Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ranna pooja (cooking festival) in West Bengal


With the onset of September, the festival time begins...

"Ranna poojo", or  cooking festival, is not a well-known festival but is celebrated widely across West Bengal.It is celebrated on the same day as Vishwakarma puja, usually around the middle of September.

The households prepare for this festival by cleaning up with home almost a month before the festival day. The whole house is cleaned; starting from bedding to all the washable items in the house are washed and dried. The floors of the house are scrubbed cleaned too. In this festival, Oshtonag or the Snake God /Goddess is prayed.

The scientific reason behind this festival is quite interesting. During monsoons especially in villages, this festival is usually celebrated by villagers, ponds get over-flooded and there are incidents of snakes entering houses very often. Since, most of these household kitchens have stoves which are made of mud; snakes find these stoves ideal for hiding.  The cleaning of the whole house including the kitchen, ensures that the house is free of snakes, rats, ants etc. Since kitchens are always operational in most households, and the most likely places for snakes and rats, cleaning up the kitchen thoroughly ensures that hygiene is maintained.

The day before the puja, every article in the kitchen is removed and the kitchen is cleaned thoroughly. A  new stove is made out of the mud. And from now on cooking will happen only on the newly made mud stove. New utensils are bought during his puja.The cooking mostly happens in new utensils.

After taking a bath, the elderly woman in the family starts preparing to makes the new stove. Once the new mud stove is in place, preparations start for the elaborate cooking that is required for the puja. The preparation for cooking happens all through the day. The actual cooking starts at night.

Throughout the night the ladies of the house cook. The list of food item that is cooked is endless:-

The first thing that is cooked is rice and rice pudding (kheer). After that at least 5 types of vegetable fries are prepared (aloo, bhindi, baigan, banana, chichinga), followed by non-vegetarian fries- Rohu fish fry, prawn fry etc. Five kinds of vegetable are prepared too. Usually, one sweet and sour chutney is prepared. It is made out of a slightly sour fruit called "Chalta" (elephant apple) in Bengal. Sweets like, Kolar bora (sweet banana pakoras), coconut laddus fried in a crepe form etc. There is also special thali prepared for offering to the deity. This mainly has sweetmeats and fruits. Special care is taken so that everything is clean. It is the villagers' belief that if anything is slightly contaminated, it will displease Ma Manasa.

Another interesting thing is the spatula that is used for cooking. It cannot be the normal spatula that is used for everyday cooking. The spatula that is used for cooking for this puja, is made out of a branch of date Palm tree.

The next day, on the day of the puja, Seven leaves from Shapla flower is used to serve the bhog for the Osthonag deity (Manasa tree's branch is used as the Oshtonag diety) The seven plates are surrounded around the deity. On each plate all the food items that was cooked the previous night, is arranged. A new diya is lit and incense sticks are burnt. The pujari starts the puja and all the members of the household offer prayers. Once the puja and the rituals are completed; food is served. Everyone is invited, and people visit such houses in masses.

This puja is carried on from one generation to another and that is how it continues.

It is a belief that if the Ranna puja is done well, Ma Manasa (Snake goddess) will be pleased with them and snakes will not cause any harm.

2 comments:

Arundhati Roy Sarkar said...

Can you please tell me the date this year?

Ranjana Jha said...

It is on the 16th of September this year.