|Bhetki Macher Jhol|
If I am honest, neither the jamai nor me miss it all that much. Going on a cooking frenzy, on a hot humid summer day of Jaishtha to feed the son-in-law delicacies ranging from kathal to ilish and golda chingri to lyangra aam and then having to eat it all dressed in bong fineries aka kurta pajama is not our idea of fun. We would rather have aloo-posto and musur dal on such sweltering hot days.And I will not even go into the modern woman's pet peeve about why a special day for son-in-law but not daughter-in-law.
Though the day has gained popularity as the day that the Ma-in-law cooks, feeds and pampers the son-in-law, I wanted to find a deeper meaning to the day. How did it all start ? Surely feeding the son-law good food could have been shelved to a cooler day in winter. And why ? What was the really important idea behind all this ? It is nice knowing about traditions even when you don't observe them to the fullest.
I didn't have much idea and so asked around and got fascinating tales about the day from where else but the blog's FaceBook page. Surprising thing is when I started the ball rolling, instead of my Ma it was Baba who recalled the shoshthi tales from his own childhood.So what I am going to tell you now is a panorama of how the day is celebrated across many Bengali homes. The traditions vary, the methods change, the celebrations are adapted to suit the changing time but running deep through all of them is the same theme -- celebration of life, of children.
It all began with Maa Shoshthi, one of the many goddesses in the Hindu Mythology whose chief job was that of an "guradian angel", looking after children's health and wellness. I have talked about her in this post on Gota Sheddho which is celebrated on Sheetol Shoshthi. Now Maa Shoshthi is also the goddess of fertility, a gynecologist and pediatrician rolled into one. This special role ensures that she is invoked and prayed to several times of the year, each occasion being given a different name and thus having a significance particular to that season. So there is Sheetol Shoshthi in Spring, Aranya Shoshthi or Jamai Shoshthi in summer, Neel Shoshthi in autumn and maybe some more.
|Fruits of summer like Jamun|
On the sixth day of Shukla Paksha(waxing phase of the moon) in the month of Jaishtha is celebrated the fabled Jamai Shoshthi and the lesser known Aranya Shoshthi or Shontan Shoshthi.This usually falls around mid June every year.
The Aranya Shosthi or as some call it ShontanShoshthi was done by the mothers and grandmothers solely for the well being of their children. As per my Baba's description, this is how his grandmother would celebrate the day (in his own words):
"One mid size branch with leaves from a jackfruit tree, would be dug in a raised platform(bedi) in the backyard(uthon).2/6/12 little typical type figurines(putul) made of rice flour(chaler guro) & coloured yellow with turmeric would be placed on the platform along with all types of seasonal fruits like mangoes, lychee, jamun, jackfruit. There would also be hand fans for each child (Haat pakha made of palm leaves) dotted with turmeric and a bunch of Durba grass tied on the handle of fan with yellow thread; and a piece of new garment for each child.
After that my grandmother would read the broto kotha, with all mothers & children present there. After the prayers, the mothers would use the fan to sprinkle drops of water on each child(pakha diye joler chite), tie a yellow thread on their wrist and give them fruits and new clothes. At some other houses on this day instead of Jack fruit branch, banana tree would be use for Sashthi pujo."
|The king of the season Mangoes|
Baba thinks that since the son-in-law is also regarded as one's offspring via marriage, he is an important part of the day and is fed well.
However I think this explanation is more apt about how Jamai Shoshthi came into being. In those days and even now, soon after marriage, the bride is under family pressure to bear an offspring preferably male. Since Maa Shoshthi is also an IVF specialist, the girls' parents felt that sending her a prayer might ensure a child and thus a happy married life for their darling girl. Since the son-in-law was held as a respected figure in those days(unlike the ones today who call their Ma-in-law Kakima and eat chinese on jamai shoshthi) and a prime contributor to the equation , a meal for him could only mean dishes cooked from best offerings of the season.
|Ingredients for the Macher Jhol|
With all that asking around in FB that I did, Shakuntala, who is a reader and now a friend, shared memories of her shoshthi along with more ritualistic nuances as observed in her home. She very kindly allowed me to post account of her day here:
"On the day of shoshthi her Ma, Aunt and Didu shower and collect some chul-dhowa jol(water droplets from washed hair) in bowls, and make little cloth purses of durba( grass with three tips), karamcha and rice grain. They then get busy in the kitchen, making mowa, kheer and narkel naru. Her Mami then makes a Ma Shoshthi idol with moyda/chaler guro paste, and paint eyes and nose and mouth and hair and a red bindi. The kids(Shakuntala and her siblings) make a dozen of her chhanapona idols, and giggle on their ungodlike appearance. They also make the cat-idol -- Ma Shoshthi's pet, complete with a curled tail and stiff whiskers.They then sit Ma Shoshthi down on a piri, puts her children and her cat around her, and stick a kathaler daal as a background, to make things sylvan.
