Barowari refers to the public organisation of a religious or other festival, mainly in West Bengal. This is extensively used for Durga Puja. The word "Barowari" came from the words "baro", which means 12, and "yari" (friendly connection). Much earlier in 1790, 12 Brahmin friends in Guptipara, Hooghly, had decided to institute Community Puja. Subscriptions were raised from neighbours. Thus started baro-yari or Barowari Puja in Bengal which gained popularity in leaps and bounds. Initially, Durga Puja was an occasion for the rich Babus of Kolkata, later individual initiatives declined as collective enterprises came to replace it.
In more recent times, the nomenclature ‘barowari’ is being replaced by ‘sarbajanin’ (meaning all inclusive). The Barowari festival is the opposite of household festival organised privately, but often allowing the participation of outsiders. The Barowari festival is organised with funds raised from the public at large through donations or subscriptions.
The first publicly organised Durga Puja was held at Guptipara, when some men were stopped from taking part in a household Durga Puja. Twelve of them formed a committee and organised a barowari ( in Bengali baro means twelve and yar means friend) puja (worshipping). There is a difference of opinion about the year of worship – 1761 or 1790.
There were numerous household pujas, particularly Durga Puja, in various parts of Bengal. Generally such pujas allowed others to participate in the worshipping but the organisation and other matters were obviously with the family taking the initiative and spending money for it.
The Sabarna Roy Choudhury family has been celebrating Durga Puja since 1610 in their ancestral home at Barisha. It is possibly the oldest organised festival in the Kolkata region. Today altogether seven Durga Pujas are being held in the family. Out of these, six are at Barisha while the seventh is at Birati. The Pujas which are held at Barisha are that of - Aatchala, Baro Bari, Mejo Bari, Benaki Bari, Kalikingkar Bhawan and Majher Bari. Other than the Durga Puja, the family organizes Chandi Puja, Jagadhatri Puja, Dol Yatra and Rath Yatra utsav.
Nabakrishna Deb started the Durga Puja in Shobhabazar Rajbari in 1757. He set a pattern for the puja which became a fashion and a status symbol among the upcoming merchant class of Kolkata. The number of Englishmen attending the family Durga Puja became an index of prestige. Religious scruples fell by the wayside. The nautch girls were mostly from Muslim gharanas. The Englishmen attending the dance-parties, dined on beef and ham from Wilson’s Hotel, and drank to their heart’s contentment.
Rani Rashmoni used to celebrate Durga Puja at her residence with traditional pomp, including all-night jatras (folk theatre), rather than by entertaining the Englishmen with whom she carried on a running feud. After her death in 1861, the sons-in-law took to celebrating Durga Puja in their respective premises.
There are number of other household Durga Pujas in Kolkata.
Barowari Durga Pujas
The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of the publicly organised or community Durga Puja. The first barowari Durga Puja was organised in Kolkata by Bhowanipore Sanatan Dharmotsahini Sabha in 1910 at Balaram Basu Ghat Road, Bhowanipore. Other barowari Durga Pujas that followed it closely were Shyampukur Adi Sarbojanin in 1911, Sikdarbagan (in the Shyambazar neighbourhood) in 1913, Nebubagan, which later became Baghbazar sarbojanin, in 1919, and Simla Byam Samiti in 1926.
Barowari Durga Pujas are celebrated in over 2,000 pandals in Kolkata.
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[Sarbojanin Dharma Prasarini Samity Durga Puja 1922 Bhowanipur]