Monday, January 25, 2010

Bhogali Bihu Of Assam - Uruka Bhoj And Making Of Sunga- Pitha.

I was away from blogger for sometime as i was on a vacation....Just like every year this year too me and my family celebrated Bhogali /Magh Bihu  in our village house.Namkhola is a small village near Mangaldoi in Assam.Bhogali bihu is a harvest festival which marks the end of winter harvesting.The term Bhog means enjoyment,merriment and luxury...this is the time of the year when granaries are full .There is lots of feasting and enjoyment all over the Assam during this time (mid Jan to mid Feb).The same festival is observed all over India as Makar Sankranti/Pongal/Lohri .We usually reach Namkhola on the day of Uruka i.e. the eve of Sankranti. On this eve people organise Bhoj(feast) either within the family or in groups.We like to keep it as an only family feast.This year as my daughter's school was open on the day of Uruka ,we left for our village only after lunch ,so by the time we reached there it was almost dusk.It is almost a two and half hour drive from Guwahati,on our way we saw more than hundred Mejis  and few Bhellaghars (I will explain to you about them in my next two posts).Above is one such picture of an unusual Bhellaghar built by the people of a village we crossed.
As we reached our home we saw Nirah making arrangements for the preparation of Sunga-Pitha.Well I must explain here that Pithas are special delicacies prepared in many forms by various methods like steaming,frying or by baking over a hot plate.Special skill is needed to make Sunga Pitha.Sunga means Bamboo.The Bamboo is cut into the desired sizes as shown in the pictures below. Bora Sawal( a special variety of rice which is very sticky in nature and has a very unique taste and aroma) is the main ingredient of this recipe.....the rice is pre -soaked and the Sungas are washed .Because this pitha is cooked inside Bamboo ,it offers a special flavour  .
Usha she has been working with our family for a period of more than twenty years.Making sunga peethas with Usha on the day of Uruka is the part I love the most.The sungas are filled with pre soaked rice and little water.Once filled the ends of the sunga are covered by tying banana leaves.
Now all the filled sungas are arranged or inclined in a row over the stand which was prepared before.As I mentioned earlier one needs to be an expert to carry out this process....and Usha is one such person.Kids were super excited(mine are in pink and orange jackets),you never see them so happy and joyful while visiting a Mc'Donald's or a Pizza hunt or a Super Mall.While a continuous flame of very mild kind is required here,a wood fire is not recommended to avoid too much of heat as it will burn the bamboo or sunga...instead Hay is used .At the beginning a small heap of hay is burnt ,to which additional hay is added at frequent intervals by the help of a thin bamboo stick.It is a long process while Usha was busy here and the kids running around here and there we adults were chatting enjoying the bon fire .
I took this picture to show you how the hay is used here......after a certain time the fire is stopped to turn the sides of the sungas for uniform cooking of the peethas...once turned again the same process is repeated.Cooking outside the house over wood flame is another big attraction of Uruka-feast.The menu ranges from all kind of meats like mutton,chicken,duck and fish(right from our own fish pond).Because i am a strict vegetarian my dishes were prepared in the was a Labda(a mix veg curry),very fresh paneer curry(paneer is cottage was freshly prepared at home ) and another fried vegetable dish.Food cooked over wood fire has its own taste....many find it many times tastier than the food cooked over our kitchen stoves.
We served the food on special natural plates....the sheets of banana stem are used as plates as you can see here.This picture was clicked while the steaming hot rice was just served to the kids after a heavy session of eating loads of fried fish and fried chicken.After a great dinner we called it a night as we needed to get up very early in the morning to take part in Meji  burning.
Next morning Usha sliced the sungas to scoop out the pithas.
Sunga peetha as a breakfast is a real treat on the day of is consumed with either milk or curd and sugar or jaggery(molasses) as a sweetener.But we needed to wait here because breakfast would be served only after  burning of the Meji out in the fields.At this time we the ladies of the house were busy preparing the offerings to the be continued.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pithe Parbon - Poush Shankranti

Most belief systems have invented rituals, special days, legends, folklore, etc., to build a rampart or bulwark to defend, define, and preserve their belief systems.

The ancient religion of Hinduism is infested with so many bizarre tales, legends, and folklore that an entire 700MB of CD-R could be filled very easily with text, illustrations, and sketches to accommodate all the inanities that are rife in Hindu belief system. Some of these legends, folklores, etc., are so commonplace that they have become enmeshed in everyday life of many practicing Hindus all over India.

There is a saying in Bengal, "baro mashe tero porbon" meaning, 13 festivals in 12 months, which epitomizes the love for festivities by Hindus.

