Saraswati Puja or Vasant Panchami or Shree Panchami – you can call this festival whatever you like.
The Goddess of Knowledge, Saraswati is worshiped every year in the month of Magh according to the Bengali calendar, on the fifth day after Amabasya. An affair with active participation from enthusiastic kids and young adults, Saraswati Puja comes at a time when winter is on recession and the passion of spring engulfs the human mind.
Memories of childhood
Books, pens, ink pot, musical instruments, paint brushes are also worshiped along with Ma Saraswati. Traditionally girls have worn yellow sarees on this day; and rubbed themselves with turmeric and mustard oil paste before shower on the day of the Puja. After the Puja was over, it was part of tradition to write the words ‘Om Saraswati Namaha’ (‘Reverence to Goddess Saraswati’) on a bel leaf with a bamboo pen dipped in a clay ink pot filled with milk.
Like any other occasion, this festival too has its signature lineage of gastronomic delights – jora ilish (two hilsa fishes cooked together in a light watery gravy with vegetables) and gota sheddho (whole lentils and whole vegetables cooked together to make a light stew).
Tradition of food
Jora ilish is a Bangal (people originally from East Bengal, now Bangladesh) tradition, whereas gota sheddho is a Ghoti (people originally from the state of Bengal) ritual. Though I belong to a Bangal family, I have lived in a Ghoti neighbourhood. It is sacrilege for any Bangal not to savour khichudi, badhakopir ghonto (cabbage) and ilish on this day.
Gota seddho literally translates to ‘whole boiled’. Whole lentils are
boiled with whole vegetables like baby eggplant, baby potatoes, baby
sweet potatoes, peas in pods, hyacinth beans (sheem in Bengali) and spinach. As per
tradition, five kinds of vegetables are added. Everything is cooked in a
huge pot (handi) and the veggies and lentils are cooked to perfection, and drizzled with mustard oil.
Saraswati Puja is incomplete without savouring kuul (the closest English equivalent of this fruit is plum). The proverbial dictat of elders to desist from eating kuul until Sarswati Puja has become a heritage now for Bongs. Narkel kuul, bon kuul and topa kuul are the three popular varieties. Kuuler chutney is the must-have dessert post lunch on this day.
Bengali Valentine’s Day
Touted as Valentine’s Day for Bengalis, Sarswati Puja brings with it the air of love, bonding and a moment of ‘growing up’. The pandal-hopping in schools, the girls in saris, the first crush, fragrance of palash flowers, the first kiss and the essence of evergreen adolescence – Saraswati epitomises the spring of life.
Written by: Agnivo Niyogi for Team M3.tv