Amid the sound of conch shells, celebrations for Durga Puja begin as Bengalis celebrate the five-day festival with devotion and fervour.
At Mumbai’s Bombay Durga Bari Samiti which conducts the city’s oldest Durga Puja celebrations, 15 chefs have been brought in from Kolkata to prepare the puja Bhog, an elaborate spread which is offered to the deity. Susmita Mitra, chairman of the cultural committee, explains that a special bhog is cooked by the committee’s ladies for the Devi. “We make about five to six dishes, with fineries. To ensure everyone gets the Devi’s prasad, we mix it with the mass preparation of Khichuri, a moong dal and rice preparation, along with vegetables, fried eggplant bhaja, a sweet tomato-date chutney, payesh and some Bengali sweets.”
The payesh (payasam or kheer) is a must-have sweet to end a Bengali traditional meal. It is made with condensed milk and rice, garnished with cashews and raisins, and regarded auspicious for all good occasions. The chutney (Bengali Chatney) is special too, made with tomatoes or raw mango or pineapple.
This oldest Durga Puja of Mumbai dates back to 1930, and is in its 88th year of celebrations. This year, the idol is eco-friendly, materials like bamboos, hay and soil have been used to make the idol, and water soluble colours have replaced oil paints.
Sixty-six-year-old Shampa Bhattacharya, one of the four Brahmin women participate in preparing the Durga Puja bhog, explains the tradition of cooking the bhog. “Today is Sashti (sixth day of Navratri) which is when we invite the gods. This is called Kalparambha. All preparations start after Anjali (the first prayer to the Goddess), so Ma Durga will not have the Puja bhog today." The Durga Puja Bhog is offered on Saptami, Ashthami and Navami (seventh, eighth, ninth days). Four women in the committee prepare puja bhog for the devi. We take a bath, and maintain a fast until we are done cooking the feast for the goddess,” says Bhattacharya.
On each day of Puja, they cook two vegetable dishes, five fried vegetables, dal, rice or pulao and payesh. In the evenings, the devi is offered Lucchi instead of rice preparations. “Interestingly, we never use ladyfinger,” adds Bhattacharya, who has been participating in the preparation of Puja bhog preparation since 2008.
Ashthami is a special day. “On this day, we offer bhog three times. The extra one is after Shandi – the union of ashthami and Navami. On this day, we perform a Kumari Puja. On the menu are Bengali delicacies like Chanar dalna (homemade paneer cooked with peas) dal, Bengali-style mixed veg with five spice (panch phoron) and five kinds of bhajas (fritters),"explains Bhattacharya. Durga puja is about pampering the goddess with delicacies, and then feasting on this along with your friends and family. That's the spirit of pujo!
Image Courtesy: Phorum Dalal
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