Pujo Special: Mohalaya Memories & Bhaja Moong er Dal/Split Yellow Lentil


Chilly pre-dawn morning...
It's not yet light outside...
Ma gently waking us up...
Snuggling on the bed...
Half awake...
The radio switched on...
A little fiddling with the nobs...
Static piercing the morning silence...
Then the music floats in...
The first song...
The first sloka...
The ever powerful voice...
Mahalaya has started...
Slowly coming awake...
Goosebums on the arms...
An intense excitement...
Pujo is just a week away...

Mahalay, the harbinger of Durga Pujo, comes exactly a week before the pujo. It marks the beginning of Debi Paksha (Debi means Goddess and Paksha means a lunar phase or a fortnight in the month of the Hindu lunar calendar, source Wikipedia). Most of north and east India worships the Mother Goddess around this time. The festival is known as Navratri in the north and goes on for nine days. We Bengalis worship the Goddess for 4 days, but the preparations are long drawn and the excitement immense. This four day festival known as Durga Pujo is held every autumn according to the Hindu calendar.  



On Mahalaya day Hindu Bengalis have a tradition. At precisely 4 a.m. the All India Radio broadcasts a pre-recorded devotional musical programme. This started in 1931 and has become one of our beloved collective traditions. Mahalaya mornings start with listening to the radio programme in every household. The programme was slightly altered one year to bring in fresh voices, but there was so much of public outrage that the AIR continues with the 1931 version every year. We are emotionally connected with it and love hearing or rather rehearing it. Doesn't matter in which part of the world we are in,  whether it is dawn or night there, whether we are atheists or believers, how old or young we are, we listen to the Mohishashurmardini broadcast and enjoy getting swept up in the nostalgia and excitement it generates.

My sister-in-law describes the experience beautifully in her Facebook status "I remember baba had to take some time off to get the big beige colored radio with huge knobs down from the loft on Sundays before Mahalaya... Dida used to be after baba's life.. It used to be cleaned and tuned.. on the day before Mahalaya we had to sleep off early.. alarm was set.. and we would wake up to that familiar tune..that would make me shiver with excitement for coming days. .. the doordarshan show was a huge fav with us kids.. especially my brother .. he would watch it with his mouth wide open.. luchi was a must as it was bank and school holiday.. after this day, going to school was like a torture till school shut for pujo holiday.. years have passed.. from the kids that we were.. we are now adults... baba has become a dashing old man.. dida is just a comforting memory and an ache in the heart.. the old radio has given way to youtube and smart tv.. but till this day, that one hour of Birendra Kishor Bhodro ushers so many memories and infuses the same excitement as before. It brings in the warmth of home.. Shubho Mahalaya to all.. hope all of you will have an amazing Dugga Pujo!"

On this festive occasion I am sharing a simple dal/lentil recipe. This moong dal /moong ki dal/mung beans recipe though common, is also the one which is cooked when preparing a special lunch. It is the dal Bengali mothers include in their menus when they have to serve food to guests. To the food obsessed Bengalis dal may come much lower in the pecking order, much below the goat meat, the fish, the misti doi,  but it comes none the less. And heaven forbid if the dal is too watery or beans used is not sona-moong (this is the term used for a particular variety of mung beans, the Bengali word sona means gold or golden which refers to the golden yellow colour of the lentil). The ingredients in the recipe varies according to season. Since autumn is knocking on our door and winter is on the fast train in her hurry to visit us, let me share the chilly season one. In winter this dal is cooked with fresh green peas, cauliflowers and tomatoes.





This recipe is essentially a ghoti recipe i.e originating from the western part of undivided Bengal. You may think  that the eastern part of Bengal has long been separated and formed into a separate nation.True but the cultural nuances stay on. One of the significant areas where this difference has lingered on is in the cooking styles. The ghotis or those hailing from the western part of Bengal use minimal chillies/heat in their cooking, they like subtle tastes and often balance savoury dishes with a spoonful of sugar or jaggery. This is where Bengali food is compared to Gujarati cuisine. Like the Gujaratis, we ghoti Bengalis like a little sweetness in some of our savoury food. The bangals or those hailing from the erstwhile eastern Bengal on the other hand use a lot of chilli/heat in their recipes, do not balance savoury dishes with sugar and generally like their food very hot and spicy. Of course the finer details vary from family to family. Let's not get into whose cooking style is better. Let's just enjoy the dal with some rice and a bhaja on the side.

4 comments :

  1. HI Suchi,
    I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I love hearing about the memories and the connections to times past in your holiday celebration. I am so glad I didn't miss this post. Your stories are so heartfelt and memorable. I can just imagine what it must be like knowing that each and every person is listening to the broadcast one way or the other. Amazing! I really appreciate you sharing...

    Of course as in so many festivities there are symbolic dishes. I am intrigued by those you have chosen to share. I am surprised to see that you dry roast the lentil first and then soak them. I will have to try that the next time I attempt a lentil dish. Of course I am sure I would really enjoy your festive meal but I also know I will never try it on my own:) Thank you so much for sharing this post Suchi...I hope you had a wonderful celebration:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Louise, thanks for your lovely comment. I am so glad your read my post, otherwise I would not have got your feedback :-) Yes Indian food can be a little tricky to cook, but once you get the hang of it, it's fun :-)

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