Sunday, October 24, 2010


Bengalis celebrate the Kojagari Luxmi Puja on Kojagari Purnima, which falls on the chaturdashi or the fourth day from Dashami. On this day the Bengali ladies fast (sometimes without a drop of water like my grandmother used to do), cook Maha Bhog , in the evening draw rangoli or aalpana in the Puja room along with little feet of Maa Luxmi all over the house to indicate a wish that Maa should come and reside in the household permanently, chanchala chapala (restless and mischievous) as she is known to be. But Luxmiji does not listen to her disciples so easily. She makes them wait till midnight and tiptoes inside the house without anyone knowing. Thus, the name Ko-jagari meaning “who is awake” signifying that Luxmiji shall only enter that household where every family member is awake and waiting for her throughout the night!

In our family, the Kojagari Luxmiji is being worshiped for many generations. Earlier when we were a joint family (in Calcutta), the event used to be a gala affair. All the ladies of the household including my granny, mother, aunts and their lady friends would get together and cook the Maha Bhog which would not be less than anything lavish. Relatives, friends, neighbours, known and unknown, would drop in to attend the Puja and partake of the Maha Bhog. There would be Khichdi (a spicy delicacy with rich garnishing), Aloo Gobi ki Subzi, Paanch Tarkari (a mixed curry of five vegetables), five varieties of bhajis, luchis (light and crisp maida puris), paayesh (a preparation of sweetened condensed milk with loads of kaju and kishmish), tomato chutney (with dates and raisins), fruits and innumerable types of sweets (home or shop made) This list is just indicative and not exhaustive.

Cooking a Maha Bhog is the most difficult task as being the deity’s food, the Maha Bhog has to be absolutely flawless not only in proportion but also in taste – a perfect blend of quality and quantity.It is believed that if the Maha Bhog is correctly cooked, the Puja is blemish free, if it is not, the Puja is flawful.

The earlier joint family has now compressed into a nuclear one; therefore, manpower is less but rituals remain the same. Apart from the Maha Bhog, the house needs to be cleansed and purified, the idol (our family deity) has to be bathed and decorated along with the Puja Sthal and in the evening the Katha has to be read out and Aarati done within time. This season we expected a few guests too. So, the Maha Bhog was also cooked in a grander scale.

However, my mother, from the very beginning was not happy with the way things were going and found flaws in everything including the cooking. She is an octogenarian and very difficult to please as the indelible memories of Pujas of olden times propels her to make inevitable comparisons.

By the time, I sat down to read the Katha, it was quite late. But as I read on, I was imbued with a strong feeling of devotion and dedication. Through the Katha, I almost reached out to the deity and prayed for everything good that she had till date endowed us with, hoping that she would continue to do so in future as well. When the Aarati was finished, I was brimming with fulfillment and contentment.

But the doubts arose when we sat down to eat the Maha Bhog. Everything was wrong. The sweet in the paayesh was not right. The salt in Aloo Gobhi was a little less. The Paanch Tarkari did not taste so well. The only saving grace was the chutney which everybody agreed was cooked well.

In the night, when I went to bed after the day’s hard work, I did not know whether to be happy or sad. The Puja was very satisfactory but the Bhog was not. Being an integral part of the Puja, the flaws in cooking tarnished the entire ritual. Though we had put in our mind and soul into everything, the Puja seemed to be incomplete and half done. Was it a foreboding? Something bad in the offing? Was the deity angry or pleased with us? All sorts of negative feelings and thoughts are since then crowding my mind and heart. I still do not know what to believe in - the devotion or the ritual? The Puja or the Maha Bhog? The sincerity of our emotions or the extravaganza?

Pray Maa Luxmi shows us the way.

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