The Kalibari at BHEL Bhopal.
Soon after the independence, India embarked on its course of planned development as per the prevailing Nehru vision of the era. One of the first heavy power equipment factory Bharat Heavy Electricals (Private) Limited was set up in 1956 at Bhopal. People from all over India were selected on merit basis to develop and run this unique establishment. The planning for first unit of BHEL started and batches of graduate engineers were sent for training in AEI factory, Manchester, UK . They returned in 1960 to be assigned engineering, production, supervisory and management duties. At the same time artisans holding Industrial Training Institute (ITI) diplomas were inducted for specialization training in fabrication, assembling and testing of rotating and static electric machines. Out of around 10,000 employees of the BHEL plant in Bhopal, there were 800 artisans and 200 supervisory staff who were Bengalis.
As is inevitable with the presence of Bengalis, a Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad (BSP) was formed in April 1960, with a library and reading room facilities at BHEL Bhopal. The Kali Puja, Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja started to be organized annually. Around 1963, the government approved allocation of land under the non-trading societies act for religious purposes. A piece of land was allotted in writing under the scheme, near Piplani, to the Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad by the BHEL Management. In 1967 a Kalibari samiti (association) was formed.
The first president, Mr S. N. Ghosh, died in an accident in Calcutta (Kolkata now) which was followed by some more deaths in the Bengali community, raising doubts whether the goddess wanted the temple at all. After one year of non activity, funds started to be raised for construction of Kali Temple from building contractors, material suppliers and other individuals. The efforts of fund raising were no doubt supported by the high ranking officials of the Bengali community in BHEL Bhopal. The renowned Yoga teacher of Bhopal K. M. Ganguly (a government contractor at that time) and his brother D. K. Ganguly built the temple on a no-profit no-loss basis, which took three years to be completed.
Dr Suresh Sharma (Ex-Chief Medical Officer at BHEL) contacted his father-in-law, an MLA in Jaipur Rajasthan, for a suitable sculptor for the idol of goddess Kali. Sri Mahendra Das , a well know sculptor, was contacted for the job who immediately refused. After much convincing Sri Das eventually visited Bhopal and agreed to make the idol of goddess. The entire idol of goddess Kali and God Shiva at her feet was sculpted out of one ‘Makrana’ black marble stone. When sculpting, some gold was found in the stone at the exact location of third eye of the goddess. The idol has the gold as her third eye till date. In 1971 the idol was consecrated with full religious formalities, after being brought to Bhopal from Jaipur on truck loaded with sand. The Diwali night is when the Bengalis celebrate the Kali Puja.
However the Durga Puja at BHEL Kalibari is very popular in Bhopal. The “Bhog” organized on the seventh, eighth and ninth day of the festival (Saptami, Astami and Navami) attracts hoards of local populace. The puja location becomes a meeting place for all the old BHEL Bhopal employees, mostly retired now, and their families. The cultural festivals that are religiously organized by the working committee of the Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad (BSP) go unnoticed as the long separated friends get on to the famous Bengali adda (gossip sessions). The chat sessions are temporarily stopped in the wee hours of morning only to be taken up on the next night. The Kalibari Durga Puja might not have the spunk and glamour of Kolkata pujas, but the socialization makes the event a much looked forward to. Mostly old retired ex-employees of BHEL Bhopal still man the organization. Even the younger Bengali generation that remains in Bhopal has abandoned the traditional “Dhunuchi Naach” of Bengal, going for the more glamorous Dandiya dances organized in recent years in Bhopal.
Still the charm remains, if only in the nostalgic hearts of the ‘not-so-young-now’ generation.