Jaya Jaya Devi
Chara Chara Share
Kucho Jugo Shobhito
On 22nd Jan, the country celebrated Vasant Panchami. For the Bengalis, the date also marked the festival of Saraswati Puja. Goddess Saraswati is associated with learning and wisdom. As a mark of respect to the deity, almost all the educational institutions, and book shops are kept closed on the auspicious day. Despite having studied at a Convent school, this day was not just another holiday for me. One of the reasons that it was special was because of the strict no study regimen that I followed strictly through my school life. The preparations for the puja would begin a week back. The first step would always be choosing a deity and purchasing her from the local market. It would be followed by purchasing fruits, flowers and items for making prasad or bhog to be offered to the idol. The puja items were the last to be assimilated on the day before puja. Despite my lack of fondness for sarees, there has never been a Saraswati Puja that didn’t see me wearing one – it would always be in Basanti color (the color that was little more than yellow and little less than orange).
The morning would always begin with preparations for the puja. As a family, we grew up to learn the importance of praying with devotion instead of blindly following set traditions and rules. After cutting the fruits, arranging the puja items and starting the bhog preparations, it would be time for alpana which is basically hand artwork done using a paste of rice and flour. The puja would be followed by pushpanjali(showering of flowers after prayers) and mangal aarti . Usually it was a ritual to keep a select few books in front of the Goddess seeking her blessings. In my house, it would mostly be couple of Mathematics books(courtesy – a Professor Dad), few pens and my complete set of text books for the year. I had this strange fear that if I left out any book, that subject would end up not being blessed by the Goddess . Rationality aside, I couldn’t afford to take the risk.
As I grew up and moved out of my home town, most of my Saraswati Pujas were spent outside in different parts of the country. Nonetheless my mother ensured that I would leave behing atleast one relevant book to ensure I did well irrespective of location, subject or age. After the rituals ended, the most lucrative phase of gorging on the delicious bhog began. Normally bhog would consist of luchi (deep-fried flatbread made of wheat flour), dum aloo (potato dish), khichdi , chyachra (mixed veg sabji), tomato chutney, payesh (rice pudding) and sweets. Soon after, I would be out of the house with my best friend hopping pandals to see few more neighborhood Saraswatis. As years passed by, the day had ceased to mean anything more than puja and bhog. And then things changed this year.
I am married into a joint family that houses two hundred plus year old family deities of Krishna and Radha known as Shaam Rai. Every ritual at my marital home is not just about celebrations but it is more an assimilation of devotional thoughts and precision in process for a higher objective. This year my toddler turned twenty-eight months on the day of Saraswati Puja. It was time for him to get introduced to the world of education and learning through the auspicious ritual of hathe khori. This time the preparations had begun more than two weeks back. As per the norms, the deity couldn’t be purchased from the market but had to be prepared by the artisan with flatten silver shillings called Daaker Saaj. The rest of the preparations stayed the same though it was much more elaborate and included the special items of chalk and slate for the special ritual.
On the evening before the puja, few of us went to bring the deity home. Once the van carrying the idol reached our house, the Goddess was welcomed using beetle leaves. Thus began the ritual of boron through blowing of conch. The Goddess was offered sweets and water next. After settling in, the ladies of the house including my mother in law, aunts in law, sister in law came together to prepare for the grand day. Planning and organizing a puja is probably the best example of team work.
Keeping up with the spirit of the puja, I had dressed up my son Tuneer in a yellowish kurta on the day of puja. After decades, I wore a yellowish orange saree that belonged to my late mother. After the initial stages of puja, Tuneer was called by our house priest for the hathe khori part. That moment when the tiny hands engulfed by the hands of our priest uncle wrote the first Bengali alphabets will forever remain etched in my memory. The significance was not lost on the family either. It was the landmark moment of stepping into to the ruthless competitive world outside. After the pushpanjali and aarti, the next step was relishing the tasty home cooked bhog. My mother in law and two aunts in law had managed to deliver yummylicious Ghee rice, Dum aloo, Chhanar dalna (cottage cheese ball curry), beguni (brinjal fried in besan), tomato chutney, payesh and sweets.
The next morning,he day of Khoi-Doi (popped rice and sweetened curd). After performing puja, the dish was offered to the Goddess only to be savored by us later. Next the Goddess had to be given farewell through the ritual of Visarjan. After offering her prayers, the married ladies sought her blessings by putting vermillion, doing aarti using lamp and agarbattis and offering her sweets and water. The idol was taken for immersion in the Ganges on the next day. As we bade her good-bye through the ritual of throwing Khoi around for her return journey to commence, my son started crying. The evening before, he had confided his intention of bringing up Saraswati to our room to play with her. He had proudly proclaimed to my in-laws that She was his friend. For him, She was a part of the family and he was just not ready to let her go. While pacifying him, I realized that such moments are going to become rare very soon. I wish I could freeze time and let him stay a child forever.
Later that day, we decided to take him out to see few more deities just like what my husband and I did as children. Like innocent minds, his affection has switched from Saraswati to the feline species now. Yet at times, I have heard him use his favorite phrase “Vidyang Dehi” (give me knowledge) while playing by himself. As we brace ourselves to join the bandwagon of parents competing for school admissions in the coming months, I can only pray that the Goddess bestows him with the apt knowledge and wisdom in making him a good individual primarily. Until the, let me cherish the innocence of his childhood days.