There’s a melancholy despair about Bijoya Doshomi.
It’s meant to be a day of festivities and celebration, friends have tried explaining, after all this was the day Rama vanquished Ravana, a triumph of good over evil.
And of-course they have a fair point, I have conceded to myself, but it’s also the day She leaves us for her abode in the snow-capped Himalayas.
Lokkhi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Karthik miss their father, Grandma would counsel as I would sob relentlessly as a child, imploring for Pujo to be extended by one more day. Just like my princess misses her Bapi when off to her mamar bari.
Rationale doesn’t work though for kids and the very thought of waiting one full year before She shall return again is enough to incite my lachrymal glands to go on an overdrive.
The day goes by in a flash.
Maa, resplendent in her lal-paar sari and glittering jewellery, carefully climbs the precarious steps of a tall stool, held firmly by Dada and one of his friends, adorns the Goddess’ forehead with vermilion, feeds Her sandesh and leans to whisper something in Her ears.
What did your tell Her Maa, I enquire as Maa climbs down, it doesn’t escape me that Maa is teary-eyed.
To come back to us again next year, Maa replies, as she graces Maa Durga’s feet with crimson red alta.
Why are they feeding the lion Maa ? I ask, unable to contain my curiosity any further.
The lion is Maa Durga’s vahana, Maa explains as a neighbourhood aunty smears vermilion on Maa’s face.
But why are feeding the Ashur ? My questions continue unabated.
But by now, Maa has been mobbed by ladies from our community, daubing her face with vermilion.
Is this Holi today ? A curious me quizzes, but the cacophony of conversations around leaves me unheard.
The procession winds its way through the lanes and by-lanes of Karimganj to the river.
The fragrance of dhoop, the mysterious veil of dhuno, the symphony of dhaak beats, the shrill of kanshor, the ‘aschhe bochhor abar hobe’ cries, I am left in a trance.
An ancient boat is lined up, the idols are carefully placed on the weathered deck, conches blow, ululations pierce the air, dhuno perfumes the air around, the dhaak beats reach a crescendo.
The boatman starts rowing.
Have you asked Her to come back next year, I hear Bapi say.
I am in tears.
We tread back, forlorn and sullen.
Back home, Grandma and Maa lay out a grand feast for family, friends and neighbours.
A spicy mangsher ghoogni, kucho nimki, homemade norom paker sandesh, and a stunning Taler Pitha .
This is family tradition, Grandma advises me, no Doshomi in our family is complete without a Taler Pitha.
Taler Pitha. A symphony of tal, grated coconut and jaggery. A whiff of cardamom. Cocooned in banana leaves. And steamed to perfection. Quintessentially Bengali. Enjoy !!
- 1 ripe tal or sugar palm
- 1 cup rice flour freshly ground
- 1/4 cup suji or semolina
- 1 cup coconut freshly grated
- 1/2 cup jaggery grated
- 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
- 2 banana leaves
- Wash the fruit thoroughly, remove the crown, gently peel the outer brown skin and separate the kernels. (Tal typically has 2 or 3 kernels inside.) Keep the kernels in a bowl.
- Splash a little water on a kernel, massage the kernel gently to soften the flesh. (This step needs patience and can tend to be messy, trust me the labour is worth it)
- Now keep rubbing the softened kernel against a sieve to extract the tal pulp, continue till there’s no further pulp getting extracted.
- Tie the pulp in a muslin cloth, hang till all almost the water has drained.
- Take the pulp in a heavy bottomed pan, cook for 5-7 odd minutes while stirring continuously. Allow the pulp to cool down.
- Soak the semolina in ¼ a cup of water, allow to soften.
- Take the tal pulp in a bowl, add the soaked semolina, rice flour and grated jaggery, give it a hearty mix to form a smooth thick batter.
- Now add the grated coconut, sprinkle in the cardamom powder. Give it another mix. If you want the batter sweeter, feel free to add more jaggery.
- Cut off the central vein of the banana leaves, trim the edges. Warm the leaves over a very low flame, taking care to not char or burn the leaves. (This softens the leaves and keeps them flexible, making the parcels is much easier that way.) Cut the leaves to small pieces.
- Take a piece of banana leaf, place a small portion of the batter in the middle. Wrap the banana leaf from all four sides to make a parcel, secure with twine. Steam for 15- 20 minutes in a steamer.
- Allow to cool down to room temperature. The Taler Pithe is ready to serve. Enjoy !!