Thursday, January 21, 2010

Saraswati/Basanti Puja and Bhapa Ilish or Steamed Hilsa


Saraswati puja, is another festival which is celerated in Bengal with huge enthusiasm in every nook and corner, in every households and in most of the schools and educational centers. Ma Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge, Arts and Music. The day is known as Vasant Panchami or Sri Panchami, on the fifth day after new moon in Spring(vasant kaal in bengali), which falls around end of January or beginning of February. Goddess Saraswati is represented as a woman with white skin, who wears a crescent moon (chandrakla) on her brow and rides a swan. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus – the symbol of true knowledge – in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena. She is also depicted as a deity seated on a white lotus flower.            

Goddess Saraswati is not worshipped in temple, but in every households who has school, college or university going children, will surely worship the Goddess daily at their home. And every year on this day, a big model of her is made and worshiped. The puja is performed in the morning. The Goddess is worshipped with bel leaves, fresh while/yellow spring flowers like, marigolds, chrysanthemums and Palash is the special flower used in this puja, without this flower puja won't be complete. And the fruit, plum or wild berries or Kool is must for this puja. Since goddess Saraswati is the goddess of learning, the students are the most ardent worshippers of this day. Children place their books, music instruments, arts materials, earthen inkpots and bamboo quills before her. The ink is made from unboiled milk water, colour powder and silver glitter called Abhro. On this day nobody writes or reads any book, or play any musical instrument. This signifies that the goddess is blessing the books placed in front of her that day. Children give 'Anjali' to the goddess in empty stomach and pray for their future. Wearing Yellow or Basanti coloures saree is the custom on that day.

In  Bengal, every students of all ages have special happy memories of this day. Most of the schools and educational centers of Bengal celebrate Saraswati Puja. Older students of schools are mostly engaged decorating the schools the day before, making preperations for puja, helping priests, send invites to the other schools and going to school with freinds wearing yellow saris are the special unforgottable moments of this puja. From cutting of fruits to assisting the priest, everything is taken care of by the students. No matter whether a student is religious or irreligious, everyone participates in this in the hope of doing well in their examinations. Saraswati Puja is also the day of eating plums. Plums/wild berries, called 'kool' in Bengali is the most sought after fruit on the day of Saraswati Puja. 'Kooler Chatni' is a must for that day. 'Kool' or plum is a fruit of spring time. Hence, it must be eaten on the day of saraswati Puja. There is a saying in Bengal, "if you eat kool before that day, you will fail in the exam". We used to control ourselves at our best not to eat them and on that day, after puja, the first thing we used to it, is kool. It's a fruit of sour taste and it's yummy. the significance on that saying, I think, around that time, the fruit starts to ripe and is the right time to eat them, but children are told like that way not to eat them, as no children will like to fail in the exam.

Another special ceremony of taht day is "Hatey-Khari", where small children begin their writing/studies on that day with the blessing from the goddess. The priest help them writing thier first A, B C, D with a chalk on a slate. In this way, Saraswati puja has a tremendous importance among bengalis.
The another custom of that day, is to buy "Jora Ilish" or 2 Hilsa fish on that day. It is considered auspicious in bengali custom. So, Hilsa or Ilish is the must on that day's menu. Hilsa fish is the most beloved and popular fish among bengalis. So I made Bhapa Ilish or steamed Hilsa on Saraswati Puja, which was Yesterday. Hilsa marinated and steeped in a mustard-poppy seed paste and steamed.
Hilsa is rich in Omega-3 fatty acid and is full of very fine little bones. One has to be extra careful while eating it. Even though Bengalis love this fish, it has a distinct flavour and very soft flesh fish. This dish especially taste well with fresh fish, not with the frozen ones. Because, in this recipe raw fish is marinated in mustard paste and steamed in low heat. If not, lightly fried fish is also OK. I normally fry my fishes very lightly on both sides. This dish can be made in three ways. One, in pressure cooker, another in a steamer and in an oven. I make it in Pressure cooker, to make in oven, check here.

Ingredients :
Hilsa fish : 5-6 pieces
Mustard seeds : 2 tblsp.
Poppy seed : 2 tsp.
Green chilli : 2-3
Turmeric powder : 2-3 tsp.
Mustard oil : 3 tsp.
Yoghurt : 1 tsp.
Fresh dessicated coconut : 2 tblsp.
Oil : 2 tblsp.
Salt to taste

Method :

  • Marinate fish pieces with very little salt and turmeric powder and keep aside for 1/2 an hour. 
  • To make the mustard paste, soak mustard seeds and poppy seeds in little water for 1/2 and hour. Then in a grinder, grind into a paste adding 2 green chillies, dessicated coconut, a pinch of salt. Add water as little as possible while grinding. It should be a moderately thick paste. 
  • In the prepared paste, add yoghurt, turmeric powder and salt to taste. Now the mustard paste is ready to smear on the fish. Tips : in any mustard paste preperation, while grinding mustard seeds, always add a pinch of salt, otherwise it tasted bitter.
  • In a pressure cooker safe bowl, smear a little mustard oil, then place the fish pieces in single layer. Add the prepared mustard paste and coat over the fish pieces nicely. Add 2-3 slitted green chillies over it and drizzle 2 tblsp. of mustard oil over it. Keep it for 10-15 minutes.
  • Then place in a pressure cooker, which is filled with water until half of the bowl or little lower. Cook for 2-3 whistles or about 10 minutes in medium flame.
Serve hot with rice and enjoy the distinct flavour of this dish............


Priya said...

Happy vasant panchami..;Steamed hilsa looks fantabulous Indrani...

Sayantani said...

wow tomar lekha pore sab purono katha mone pore gelo. kintu jora ilish kenar kathata jantam na. amader barite oidin khichuri bhog hay.
bhapa ilish durdhorsho baniecho, plate ta nie bose porlei hay.

Home Cooked Oriya Food said...

wow - loved to read about the customs. very similar to ones in Orissa, but we dont eat non-veg that day...
Illish looks wonderful...

Kavita said...

Hi Indrani....very tasty to look at.Let me try it at home,thank u

Soma said...

Indrani jibhe jol, jibhe jol - ilish ar kul dekhe. kobe theke bhabchi maach anbo, ar ekla r jonne niye ashai hoye na. kintu ebar ar thakte parchina :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi, made Bhapa Tilapia (steamed tilapia) last night and it was awesome! Thanks for the recipe!

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