It was an early autumn morning. The village was cloaked in a blanket of mild mist, and the cool breeze of the wee hours carried with it the scent of the rain soaked muddy paddy fields. Not a soul stirred from the comforts of their warm bed. Yet, all was not still. You could almost make out someone below the thatched shed, in the corner of the open courtyard, blowing the conch shell, declaring the homecoming of Durga. You could see an abundance of white fluffy kans grass swaying their beautiful heads to welcome Sharat or autumn, and announce the arrival of Durga Puja.
Someone was lighting the firewood and firing up the mud stove. The silhouette was that of a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, wrapped in a shawl, and helping her mom-in-law with the rice cakes (pithas) that had been soaked in milk and jaggery the night before. Someone fetched a terracotta pot full of sweet chilled date juice, and the women unfurled the hand-woven rug, or shatranji, beside their mud kitchen for the entire household to drop in for their early morning cuppa and munchies before breakfast was served. The young and the old gathered round that cosy kitchen for their share of pitha and rosh before setting off to join the puja festivities.
The two in the kitchen however, were busy frying eggs, making vegetable curries called labras to go with kalai roti (a thick handmade chapatti made out of lentil flour), or chith roti (a thin snow white bread designed like a lace hanky, with the batter made from rice flour, and poured onto the flat stencil wok) for breakfast.
This ritual, though set in a rural scene, is more or less the same in the metropolises; it is how the day begins in a Bengali kitchen, come puja. We Bengalis are connoisseurs of good food, and all of us boast our sweet tooth, and during puja, desserts like chira, muri, murki and pitha are constantly being made for snacks. Pithas like panthoas, nakshi pitha (nakshi, as the name suggests, has intricate designs on it, and is made out of rice flour that was processed in-house by the ladies), rice puddings, borfis of various items like carrots, coconut, dates, lentil, and the morrobbas of gourds or pumpkins are must-haves to entertain the guests and the gods.
This week’s Star Lifestyle is all about the most mouth-watering recipes from our celebrated recipe writer Salina Parvin. But like the proverbial cherry on top our puja sweets recipes, is an interview with Krishna Chakraborty, an octogenarian from Kolkata, reminiscing about how the Bhogs for her goddess were made with utter love and care. And we also have her special narikel er naru recipes for you try out. Flip through the pages today, as we celebrate this auspicious occasion by painting ourselves in Durga’s colours and hues.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Food: Salina Parvin