Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha”. Mahalaya is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power. Thus, the day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis.
Mahalay is also considered the day of remembrance of departed souls of the family. On this day, the ritual of offering “tarpan” in memory of forefathers is commonly practiced. Tarpan is offered on the banks of River Ganga by priests for different group of devotees.
Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the Bengalis, is around the corner and what’s better than having a fulfilling traditional meal during the festive season. This period is a foodie’s paradise with plenty of mouth-watering dishes to savour. Be it snacks or sweets, lunch or dinner, Bengali dishes have something to offer all food enthusiasts.
However, many non-Bengalis, especially who are vegetarians, feel that there isn’t enough variation of Bengali cuisine when it comes to vegetarian food. Well, that’s not the case. Bengalis are known for their love for fish, but at the same time they have some super delicious vegetarian dishes as well.
A regular meal in a Bengali household consists of at least two kinds of vegetarian dishes: a fried vegetable dish and a vegetable curry every day. Shukto, Dhokar Dalna, Alu Posto, Lau Ghonto are a few of those mouth-watering vegetarian dishes that the Bengalis have mastered in. But, if you are willing to try something new from the wide array of Bengali vegetarian dishes, then here is a simple yet delicious recipe of Bhapa Aloo(Steamed Potato) that will surely leave you longing for more.
Preparation Time – 10 min
Cooking Time – 40 min
200 gm small potatoes
2 tsp mustard oil
1/2 tsp Bengali five spice mixture (panchphoron) (whole jeera, saunf seeds, fenugreek seeds, black mustrad seeds and kalaunji)
1/2 tsp mustard paste
1 tsp hung curd
3/4 tsp desiccated coconut paste
2 dry red chillies
Pinch of green chilli paste
Pinch of turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Dash of lime juice
2 banana leaves
1. Peel the potatoes and par boil them in salted water. Once the potatoes are boiled, drain the water and keep those aside.
2. Heat oil in a non-stick pan and add the five spice mixture on to it. Then break the red chillies in half and add them next in the oil. Stir the spices around till they splutter.
3. Then pour this mixture over the potatoes and put it aside.
4. Next take a mixing bowl and prepare a marinade with the mustard paste, curd, coconut paste, green chilli paste and turmeric powder. Do not forget to whip it well.
5. Gently mix the potatoes into this marinade. Add salt and lime juice to it and mix it again.
6. Finally, put the potatoes on a steel plate, cover those with the banana leaves and steam them for about 6-8 minutes. Once the potatoes are perfectly steamed, serve it hot on a platter. You can have this dish with both rice and chapati.
Come the first few weeks of August, and one can actually hear the heart of a bong thumping faster and sometimes even skipping a beat or two in anticipation of the coming of his Maa- the coming of Pujo!
The air is absolutely thick with the feeling one gets just before the starting, the unraveling of something extremely huge…, the feeling you get standing near the wings of the stage with just a few minutes left for your performance to begin.., the feeling you get just before reaching the peak of a much awaited climax.
If energy, passion, paranoia, madness, mania, hyperventilation, hysteria, red bull, glucon-d and chaos, could all be personified into one single being on this planet…-it would have to be the all grimy and sweaty bong, who under the concentrated two o’clock sun, sits in an auto patiently stuck in a huge jam in the heart of a buzz-filled gariahat , clutching onto innumerable bulging shopping bags of different shapes and sizes. After managing to strike up a heated argument with the autowalla over the fare, with eyebrows crinkled up in determination, he now contemplates about the ‘buy-2-get-1-free’ offer in the new mall and how to best avail of it!
Who cares whether it’s school time, college time, office time, and that people have their peaceful daily lives to carry on with? It’s Pujo, and everything must come to a standstill! Otherwise how can it even be called pujo or even feel like pujo? –That’s bong logic for u!! Pandals built right in the middle of roads. Traffic somehow haphazardly diverted. Red, green, yellow -who’s ever heard of them? We make our own traffic rules here! Epicenters of the city blocked, taxis refusing to go anywhere (if you get them empty i.e), people refusing to do any work (if you get them not pretending to be all busy i.e) –this is what the festive season entails. “Pujo ashche toh! apni pujo’r por’e ashben!”-goes the universally accepted excuse which almost seems to imply that putting the words “pujo” and “work” in the same sentence is nothing short of blasphemy! The snakelike auto lines extend till god knows where and one seems to wonder why ‘flyovers’ were even named such! You start having second quadruple thoughts about stepping out of your house…Capitalism, pouncing on this very opportunity of pujo, with its hidden handmaidens of price rise and inflation, seeking to lure the Bengali customer, greets you with a smile an advertisement at every shop you pass by.
The peaceful and quaint little footpaths, with a series of distractingly colorful junk jewellery shops running parallel to them, which used to be a stroller’s paradise before, now seem just the opposite. You have to take in a deep long breath, summon all the forces of the universe, put on the face of a sumo wrestler,(if possible even start believing that you’re one!),and scream out a war cry!! Only then can you…push, and pull, and kick, and bite, and hit, and tickle, and squeeeeeeze your way out of those very same but now claustrophobic footpaths, filled with, boudis enthralled by anything remotely sparkly in the smallest of shops, engrossed in bargaining, and absolutely refusing to budge an inch from rendering the ‘footpath’ completely unworthy of being called one! After accomplishing THAT, when you feel like you’ve created history, you definitely deserve a bournville – because now, you’ve actually EARNED it!
Pujo comes and it is as though a large maniacal ‘cut-loose’ monster, finds incarnation in the whole Bengali community! A monster which has an irrational undying thirst for visiting every single pandal in Kolkata starting right from the day of panchami only ,come rain come shine! A monster whose eyes become absolutely hypnotic throughout the entire pujo season! A monster who will, pull and tug and grope, (if need be even kill), to have a 5 second glimpse of the deity! A crazy, multiple armed (to do everything that can be possibly done during pujo) monster, who seems to have chugged down 5 to 6 red bulls at one go. A monster whose, sometimes impulsive, sometimes high-on-life, sometimes tipsy, and sometimes fierce i-can-kill-for-pujo mood swings, drive the entire community. I think it hides in the d.n.a of every Bengali -runs in their very veins. A little chromosomal monster that rears its head at the slightest mention of the word pujo!
Even though to an outsider, pujo seems to run on the policy of ‘live, (to the fullest) and don’t let anyone else live peacefully’, what is important is that it is the celebration of ‘life’ and the joy of ‘living’ more than anything else …and including every possible one in it (irrespective of whether he or she wants to be included)! It’s like all the joy of this ‘city of joy’ is out on its very streets during pujo. So much so that pujo becomes an expression of the city itself. It is almost as though the city bursts into laughter during those few days. If the true innate essence of the city were to be corked up inside a small bottle, labeling the bottle ‘pujo’ would be just apt.
So to truly understand pujo and what is it that people loose their sleep over, you’ve to understand the city, understand Kolkata first. By walking down its lanes and by-lanes, and its every nook and corner everyday, you slowly start feeling the pulse of the city. It is a reverberating rhythm which amplifies and resounds in the manic dhak-dhaking of the million hearts during pujo. You can not only hear it, but feel it …, when you get goose bumps when the dhakais first begin to play their beat, when your hair stands when you hear the dying echo of the shankh, or when you get creeped out by the unnatural eerie quite after dashami…
Kolkata has a soul, a soul that died and became one, because its heart’s arteries became blocked with too much of mishti doi laden sweetness …but is a soul nonetheless.
And in being driven crazy by it, and hating it from the core of your heart, you know that somehow some part of you has already fallen in love with it.