The Call Of Durga Puja From Assam
The season of ‘xarod’ or ‘sharad’ brings back fond memories from my childhood in Assam. After the harsh summer and dull monsoon, we would start preparing for the season of festivals – Durga Puja, Lakhi Puja and Diwali. Days would get shorter coupled with a nip in the air and we'd wake up to the smell of ‘xewali’ (night jasmine) flowers in the morning back home.
Unlike Ganpati in Mumbai, Maa Durga idols are typically worshipped at pandals and not at home. Being raised in a small industrial township called Namrup in Dibrugarh district of Upper Assam, it was a sight to watch how each and every family started their preparations to welcome the biggest festival of the year.
The handful of shops selling cloth and tailors in the locality used to be the busiest lot as everyone flocked to them to purchase notun kapur or new clothes. Few days before the sixth (Shasti) day of puja, men with a list of things would be seen visiting gelamaal dukaan or the modern day general stores to purchase grains, pulses, oil et al. It was not a surprise to watch them come back over and again with a large nylon bag to shop while catching up with colleagues over a cup of tea in a thatched-roof ghoomti (a roadside stall selling tea, nankhatais and singaras or samosas).
Back in the day, vegetables, meat and fish were always purchased fresh and stored in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours. I remember how as siblings we would help our mother to clean the house while discussing what to eat in the evening. Eating out at the puja pandals was a major attraction for the family, typical of small towns devoid of any restaurants. Temporary food stalls would be set up by uncles and aunts to sell jalebis, phooska (panipuri), cutlets and rolls around the pandals. On Ashtami or the eighth day, we would offer maah prasad of soaked chana, green moong, coconuts and fruits to the deity apart from sacrificing a duck or goose. The bird was then devoured as prasad later by inviting relatives and neighbours over lunch.
Today’s recipe is a special one cooked during every puja. It is known as Raj Haanh Aru Kumura or goose meat with ash gourd. The bird is eaten in a single meal therefore a crowd is always preferred.
Recipe for Raj Haanh Aru Kumura
1 kg goose meat
500 gm ash gourd
3 medium sized potatoes
2 large onions
3 tsp ginger and garlic paste
Bay leaf, elaichi and cloves
1 tsp cumin and coriander powder
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a cast iron kadhai/ thick bottom vessel.
Throw in the bay leaf, elaichi and cloves. Now add chopped onions and saute.
Add ginger and garlic paste, salt and turmeric.
Put the meat and mix the spices well.
When it releases the juices, add the ash gourd and chopped potatoes.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Cook it covered for 25 to 30 minutes till it’s cooked completely.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
Serve hot with steamed rice, dal and fritters.