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 Pujo comes at a time when winter is on recession the passion of spring engulfs the human mind. Like any other occasion, this festival too has its signature lineage of gastronomical delights.
The rituals followed on this day differ according to whether your roots belong to the east or western side of the border separating India and Bangladesh. For Ghotis (the natives of Calcutta/West Bengal) observe the day as strict vegetarian affair, like any other festival. Their usual platter would consist of Bhuno Khichudi (dry khichdi) and Labra (mixed vegetable curry). For the Bangals, however, Saraswati brings with her Jora Ilish mach (Hilsa). It is sacrilege for any Bangal not to savour Khichudi, Badhakopir Ghonto (cabbage) and Ilish on this day.
A Bangal Lunch for Saraswati Pujo:
Khichudi – You need equal amounts of rice and moong dal. Roast the dal and add it to a bowl of rice soaked in water. Stir fry the mixture. Add vegetables of your choice (preferably cauliflower, potatoes, peas, carrots), along with paste of haldi (turmeric), cumin and red chilli powder. Garam masala, salt and bay leaves are must add too. Stir for a while and then let it cook in a pressure cooker. Serve hot with ghee.
Badhakopir Ghonto – Chop a cabbage into thin pieces. (Quantity depends on the number of people you are cooking for). In a pan heat some oil, add cubed potato, turmeric powder. Cook until fried. In the same pan, add bay leaves, cumin seeds, green chilies, sliced tomatoes and cook. Add all the masalas followed by the finely chopped cabbage. Add turmeric powder to give it yellow colour. Add the fried potatoes and cook.
Ilish Macher paturi – Marinate the hilsa fillets well. Rub it with salt, turmeric and mustard paste and some mustard oil. Wrap this in a banana leaf and tie with a string. Heat this on a pan until the banana leaf turns black. Your Ilish Paturi is ready. Just untie the string and serve hot.
Kuuler chutney – In a large bowl heat some chilies, bay leaves and mustard seeds. Add some turmeric powder and let them toast for a while. Add the kuul, sugar, salt, water. Boil with constant stirring. Simmer for about half an hour. Your kuuler chutney is ready.
Saraswati Pujo is incomplete without savouring kuul (the closest English equivalent of this fruit is plum). The proverbial dictat of elders to desist eating kuul until Sarswati Pujo 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.
For the Ghotis, Sarsawati Pujo is not complete without Gota Shoshthi. On the day after the worship of the Goddess, at Ghoti households, boiled platter is offered to Saraswati. Vegetables are offered in entirety (gota), hence the name.
Touted as Valentine’s Day for Bengal, Sarswati Pujo brings with it the air of love, bonding and a moment of “growing up”. The pandal hopping in schools, the girl in yellow saree, the first crush, fragrance of palash, the first kiss and the essence of evergreen adolescence – Saraswati epitomises the spring of life.