The Hindus all over India have just celebrated one such festival. Known as Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti in Bengal and Pongal in the southern parts of the continent, this religious festival has something to do with the position of the sun in sky. The Hindu astrologer believes that on January 14 every year the sun starts migrating to the north. Thus, it marks a new beginning for the sun's migration from the tropic of Capricorn (Makar in Indian languages) towards the equator. Because of the end of winter harvest, Makar Sankranti is also celebrated throughout India as a harvest festival. As someone wrote, "It is a way of giving thanks to the elements of nature that help man." In Assam, they call the festival Bhogali Bihu, and in Punjab, the same festival is called Lohri.

As a festival cannot be complete without food.. I share this age old recipe, which is a must on this day, with all of you. Patishapta is the most popular among all pitha (also, pithe), a bengali name for typical sweets prepared on this particular festival. In simple words, patishapta is actually a rice flour crepe with coconut and jaggery fillings. The softness of the crepe and the sweet filling inside makes it the best pitha and most commonly prepared. Though cakes, pastries and various other sweets are in vogue in almost every household, but I would say those who have at least tasted patishapta once will never say no to it .

Preparation time: 10min
Cooking time: 25mins
Makes 10 patishapta


For the filling-

■Grated Coconut (Narkel Kora): 3cups
■Jaggery (Gur): 1cup
■Cardamom powder (Elaich): 1/4 teaspoon
For the crepes-

■Wheat flour (Maida): 1cup
■Seomlina (Suji): 1/2 cup
■Rice flour (Chal guro): 1/2cup
■Milk (Dudh): 1cup
■Sunflower oil for frying

For the filling-

■In a wok heat the jaggery, as it start melting add the coconut
■Put in the cardamom powder and stir till the coconut mixes well with the jaggery
■Cook till the coconut feels sticky
■Take out of flame and keep aside
For the crepes-

■Add all dry ingredients together and mix well
■Pour the milk with constant stirring to avoid lump formation, the batter should be smooth and freely flowing (add excess milk if required)
■Heat a frying pan (preferably non-stick) and pour in 1 tablespoon on oil, spread it with a kitchen paper
■Take a small bowl of batter and spread it evenly on the pan to make a round shape, do it quick before the batter sets
■Place the filling lengthwise at the center of the crepe
■Fold the crepe from both sides and wait till it turns light brown

Hot tipsNothing beats having hot patishaptas with
notun gur er payesh!! (the above crepes are best accompanied with kheer
Posted By Sujata

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A bit of this, a bit of that

On behalf of every one at My Room, I wish all of you a very happy and prosperous 2010. Hope all of you had a wonderful time with family and friends this holiday season. For me, it was wonderful as I met a lot of my relatives and friends after a long time. I did not get much time to blog. But now that I am back, I intend to get back to my writing.

My children had quite a long Christmas and New Year break and I tried to take them to various places. It is quite a challenge to keep budding minds engaged and stimulated. Last night, we went to see a Kathak recital and we came back thoroughly enchanted. Kathak, which means to tell a story, is a major classical dance form of North India. In ancient India,the kathakars or the story tellers would perform in the village squares and temples and narrate mythological or moral tales. To enhance their performances, they would use musical instruments like the tabla and the sitar, and also sing along. During the Mughal times, the Royal court patronized this art form. The dance form slowly changed from telling religious stories to entertainment.The dancers however were intelligent. Some were great poets and writers and all of them were trained in etiquette. Sometimes the nobility would send their children to learn the correct manners and civility from these courtesans. It was only in the British times the kathak dancers were branded as mere prostitutes and the society started looking down on them. However after the Independence, there has been a revival of this mesmerising dance form.

Last evening, a highly respected Kathak dancer and teacher Rajashree Shirke  and her troupe  performed in an auditorium in Mumbai. She has been doing great work with some underprivileged children of the city. She and an NGO in the city are providing training in kathak to girls who otherwise would only dream of learning dance from such respected masters. I was very impressed with the girls who performed last night. Most of them came from extremely poor backgrounds. Last night, few girls walked on stage to get their certificates along with their mothers. It was a joyous moment for the entire family and many eyes in the auditorium were moist to see these girls, dressed in their finest dance costumes proudly walking on stage with their heads held high. I wish I could capture their expressions on camera but unfortunately photography was not permitted inside the auditorium.

To express their gratitude to the lady who spends so much time and effort in training these girls, the NGO felicitated her with a beautifully hand crafted Kashmiri shawl. She was also given a coconut. Those of you who may not be aware, a coconut is a very sacred symbol of Hinduism. It is the most common offering in Hindu temples. We offer coconuts on ocassions of weddings and other important religious rituals.The breaking of a coconut symbolises breaking of the ego. The juice represents our inner desires and the soft kernel our minds. Both are offered to the Lord for purifying.

As every part of the coconut tree, the trunk, the leaves, the coir, the fruit etc are used up by humans, a coconut to Hindus symbolises selfless love.It grows on salty water of earth and converts it into nutritive water.No wonder the people running the NGO offered a coconut  to the guru. She through her dedication and training is single handedly transforming the lives of some girls. In this New Year, I only hope there are more selfless people like her, who can change, the destiny of less fortunate people.