Pilsuj-prodeep, shonkho-conch shell, ghonta--the brass bell and other paraphernalia are brought down from Thakurghor; sandal paste is made, flowers overflow from the big copper pushpo patro, and wisps of dhup-smoke carry that special pujo-fragrance to every part of the house.
Shaukuntala says, the pujo is the least time-consuming action of this day and instead time is spent on prepping cotton thread dipped in turmeric, picking durba, arranging noibidyo and making the piece de resistance - bana. What is a bana? Take a kathalpata(jackfruit leaf), trim its top and bottom end, put a little bit of everything on it (aam lichu kalojam doi kheer mishti kauner chal) and voila! you have a bana! They come in two versions - with kathal, and without kathal. And you have to eat the whole thing at one go. No, not the leaf, but the contents of the leaf. The taste? Hamin ast!
After they arrange the stacks of bana, light more dhup, make a lot of noise with kashorghonta and shonkho, they sit down in a semi circle, and Mami starts to recite pNachali. After the littany, Didu fans her children with her special haatpakha, and sprinkles water on their heads with the koromcha-dhaan putli (which has a long tuft of durba for this express purpose) then we present our collective heads to be fanned and sprinkled with water as well.
Ma, Mami, Didu chant "katlo katlo mashir sari, tobu boli shaat shaat, katlo katlo pishir naak tobu boli shaat shaat " thus letting us know that today is the day of permissiveness, today we can do no sin. Of course, being good kids, we never put that to test."
Isn't her recounting of the day beautiful ? To read more about her description of the day visit her blog
Back to the day, I did not cook anything special. This recipe of Bhetki Macher Jhol is from another day. I have repeated the same recipe with salmon many times. Also with local fish like trout or bass. Rui is a good choice too.With salmon, I don't fry the fillet but add them to the cooked masala and poach them in the gravy.
But I did do a short Shoshthi Pujo where I offered 5 fruits on a hand fan, fanned sprinkles of water and tied yellow thread on the girls' wrist and gave them new clothes.Only I did not have a hand fan, so I pretended that the Japanese wall decor fan was one. Also could not find the spool of thread and so put turmeric-yogurt dots on the daughters' forehead. Then BS got a yellow thread from her jewellery making kit which we used to tie on the wrist. You see, I love rituals when I can totally twist them to my liking and pretend that I am upholding the Bengali cultural heritage. At least that way, I get to hear interesting stories.
Bhetki Maacher Jhol
Bhetki Maach -- 4 steak pieces
You can use any other fish like rui, katla etc. Today I even did the same gravy with salmon
Rub the cleaned pieces of fish with turmeric, salt and then keep aside for 20 minutes. Shallow fry in oil. Mustard oil preferred but vegetable oil will do.
I got a fryer recently and deep fried the fish but shallow frying works fine.
Make the onion paste and ginger-garlic paste
Onion -- 1 medium grind to paste, about 3 heaped tbsp of paste used
Ginger-Garlic paste -- approx. 1 tbsp of paste, made with 4 fat clove of garlic and 1" ginger
Chop the potatoes if using
Potatoes -- 2 small ones, chopped in halves or quarters
Puree 1 medium ripe and juicy tomato to make about 1/2 cup of pureed tomato
Heat Mustard Oil to smoking.
Fry the potatoes with sprinkle of turmeric till golden brown. Remove and keep aside. You can aslo skip the potatoes if you so wish.
Temper the same Oil with
1" thin stick of cinnamon
2 green cardamom
1 black cardamom
Alternately you could skip the whole garam masala and temper with 2 tej pata and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Note: Usually the whole garam masala phoron is used for a Kaalia and the cumin seeds-tejpata phoron is used for a jhol.
Next add about 1/2 tsp sugar followed by the onion paste. Fry the onion paste for 3-4 minutes
Now add the ginger-garlic paste and continue frying till raw smell of onion is gone. Sprinkle water in between if you see the masala sticking.
Next goes in the pureed tomato. Sprinkle some salt, a little turmeric powder and fry the tomato.
Throw in 4-5 slit green chillies if you want the heat.
Make a thick paste of
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp Red Chilli powder
in a tsp of water.
Add to the frying pan and fry till you see oil separating from the masala.
Now add the fried potatoes, mix with the spices and then add a cup of warm water.
Add salt to taste. Cover and let the gravy simmer and then come to a boil.
Once the potatoes are cooked, taste the gravy and make adjustments. Sprinkle a pinch of garam masala if you wish but depends on how rich you want it to be.
Slowly add fried fish to the gravy and simmer for few more minutes.
Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice.