In the early seventeenth century much before the advent of the British in this part of the world, Durga Puja was a sign of opulence and primarily an affluent household's ritual. The Pujas were restricted within the Zamindars' courtyards and the celebrations consciously did not involve their underprivileged subjects. Hence, for the lesser mortals Durga Puja remained a modest mere event which they could watch from well outside the Zamidars' manors. Yes, there were certain occasional benevolence shown by these otherwise megalomaniacs wherein these subjects could be a party to the Puja celebrations to the extent of just following the family and friends of their precolonial masters at the time of the immersion of the Goddess in the nearest river or waterbody. Well, that was it. Consequently, Durga Puja remained principally a private homage.... a far cry from what it is today.
Durga Puja received a serious facelift with the influx of the Queen's herd from the early nineteenth century. With the English slowly biting there way into the Indian heartland through some serious show of military strength, one thing became clear by every passing day that they were going to stay here for a very very long time. As we know well enough, the British had set their initial footsteps into India through Kolkata and Bengal due to its geographical advantage and moreover, since our good ol' city used to be the socio-economic hub of that period. With the ever increasing clout of the colonizers, a large part of the erstwhile Zamindars were forced into acquiescing their loyalties to the British.... some through armed assaults while others by the lure of bigger representative roles. So, it was now the British who ruled the roost and obviously, a growing number of Landlords started queing up to appease their exceedingly influential masters in order to be in their good books. And that's where I think the fate of Durga Pujas took a new turn.
The initiation of 20th century saw Bengal lend its strong hands to the nationalist struggle striving for Indian independence. And this movement was predominantly instigated by the rapidly burgeoning middle class, which was literate and ideological enough to realise the actual benefits of a free state. This was a period which underlined the need of acquiring people's support large enough to inculcate awareness of attaining autonomy under any circumstances. A need for a commune.... a need for a unified cause.... and Durga Puja celebrations struck the perfectly apposite chords to instigate just that. This was a time, when Durga Puja had to be dragged out of the courtyards and patios, to the open streets... to the community parks.... where it could be celebrated in unison devoid of any socio-economic barriers. Devi got a new lease of life, by virtue of having entire neighbourhood coming together to organise a community Puja.... Festival meant for one and all, cutting across all sections of the society. Durga Puja achieved the pedigree of a Carnival, people of all ages flocked together to give it shape and helped it evolve in every possible way. Over the years, with passage of time this Super Carnival has now attained a cult status. The Sarbojanin's... the Barowari's.... the Sangha's had finally arrived.