The regularly served dishes at Bijoya gatherings include narkel nadu, ghughni, nimki and roshogolla
Durga Pujo is celebrated with a huge pomp and show in the Bengali community all over the world. It starts with the early morning ritual of listening to Mahalaya and ends after Maa Durga’s murti visarjan. Between these two events, lies the biggest 10-day long celebrations of the year. The Aagaman of Maa Durga is celebrated with food, fun and fashion and everyone is dressed their best. The food during pandal hopping has an inkling of fun and celebration and the Prasad at the bhandara has the taste of comfort and purity. But if you think the prolonged party end right after the visarjan, you are mistaken!
As a Bengali born and living out of West Bengal, Durga Pujo was always an event that brought me closer to my culture, my heritage, my roots. And while I was always excited about the main days of the Pujo – Shoshti, saptami, ashtami, navami, I always looked forward to Bijoya Dashami more. Cooking, serving and hosting has always come every instinctively to me and for me, Bijaya Dashami was the time to do all of that.
Before we get into the food part of it, let us understand when is Bijoya celebrated. After the visarjan yatra, devotees of Maa Durga go back to the empty pandal and are sprinkled with shanti jal by the purohit. Post this, the entire community touches the feet of the elderly members by doing Bijoya pranam and then invite each other for get-togethers at their houses, to celebrate the joyous days that they spent together during Pujo. I have always seen that as the happiest and the most happening event to happen in my house, throughout the year.
My house would be buzzing with guests, each of whom would in turn request us to visit and eat at their houses too. My father would be busy shopping for all the food items we would make and my mother would start preparing for the feast a couple of days prior. And the most interesting part of the Bijoya celebration is the fact that although the menu is repeated in every house, there was still at least one unique dish that everyone would serve, that would make their food stand out. The regularly served dishes include narkel nadu, ghughni, nimki and roshogolla. But everyone would come up with a hatke dish. I particularly looked forward to the food of an aunty, a long-time neighbour who made delicious mughlai paratha and mutton curry. Even her narkel nadu were different, made with khoya, not gur. Another one of our neighbours used to try experimenting and would come up with unique cutlets and chops every year. The food, at everyone's houses, was always delicious.
My house was always super excited to host people for Bijoya. When I was a kid, my only contribution used to be serving food and water to guests in plastic utensils that my father would buy for this day. That was such a moment of joy and precision for me, when I would line up all the dishes perfectly on a plate, place them on a tray and serve them to guests who would praise my hosting skills. Slowly, my interest started drifting more towards the cooking part of the celebration. From exclusively helping my father serve the guests, I started helping my mother chop vegetables, prepare spices and make the nadus. I would be so absorbed in preparing for the feast since Navami, that I skipped visiting the pandal too in the evening. Somehow, over the years, it shifted from me assisting my mother to my mother assisting me. I would desiccate the coconuts, she would help make the laddus, I would make the ghughni, she would chop the onions. And this was a transition that I enjoyed.
The joy of celebrating Bijoya by cooking and feeding faded when I moved out to study. My family and the entire community would carry on with the ritual, without me, while I would wander around in CR Park, Delhi, searching for some semblance of the Pujo nostalgia. The stalls selling ghughni, chop and kathi rolls do satiate my tastebuds, but that Bijoya Dashami celebration with people is a happy memory I cannot wait to relive whenever I can go back home during Durga Pujo.