mid-19th and early-20th centuries.
As you continue north on Rabindranath Tagore Road, you will see the five spires of a pancharatna (five-spired) temple beyond an old boundary wall to your right. This is the Neelkantheswari Temple, which was consecrated on 7th July 1913. The temple was commissioned by Shibnath Mukhopadhyay after the Goddess Kali appeared in a dream and instructed him to carve a stone in her juvenile form so that she could be worshipped as his daughter. The idol here is unique.
From here, follow Rabindranath Tagore Road north to reach the next stop: Manshatala Sarbojanin. This Puja is organized by the Manshatala Club and entered its 75th year in 2017. The club grounds are situated in a neighborhood full of beautiful old colonial-style buildings constructed in the mid-19th century.
Leaving Manshatala Sarbojanin, continue north along Rabindranath Tagore Road until you reach Kachhari Ghat, where the Kachhari Ghat Sarbojanin puja is organized near the banks of the river opposite the Siddheswari Temple, a round temple jutting out onto Rabindranath Tagore Road.
From Kachhari Ghat take the road branching to the left of Rabindranath Tagore Road in front of the Siddheswari Kali Temple. As you continue east on this road, you will pass a couple of whitewashed colonial-style houses on the right and left. These were constructed in 1910 and 1902 CE respectively. Continuing north, you will see a magnificent neo-classical style mansion on your left. Owned by the affluent Mondal family and constructed in 1752 CE, this is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Chandannagar.
After crossing the Mondal mansion, take the left turn from the fork and walk south to reach Satghata Club Sarbojanin puja. From Satghata, follow the same road back to the fork and continue straight to Charmandir Tala Sarbojanin. On the way to Charmandir Tala, you will pass a white mausoleum with a plaque in Bangla commemorating the spot where the freedom fighter Makhanlal Ghosal was shot by the French and British police force.
From the fork in front of Charmandir Tala Sarbojanin, take a right. Take a left at the next junction and walk east to reach Kabi Bharat Chandra Road. This is one of the main roads in Chandannagar and goes north to The Strand.
Here you will get cycle rickshaws and totos to take you to The Strand. On the way, you can stop to see the Beshotala Sarbojanin, Daibokpara Sarbojanin, and Hathkhola Manashatala Sarbojanin pujos. All of these are along Kabi Bharat Chandra Road.
The Strand is a 1 km-long stretch of road along the river that was the center of the French colonial administration. This was where Fort d’Orleans was until its destruction by the English East India Company under Robert Clive in March 1757. Later, when Chandannagar was fully restored to the French in 1814, the Institut de Chandernagor building was built at the site of the fort as accommodation for the French Governor. After Chandannagar gained independence from France in 1950, the building was turned into a museum and the French cultural institute, and was later restored in the late 1980s with funding from the French Government.
Walking north along The Strand, take the first left onto Church Road, immediately after Institut de Chandernagor, and you will see the distinctly French-looking Sacred Heart Church straight ahead. The church was built in 1875. Go right where Church Road forks in front of the church. In a few meters at the junction take the left exit onto Burabazar Main Road. As you turn onto Burabazar Main Road, you will see the impressive yellow gateway and large colonial structure of the Kanailal Vidyamandir on your right. On your left, there is the smaller, but no less impressive, building of the French section of the same school. Kanailal Vidyamandir was established in 1882 CE as St. Mary’s Institution by Father Barthet. The name was changed to Kanailal Vidyamandir in 1948 in memory of the freedom fighter Kanailal Dutta, an alumnus of the school.
The Burabazar Sarbojanin puja is in the middle of this road and is one of the most famous pujas in Chandannagar. A number of restaurants and street food shops are available in this area for lunch, but depending on the time of the day, there may be a 30-45 minute wait period to get in. Red Chilli is one that was recommended to us by the locals.
From here it is best to hire a cycle rickshaw or toto to visit the remaining pujas.
The Chaulpatty (grain merchants’ neighborhood) Jagadhatri Puja is arguably the oldest puja in Chandannagar. This is located in Lakshmiganj Bazar and is considered to be 300 years old, started by local grain merchants. Because of the age of the Puja, the goddess here is often referred to as Aadi Maa (the ancient mother) The idol here is different than all of the other Pujas we have visited so far. The colour of the goddess’s skin is not white or pink, but the traditional yellow, like the traditional Durga Pujas in Kolkata and elsewhere. The lion is white in colour–like the one in Krishnanagar Rajbari in Nadia, where Jagadhatri Puja is believed to have originated.
The next stop is the Kaporepatty (cloth merchants’ neighborhood) Sarbojanin Puja, which, according to the organizers, was started in 1766 CE by a group of cloth merchants in the neighborhood. The idol here is similar to the one in Chaulpatty. Vidyalanka(r) Sarbojanin, the next stop, is another old puja in north Chandannagar and is famous for its beautiful LED displays. The penultimate stop on this tour is the 150-year-old Bagbazar Sarbojanin. The specialty of this puja is the revolving led lights on the chakra (disc) in the top right hand of Jagadhatri and the glowing eyeballs (and teeth!) of the lion. Our final stop is Fatakgora Sarbojanin Puja on Chandannagar station road, very close to Chandannagar railway station.
The total duration of this tour is 6 hours, and it can be done in clusters over a couple of days. However, please note that if done in the evening, the roads will be crowded and transportation will not be available, and as a result the tour will take longer.
Please note that the toilets are available only at the railway stations and in restaurants. We have not seen any public toilets during our exploration.
Heritage Walk Calcutta team is extremely grateful to Ms. Somwrita Nag who has joined Heritage Walk Calcutta as an intern, for walking with us and helping us explore the nooks and corners of Chandannagar. Special thanks to Mrs. Neline Mondal for helping us unearth local knowledge and initiate a dialogue with the locals about Chandannagar’s history and culture.