Today I want to share with you, no not a recipe nor a food story, but the tale of the Hindu Goddess of Plentiful Food. Yes we do have a Goddess for food, plentiful at that and she is one grand lady, dressed in rich robes with control over the universe's granaries; so we believe.
As a kid I often sat on a stool in our kitchen while my mother worked there. She would sometimes ask me to stir something, or add a pinch of masala or taste a gravy. We would chat about different things, sometimes she told me stories. One story I loved hearing from her was that of Shiva and Annapurna. According to my mother, though married, Shiva and Annapurna are totally opposite characters. Shiva is the renouncer, he has left behind all worldly comforts, dresses only in animal skins and roams around bare feet with his worthless companions Nandi and Bhringi. They are drunk most of the time, and always high on dope. While on the other hand Annapurna is a grand lady, she is dressed in the best of robes, sparkling with jewels. Shiva often went for days without eating, while in Annapurna's house the kitchen was always busy, pots were bubbling away, guests were continuously being fed. Often Shiva would get so hungry and tired from his wanderings then he would come to Annapurna's house to be replenished. My mother would describe in details the food Annapurna would serve Shiva. I used to be fascinated. To this day I think of Shiva and Annapurna more as people, rather than as Gods. The power of story telling :-)
We Bengalis have a saying ''baro maash ee tero parbon''...literal translation means in twelve months we have thirteen festivals...what we mean is that some festivity or the other is always going on in Bengali households. Among the spring festivities Annapurna Pujo stands out for its grandeur. It is held on choitro maash er aasthami/the eight day of the first month of spring, according to the Hindu calender.
Annapurna is a Sanskrit word. Anna means rice/food and purna means full...the belief is if you pray to this Goddess your household would never lack of food. She is an avatar of Parvati, Shiva's wife. She is one grand dame sitting on a throne, ladying over the world's food, while her husband Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction and rejuvenation, is a penniless vagabond. So Shiva has to depend on Annapurna's largesse.
Her main temple is situated in Kashi, so the belief is that no one goes hungry in that ancient city. My mother always offers a silent prayer to this Goddess before starting to cook. She is not alone, Hindus over the centuries have been doing this. The belief is if you pray to Annapurna you would never be short of food while serving your family.
Like all other ancient religions, in Hinduism fire plays a very important role. It is used for purification and as a medium to reach out to the Gods. The above photo is that of a hom which is a sacred fire ritual which goes on for half an hour, while chanting slokas (prayers in Sanskrit) priests keep feeding the fire with ghee/clarified butter.
The above photo is that of sondhye aarati/ evening prayer. One hundred and eight lamps are lit for this.
The Goddess during the aarti/evening prayer.
Bhog--food offered to the Goddess. Since in Bengali households Gods/Goddesses are treated as guests, usually feasts are prepared to serve them, like any other important guest. Of course there is method of cooking these feasts--it is pure vegetarian food, cooked in separate vessels without onion, ginger or garlic. The salt used is also different. It is called sandhuk noon, a purer form of salt. Once the prayers are over, this food is distributed among the guests.
Hope you enjoyed a glimpse of Annapurna pujo. All the photographs belong to my friend Joy whose family in Kolkata celebrates this pujo.
P.S. I have shared the Hindu folklore of Shiva and Annapurna from my memories, there are numerous versions out there. It may be possible that your version does not match mine.