Enduring melodies, zesty meals, action-packed festive days
During the four days of this carnival known as Durga Puja, the itinerant Bengali mind finds supreme solace in appealing compositions, exhilarating movies and mouthwatering delights. Tarun Goswami, taking note of this inclination, writes on where and what to look for this autumn
It is said that on reaching Kolkata from Mount Kailash by boat, Ma Durga has lunch at Abhay Charan Mitra's house. Mitra, a rich landed aristocrat of the 19th century, is said to have treated his guests lavishly with 100 different mouthwatering dishes. After lunch, Ma Durga visits the house of Shib Krishna Dawn to wear her jewellery. Dawn, who was a trader, would decorate the pandal with gold and costly diamonds and emeralds imported from England. Finally, in the evening, the Goddess goes to the house of Raja Nabakrishna Deb in North Kolkata to enjoy the dance by nautch girls. This used to be the tradition of Kolkata.
The business community came in contact with the East India Company and became filthy rich after successfully trading with them. They set up huge buildings in North Kolkata and Durga Puja was their chosen avenue to exhibit wealth and power.
Over the years, changes have taken place. Along with the traditional Durga Pujas, community Pujas are being held throughout Bengal. In Kolkata, there are community Pujas whose budgets exceed several crore rupees. But keeping the tradition in mind, Durga Puja is associated with three things — music, cinema and food.
Music plays a very important role as it not makes us revisit our childhood days, reliving the nostalgia but also aids in entertaining ourselves with a new tune to hum. It also means good business for some. Even today, in many community Pujas, musical programmes are held where stars from Mumbai perform. In the 1960s and 1970s, HMV used to publish a book called Sharad Arghya which contained the lyrics of new songs that had been released during the Puja. Some of the famous songs composed by Salil Chowdhury had been released during this time of the year, including Ami jhorer kache rekhe gelam, Amae proshno kore neel dhrubotara, Poth harabo bolei ebar pothe nemechi, Ujjal ek jhank payera. Some of the immortal songs of Manna Dey in basis disc were released during the Puja. They include Lolita go oke aj chole jete bolna, Sundori go dohai dohai, Eto rag noy go e je abhiman.
Some songs sung by Akhilbandhu Ghosh in basic record were also released during the Pujas like Oi je akasher gaye, O dayal bichar koro daona oke phanshi. The songs were released around one week before the Pujas and most community Puja pandals played them. Some immortal songs of Kishore Kumar like Ei je node jae sagore, Nayano sarashi kano, Se rate rat chilo purnima were released before the Pujas.
In 2018, all the well-known singers have their Puja numbers coming up. Amit Kumar's basic disc - Maa go tomaar asar ashay din kate na aar lyrics by Shouvik Majumdar and music by Rana Sarkar will be released before the Pujas.
Rupankar's basic disc Opekhatei Ami, music by Dron Acharya and lyrics by Saran Dutta will also be released soon. Srikanta Acharya's Holde Chithi, for which the music has been composed by Dron Acharya and lyrics by Arna Seal, will release shortly. Anindya-Shelley (album Amra Dujona) has Tagore's songs with a music arrangement by Soumya Bose. Poulomi Nandan and Soumya Bose's folk song Amar haat bandhibi paa bandhibi highlights the popularity of Bengali songs among the youth.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, there was a bustling tradition of releasing Bengali cinemas before the Durga Puja. In 1954, Agnipariksha directed by Agradut, casting Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, was released before the Pujas. During those four days, all shows were houseful. Again in 1955, Shapmochon, a very popular movie was released before the Pujas. Hemanta Mukherjee, who had become a famous music director by then, had composed the music. Some songs sung by him include Boshe achi potho cheye, Jhor uteche baul batas, Surer akashe tumi je go shuktara became famous overnight.
Again, in 1966, Shankabela directed by Agragami and casting Uttam Kumar, Madhabi Chakraborty and Basanta Chowdhury was released before the Pujas. The music was composed by Sudhin Dasgupta and it was for the first time that Manna Dey sung a playback number for Uttam Kumar. Ke prothom kache aechi, a song sung by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar was an instant hit.
In 1969 two movies, Tin Bhubaner Pare and Prathom Kadam Phool starring Soumitra Chatterjee and Tanuja became very popular. The music was given by Sudhin Dasgupta and the songs like Ei Sahar theke aro anek dure, Ke tumi nandini and Hoyto tomari jonyo became popular chartbusters. Films like Amanush (1975), Ananda Ashram (1977) and Sanyashi Raja (1977) had also been released before Durga Puja.
