Baksha is a quiet hamlet neighbouring the popular village of Janai in Hooghly. Although is not much talk about the specialities of these villages, except of course Janai’s popular sweet, monohara, few people know that Baksha was the seat of several powerful landlords of the time. One such family is Singha (Singhi) and their house is popularly called Singhi bari.
The old house has very little left of it except for the old thakurdalan where Durga Puja is being held for the past 426 years. The famous poet and litterateur, Kaliprasanna Singha, who wrote under the popular pseudonym of Hutom Pancha, was a member of this Singha family. Kaliprasanna was a popular Bengali author, playwright, and philanthropist. One of his famous works was translation of the Mahabharata into Bengali. A social reformer, Singha wrote under the pseudo Hutom Pyancha. His Hutom Pyanchar Naksha was a compilation of satirical social sketches, that reflected Bengal’s urban society of the time. He was also a philanthropist and helped several people and movements in distress.
Dewan Santiram Singha was the first established member of the Singha family. Later he had settled in a huge palatial mansion in Jorasanko in Calcutta. Santiram’s descendant, Mahendralal Singha, a high rank officer of the Nawab era, bought eight and half bigha of land in Baksha where he build a house, thakurdalan and started Durga Puja. Since then, Durga Puja has never had a break. According to old family records, although Kaliprasanna Singha was born and brought up at Jorasanko, he often visited his ancestral home in Hooghly during Durga Puja.
There are now over 15 families who belong to the Singha family and each year, one of the families must take all responsibility of arranging the Puja. There are some debuttor property like ponds that have been given out for pisciculture, which generate some income through the year.
“Earlier buffalos were sacrificed on Ashtami but the practice stopped nearly fifty years back after the new generation family members objected. Now a goat is sacrificed during Sandhi Puja but the meat is not consumed by the family members. It is distributed between the priest and dhaki” said Subrata Singha, one of present generation members of the Singha family. Durga is not offered rice at the Singha bari puja. Instead luchi and a variety of sweets are offered. Subrata said that only luchi and narkel nadu (a sweet made of coconut) are distributed among the family members and guests who attend the Puja.
Sticking to traditions followed through four centuries, women members of the Singha family are not allowed to take part in making arrangements of the. Only the male members of the family, including boys, make all arrangements during the four days of puja.
“Bodhan stars from pratipad, the day after Mahalaya and till Navami everyone in the family is strictly vegetarian,” said Subrata. The idol is immersed in the Saraswati river that flows close to the house. “Bearers and family members carry the deity on shoulders till the bank of the river,” he said.