Trip to Chandannagar during Jagadhatri Puja

Chandernagor was for nearly 250 years a French city administered by France. We leave Calcutta without much difficulty on Sunday morning and take the northern route. As soon as we leave the national highway for a smaller national highway, the quality of the roads deteriorates.

Our trip was not easy. If the city is located about 30 km from Kolkata, it took us two hours to reach it. The track is crowded with trucks of all kinds and our Bengali driver knows neither the road nor the destination. In addition, some minister was to arrive in the area and part of the city was closed to traffic.

We reach Chandannagar or Chandernagor, former French counter on the right bank of the Hooghly at 10am. The preparations in the town is in full swing for the upcoming jagadhatri puja. It is in the state of Bengal and particularly in Chandernagor, that these celebrations are of unparalleled scale and intensity.

The sculptors compete with skill and ingenuity to create effigies, all more beautiful than the next, which are then covered with sumptuous clothes and adorned with sparkles and glittering jewels. The rivalry is great between quarters, to who will possess the most beautiful, the greatest and the most resplendent of goddesses.

The effigies, once created, are exhibited, during the festive period, in the different places of the town, either in permanent structures, or in temporary installations, often tents, the pandals, which will be dismantled after the festival.

We first discover the Church of the Sacred Heart. We were greeted with great warmth by the priest, a jovial Anglo-Indian who, besides his pastoral tasks, brings a lot of heart to the restoration of his church. Several funerary steles, more or less legible, are on the outside. The interior is rather sober.

Jesuit records indicate that the life of Jesuit missionaries of past centuries has not always been simple. The rivalry with the Portuguese Augustinians some miles north of Bandel was so strong that the French Jesuits once reported to their superiors that they feared being poisoned! Life is more serene today for the catholic families of the parish.

A little further away is the Dupleix Palace, which was the residence of the French administrators. This building has been magnificently restored and houses a library with 18,000 books and a museum. In average condition, it houses the Institute of Chandernagor, a small museum. The French garden is well fallen from its former splendor.

We visit the museum which keeps many documents of the French administration. This palace is really nice and faces the Ganges whose quays are adorned with benches. We go see the French cemetery! Then we see a woman writing carefully on a notebook. This is the kind of meeting we do not expect and that is very timely.

A French woman, who has been living in Bengal for a long time is jotting down the list of names inscribed on the tombs. More than that, she draws the cemetery plan and the location of each grave. A cemetery rehabilitation project seems to exist and private funding will be needed to clean and arrange the cemetery.

We leave at noon. We pass by Bandel, a little further north, former seat of a Portuguese mission and cross the Hooghly to the bridge of Kalyani. It takes us more than an hour to reach the national highway on the left bank, known as the Assam road, as it is the gateway to the Northeast Indian states.

The road is unfortunately in a deplorable state. Apart from a few short sections that have just been redone, it is completely broken down or being repaired and passes through many villages. We go slow in the jolts and the dust. We need five hours for 150 km and we arrive at Berhampore at 6 pm.

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