This year, some Bengali movies to be released during the Pujas are likely to be super hits. Srijit Mukherjee's film Ek je chilo raja will be released along with Arindam Sil's Byomkesh Gotro and Aniket Chattopadhyay's Hoichoi Unlimited. Kaushik Ganguly's Kishore Kumar Junior will present some of the old songs sung by Kishore Kumar and, naturally, the film will have a nostalgic appeal. Anindya Chatterjee's Monojder Advut Bari and Baba Yadav's Villain will be released during this time too. There is tremendous excitement among a section of Bengali film lovers who anxiously wait for the Puja releases and understandably, these films are bound to draw a huge crowd.
Now, coming to food — an integral part of Durga Puja. Sri Ramakrishna once made an interesting narration to his disciples jokingly. A zamindar would organise a Durga Puja with much pomp and show, where he would sacrifice goats. People of the village were invited and they enjoyed the food. Then suddenly, he stopped performing the Durga Puja. When the villagers asked him why he had done so, he said he could not eat mutton anymore and hence, he had decided to stop the Puja. Earlier, during Durga Puja, animal sacrifices were a common affair in the houses of rich aristocrats.
In Kolkata and its peripheries, the community Pujas are enjoyed differently by the residents of housing complexes. In the afternoon, particular on Ashtami and Nabami, there is a community lunch and the food served typically comprises traditional Bengali dishes. The menu includes rice or pulao, dal and fried begun bhaja or alu bhaja, two vegetarian dishes, mutton or fish, chatni and dessert which can be sweets or ice cream. For four days, the residents of housing complexes take part in the Puja and, in the evening, there are cultural programmes for three days where the residents participate.
Kolkata's favourite Awadhi destination Oudh 1590 ushers in Durgotsav with a delicious spread of Awadhi cuisines. The 'Bhuribhoj' is available only at Oudh 1590 for all four days of the festival. The wide array of a-la-carte menu for Durga Puja includes a variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian items. The guests can enjoy Badam Sharbat followed by starters that include Seekh Kebab, Galouti Kebab, Awadhi Shahi Dahi Kebab, and more. The main course includes Rann Biriyani, Jheenga Biryani, Lucknowi Paratha, Murgh Irani, Murgh Rezala, Gosht Awadhi Daal, Paneer Qorma, Sahi Dal, Awadhi Dum Aloo among others. Desserts include Shahi Tukra and Gajar Ke Halwa. The chef's pick list includes Zafrani Kabab, Galouti Kebab, Lucknowi Paratha, Qalmi Kebab, Awadhi Sugandhi Mahi, Awadhi Handi Biryani, Murgh Irani, Gosht Bhuna and Mahi Kaliya. Pocket Pinch (for two) is at Rs 1200 plus taxes. Like the pandal hoppers, there are hundreds of people who are true connoisseurs of food and, for them, the hotels and restaurants prepare mouthwatering menus which include an array from Mughlai khana to typical Bengali cuisine.
Holiday Inn, Kolkata Airport will be offering a lavish Bonedi Barir Bhoj at their all-day dining restaurant Social Kitchen in tune with the recipes of the traditional zamindari household kitchens of Bengal such as Sabarna Roychowdhury family, Sovabazar Rajbari (which was visited by Lord Clive), and Rani Rashmoni (founder of Dakshineswar temple). The buffet will contain signature dishes from these select zamindari households in its authentic form from October 16 to 21, from 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm and 7 pm to 11 pm.
There will be Murgi Rosua Jeera Phoron Diye, Nolini Kumro Murgi Rosua, Daler Bora and more. There will also be Kumro Ranga Aloo Bhapa, Laal Saag Bhaja, Paanch Misuli Saag Bhaja, Chutney Khejur Aamsatto, Tomato Chutney, Doi Bora, Bhaja Papor, among others.
The main course includes Panch Misuli Bhaja (lomba begun, potol, aloo, kakrol), Thakur Dalan Pulao, Rajsahi Rui Posto, Betori Potol Pur Dalna, Gobindopuri Rajsahi Chanar Kofta, Bonedi Barir Phulkopi Korai Sutir Tok, Tetul-er Ombol, Kul-er Ombol and more. For dessert, the guests will have Rosogolla, Mango Mousse, Narkel Dorbesh, Chocolate Mousse and more.
New Town's Café Ekante is also preparing Bengali cuisine. The GT Route at Jameson Inn Shiraz Hotel on Park Street offers special drink for the guests with Annanas Ka Panna (Oudhi) and Lassi (Punjabi). Salads and Curd: Mast-E-Badrang (Kabuli), Pineapple Raita and Boondi Raita (Punjabi) along with several vegetarian and meat dishes. The restaurant will remain open from 12 noon to 4 pm and 7 pm to 11:30 pm during the four days of Durga Puja.
So, with Durga Puja just round-the-corner, it's time to roll up your sleeves and gorge into the delight of lip-smacking food that this multicultural potpourri has to offer.