Our festivals are changing. Food habits are also changing. Once upon a time winter meant pitha ceremony. Pitha still survives, but it is shop-made and ten bazaari products. They don’t have that scent, they don’t care, they don’t have that taste. Various corporate offices now organize one-day pitha-festivals in winters.
All the ‘modern’ pies decorated with lovely dals. Like a show-piece made of plastic! There is no taste-smell-juice!
But once the pitha place was very big in this Bengali paradise. There was a special festival with pitha. Which was called Paush-Sankranti or Paush-Parvan. Jaggery was made by burning palm juice from the dawn of Sankranti. Dinendrakumar Roy wrote, almost no house used to prepare rice at noon. Siddha Puli during the day, Gokul Pitha, Saruchakli at night. In the courtyards of villages in Bengal, a little rice powder would be spread and chanted, ‘Come Paush, don’t go / Stay in the rice pot Paush, don’t go / Paush month is Lakshmi month, don’t go.’ At the time of ‘Poush Aglano’, the new rice of the year would grow, considered to be the happiest month in the agrarian country. Now due to global warming, winter has passed, the time of new rice and new rice has changed, the importance of Poush has also decreased.
Modern Bengali children watch foreign anecdotes on YouTube. They don’t know grandma’s bag. Does not know the story of Kanchanmala and Kankanmala. The king does not see, the maid has caught the queen’s bracelets, the queen has become a maid. On the day of Gol Badhal festival, on that day, the queen made Aske Pitha, Chaske Pitha, and the maids made Chandrapuli, Kshirmurli. Pitha gave, who is the real queen, and who is the maid! This is how society and its various divisions fall into the story of Pitha.
In the modern household, there is no time to prepare all kinds of pies all day long. Manoranjan Pitha, Panpitha made of rice and rice, Pakanpitha, Tippitha, Dudhpuli, there are so many dishes that are not known or thought of. But at the end of Paush I remember the childhood days very much! Once upon a time Paush month was the month of pitha-festival of Bengalis. From city to village, this festival was going on everywhere. The joint family had not yet broken up. The girls have not yet left the inner hall and stepped on the path of employment. Henshel’s responsibilities were handled by mother-aunts-elders in a single family. They taught cooking. At that time, on the day of Paush Sankranti, Bengalis used to hum the smell of Pithapuli and pies. Our family was not left out!
Different types of pitha were made with different materials. Pulipitha consisted of mugerpuli, vajapuli, dudhpuli, chandrapuli and seddhapuli. Other types of pitha are patisapata, dudh-chitai, coconut pitha, daila, chashi, gargara, vapa etc.
What materials were made of these cakes? Atta or flour, rice flour, milk, khwa kheer, coconut husk, sugar, date jaggery, mungdal or beuli dal, and semolina. Sometimes potato or misty potato was also used as an ingredient. And there were clean white cotton clothes.
These pies were made with a lot of care and careful supervision. How delicious the pita will be depends a lot on how perfectly the rice is ground.
On the day before Paush Sankranti, rice was soaked in the house. How soft the soaked rice should be for making pita, this matter was at the fingertips of mothers and aunts. Their exact calculation would match exactly. This is the previous phase of pitha making. On the day of Sankranti, mother-in-law used to take a bath and wear clean clothes. Then the pitha-part would begin. They kept a careful eye on their handiwork while making pitha. Maybe he would say to an unknown god – let the face be protected! You see, Tagore!
Nonstick frying pans or modern utensils were not born then. The idea that rice powder could be packaged was also unimaginable. Nevertheless, how perfectly each puli, patisapta and other pies were made! The flame of the fire in Unun was controlled by the touch of the hands of the housewives. Even a grass snake would not burn. Kadai, tawa and khunti jubalbandi how delicious everything would have been!
Pulipitha was made very carefully. If they open or burst when boiling with milk, disaster! All the hard work will die in the field! Mother-aunts-grandmothers looked at them with anxiety!
Along with pitha, new jaggery pies were also prepared on the day of Sankranti. The smell of new rice and molasses is another Bengali tradition! That smell is still in the nose! The traditional offering of Sankranti was first offered to the household deity in many homes. The festival of Puli-Pitha-Pais was completed by the gathering of the old women and young girls of the house. The kitchen is like an unconventional school! Younger girls used to learn from older women there.
After a while this picture slowly started to change. First of all, the socio-economic change was felt in the multicities. From there the wave of globalization reached the city. His influence was also in village life. The joint family started to break slowly. The practice of pitha-puli gradually disappeared. A large section of those who were the original artisans of pitha-making, were separated from the pitha-phase. Added to this is the Bengali diabetes disease or ‘sugar’ and ‘diet control’ and aversion to sweets to keep the body in shape. All in all, from the city to the village, the atmosphere of the upcoming festival of Paushparvan has faded a lot.
Puli-pitha has been sold at food stalls in various fairs for several years. Patisapata, steamed pitha are also being sold. Apart from these winter fairs, steamed pithas are sold in many places. At the food stalls at fairs, the snake may be kept in a glass container next to the shiny Xpro machine. Maybe steamed pita next to it. How strange! What a strange coexistence of new and old! I could never tell the women who make pitha at the stall – do you make pitha for your family on the day of Sankranti?
Actually time changes a lot! Today’s kids also don’t want to eat anything other than drinks, juice, chocolate, ice cream, chicken fries, chips, noodles. They don’t get that Puli-Patisapta-Poise! Who has time to do these things in a busy life? No one is surprised to work so hard!
That joint family kitchen is now just a memory. On the day of Sankranthi, does a busy office goer walking down the road still search for an almost lost scent, the scent that was once closely associated with childhood and youth, with Bengali life?
But I remember very, very much those pitha-festivals, the smell of pitha, the days of mother’s intensive compassion and inhuman labor of delicious pitha-pies in those bone-shaking winters!
Author: Researcher and writer