Durga Pujo is over. Umpteen of them. Spread over weekends, weekdays and months, there were gorgeous pics of Ma Durga and glamorous pics of her devotees all around on my Facebook feed. I could feel the festivity right here, on my laptop. We had our own share of fun too. Saptami'r anjali, Ashtami'r bhog, Nabami'r arati, we meticulously followed the traditions, draping nine yards after work on a weekday and dragging tired children with their homework folders from mandaps to mandaps.
It wasn't religion that pushed us.
We were okay with offering an evening anjali after the day's meal, circumventing the scriptures which speak of fasting. We diligently bowed our heads in front of the protima, her bright gaze penetrating our hearts, but only a moment later we stood in a line smiling at the camera urging the photographer to make us look as slim as possible. If we found that the queue for Bhog was too long and the Khichuri wasn't enticing we trooped off for a Sri Lankan meal winding it down with Singa beer.
It wasn't religion. It was tradition.A pleasure in the mere sense that we belonged even if we were many miles away. It was more precious than religion.
It is for the same reason that I did Lokkhi Pujo and made Narkel Naru soon after. And it is for this that many of my friends do the same. When the oil lamp flickers and they read "Lokkhir Panchali" in a sing song voice, they are not praying for wealth or riches, they are actually building a bridge to their beginning.
My paternal grandparents were very ritualistic when it came to religion. Lokkhi Pujo and Saraswati Pujo were done at home by my Grandfather who sat straight, sacred thread around his bare upper body, chanting mantras in crisp Sanskrit. The entire neighborhood was invited on Kojagari Lokkhi Pujo and his perfect Sanskrit diction in the smoke filled Thakur Ghor made the whole thing very mystic.
But in that Thakur Ghor, you had to fast for anjali and sit cross legged with your toes tucked under the hems of your dress. There were allowances made if you were a child but adults were held to high standards. To pick flowers for Pujo, you had to shower and change into fresh clothes. The Bhog offered to the Goddess had to be cooked in much sanctity.You weren't allowed to touch the Bhoger thala until pujo was over and you knew not to enter the Thaku Ghor if you had your periods.
I wasn't fond of those rules. I liked the quiet coolness of the Tkaur Ghor on most days of the year but the day that we had an elaborate Puja at home, my excitement was underlined with a certain anxiousness. I would worry over the imperfectness of my "lokkhir pa"-- the goddess's feet drawn with a paste of ground rice on the threshold of each door even as my Grandfather executed each stage of Pujo in excruciating detail . My Baba too stuck to rituals when it came to Pujo. He didn't like us fidgeting or talking while he chanted mantras, uttering complex Sanskrit words which held little meaning for us. Only later after his granddaughters were born, did he let go and become more flexible about rituals
For my Grandfather and for my Father, pujo wasn't something you could be frivolous about. For me pujo was something you had to be comfortable with.
Much later when I had attended a series of Gita lectures, what had stuck to me from the entire session was this verse.This wasn't very different from what I wanted to believe after all.
"patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam
"If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit a water, I will accept it."
For me, Pujo is not about religion or rituals.
So when my daughters wanted to dip their naru in chocolate and make Narkel Naru Truffles for the Goddess's proshad, who was I to say anything otherwise?
And if I think that a flowchart is the best way to follow the steps of Naru making, who are you to say it is not so?
Shredded Coconut -- 3.5 cups. I have used the frozen MTR brand, you can grate and use fresh coconut. When using frozen thaw before use
Sugar -- 1 cup
Evaporated Milk -- approx. 2 cups. If using Whole Milk, you need to reduce 4 cups of milk to 2 cups
Condensed Milk -- 1/4 cup. You can skip this and increase sugar but I prefer this
For Chocolate Coating
1/2 cup of choclate chips. I had bitter sweet as my family likes it. Personally I would prefer milk chocolate chips
2 tbsp butter
How I Do It
In a heavy bottomed deep pan mix the shredded coconut and sugar with hand thoroughly
Put the pan on low heat and then stir for 4-5 minutes. The sugar will melt and mix with coconut and the coconut will be lightly roasted
Add about 2 cups of evaporated milk and 1/4 cup of Condensed Milk to the above. Add some cardamom seeds. Note: If you need more or less sweet, taste and adjust accordingly
Mix it all together and at low to medium heat cook with frequent stirring till the coconut is cooked. Keep stirring till the milk almost dries up and the coconut mix comes out clean from the sides. You will know by the slight change in color and the fact that the mix will no longer stick to the pan. Don't dry it too much, else you cannot make the balls. Note: When you think it is almost done, test it out by trying to make a ball that stays. Approx time to reach this stage - 30-40 mins at medium heat
Take the pan off the heat and cool slightly. When mix is still warm to touch, make balls by rolling between your palms
Store in an air tight container. I usually refrigerate but my Ma used to keep it out.
Make the Chocolate Narkel Naru Truffles
To make the Truffles, refrigetate the Narkel Naru overnight. This will make it tight and easy to dip in chocolate.
Next day take the choclate chips and butter in a bowl and microwave for a minute or until the chocolate melts.Mix well.
Put a Naru on a spoon and gently lower the spoon in the bowl thus coating the naru with chocolate. If you don't want to dip the entire naru you can coat partially or also make chocolate designs on the Naru.
Place the chocolate coated naru on a tray lined with wax paper. After you have dipped all cool to let the chocolate harden.
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