Friday, 26 September 2014

Murgi Khichuri

 I had had the chance to meet a renowned scroll painter of Bengal, Swarna Chitrakar, we had spoken about the depiction of Durga in the traditions of Bengal scroll painting. It is a conversation, I hold close to my heart. Swarna and her works were not just examples of superlative creativity, but they said something more about the true essence of Durga Puja. Here's sharing the story, which was not published at the time I had written it, but I am publishing it here, now. Hope you like it. 

Durge Durge tarao Ma go Dukkho binashini
Durjoy Dakshina kali, Nagendranandini,
Chandi Maa’er dosh haath dosh dike shaaje
Tri nayani jolchhey Maa’er kapaler maajhey
the rustic timbre, the lilts and inflection of Swarna Chitrakar’s husky voice, as she lost herself in a refrain in praise of the mother goddess, has a catching effect. Her fingers trace the wavering lines and splashes of vibrant colours on the patachitra scroll rolled out on her lap. The scroll she holds, one she has painted with utmost care, is not just a painting; it is a vivid narrative replete with drama, the splendor of lyrical expressions captured by the flamboyant use of colours — it is a Jadano (rolled)Pat depicting scenes from the Chandi Mangala Kavya, which in turn is an iridescent strand in Bengal’s folk literature, an epical salutation of Ma Chandi, another form of Durga, