As a community, the Bengalis have always been associated with the finer things of life. Aesthetics defined their very existence. For example, adjectives like gourmet and connoisseur of music and art are very commonly associated with them. Since music, art and scholastic are highly regarded by Bengalis, it’s no surprise that Saraswati Puja, the Goddess of Wisdom is widely celebrated by them with much pomp and pleasure.
There goes a traditional saying in Bengal – Baaro Mashey Taro Parbon, literally translated as Thirteen Festivals in Twelve Months. Well, true, from Poush Parbon in January to Bhai Phota (Bhaai Duj) in November – every festival is celebrated with much fervour.
Basant Panchami or Saraswati Puja is usually celebrated sometime in the month of February. Incidentally, the festival often coincides with Valentine’s Day. An interesting fact about Saraswati Puja is that, it is often considered to be the day where everyone has the full freedom to flirt around. Often young couples are spotted roaming around the para hand in hand dressed in new clothes. By the way, let me be more precise, the dress code is also somewhat defined – pyjama-punjabi (kurta) for the tougher sex while the fairer sex dawns a sari usually in various shades of yellow. This phenomenon has earned the day the sobriquet – Bengali Valentine’s Day.
And yes, even if Saraswati Puja means worshipping the Goddess of Wisdom with much devotion, as mentioned earlier, the gourmet Bengali will fish some lip-smacking vegan delicacies on this auspicious day.
Special menu for the day comprise khichudi, labra, beguni, papad and chatni – somewhat simple as compared to a usual elaborate meal a typical Bangali Babu would prefer having.
The rice used for a typical Bangali style khichudi is Govindbhog. Other items include potato, seasonal vegetables (cauliflower, carrots), paanch phoron, tej patta and dried red chillies for those who like it hot.
Khichudi is accompanied by labra which is a medley of assorted vegetables; beguni – slices of brinjal deep fried after dipped in a batter of gram flour, fried papad and of course the sweet accompaniment at the end – kuler chatni.
A sumptuous meal of the bhog would wind up the day, while the fun quotient would still continue.
Though in the present times DJs belting out tunes of Honey Singh has long replaced the traditional Bengali ones, the essence continues to enthrall all and sundry.