I am not a very ritualistic person. I am kind of wishy-washy around them. If a ritual is something that my heart takes after and is easier to get done with, I will do it. If not, I will probably skip. I am not a very religious person either or rather I am not very ritualistic about the religion that I follow. I like praying and I light incense sticks almost every other evening for a set of gods in my Puja corner. It doesn't matter if I am having my periods, I will still do it. If I don't feel like on some evening, I don't.
This is very different from the way I have grown up in a home where rituals were strictly adhered to.
With age, I see my parent's vision has changed regarding religious rituals too. My father is no longer as conservative as he was some twenty years back. He reads vedas and the other day was telling me, how some of the words in Sanskrit mantras like "Hrring", "Krring"-- which are actually sounds(dhwanis) with no literal meaning -- were actually derived from the sounds of nature, which was what the early humans were afraid of and thus prayed to. His belief in the ritualistic form of prayers has waned too, making it easier for me to relate to his pujas.
So this time when my parents wanted to do the Kojagari Lakhsmi Pujo , which they have been doing at their own home for many many years on the night of the first full moon after Durga Pujo, I agreed to all the little nuances. I do this Pujo, other years too, but in my own very random way. This time I agreed to the rituals as they did not seem too rigid and gave me excuses to buy the the brass lamps I have always had eyes on.
Since we were having the Pujo, I asked my Mother to make Shinni. Shinni, is a very simple prashad made with atta(whole wheat flour), sugar, bananas, milk--- many of you are thinking banana bread at this point but no--all mixed together with hand and offered to Lord Satya Narayan. This is a typical prashad made only during SatyaNarayan Pujo but I love it so much that I insisted and my Mother obliged this time.
There is a very interesting story associated with this puja and subsequently the proshad. Centuries ago in Bengal, the Satya Narayn Puja was performed by Hindu women, but they prayed interchangeably to Satya Pir(a Muslim fakir or saint) or Satya Narayan (an avatar of Vishnu). This Puja, came into being when under the influence of Muslim conquerors Islam had gained weight in Bengal and maybe the Hindu women afraid of the Muslim rulers had come up with the story of Pir. Whatever the reason and whether Pir or Narayan, this Puja was done both by Hindus and some Muslims in those days, and the vrat katha, the story, has different versions with both characters.
Surprisingly, it is only the Bengali version of the story, which mentions Satya Pir -- the Muslim saint. In all other parts of India, the story sticks with Lord Narayan -- the Hindu avatar. If you are interested, you can read the story here in this book, Sacred Tales of india by Dwijendra Nath Neogi.
The influence of the Muslim rule is also visible in the fact that unlike other Hindu pujas where prayers are offered to a deity or at least an imgae, in this case there is only a symbol representing Narayan. The rituals of Narayan puja are very simple and the prashad to appease Satya Narayan or Satya Pir, the Shinni is also very rudimentary, something that any home in rural Bengal could put together without much preparation.
Though so simple, Shinni, is a favorite of many Bengalis. Since I am not into these rituals, I had never made shinni myself, until this Lokkhi Pujo. I had thought it would have some amount of complicated procedure to it. But guess what ? It was the simplest thing that anyone could ever make.
Everyone loved the Shinni. Our Indian friends, who are not from Bengal, were very impressed by it and there were repeated requests for "woh waali kheer". I don't understand why such a simple preparation is not made as a dessert separate from the Pujo. This has immense potential and as a friends said, Shinni topped with some grated chocolate or chocolate curls, could sweep away the fanciest of desserts in the market.
So the key thing my Ma said that goes into making a Shinni, was to have a measurement which was 5 of each ingredient. Whatever unit of measurement you choose, just go with 5 of it for each ingredient. Well, she started off by giving measurements in "ser" and "chhatak" which was worse than Latin to me and so she quickly simplified it to the "times 5" rule.
For our Shinni this is what we did
Whole Wheat Flour(Atta) -- 5 of 1/2 cups = 2.5 Cups
Whole Milk or Half-n-Half -- 5 of 1/2 Cups = 2.5 Cups
Sugar -- 5 of 1/2 Cups = 2.5 Cups
Bananas -- 5 of large bananas. For the small, petite ones, about 9 (odd number being the key)
Good to Haves Ingredients (these don't need to follow the measurement rule)
Cashew -- 1/2 cup
Kishmish (Golden raisins) -- 1 cup
Grated Coconut -- 1/2 Cup to 1 Cup
This is How I Did It
In a big bowl, in which you will be offering the Shinni
1. Add the bananas and with your fingers mash the bananas until they are all mushed up
2. Next add the sugar and mix with the bananas until the sugar is well mixed with the bananas. You should not feel any grain of sugar in your fingers. The sugar and bananas should be uniformly mashed up to a smooth paste. If you see any lumps, try to mash them up with your fingers.
Now add the wheat flour
Gradually add the milk, mixing with your fingers to get a smooth batter. At this point the batter should be like a banana bread batter, with no lumps.
Add the cashwes, raisins and the grated coconut
After the Puja is done, and you are ready to serve, Mix everything again and add some more milk if necessary. If this is a dessert without the Puja, do this step just before serving.
Be sure to finish each drop whether as a prashad or a dessert.
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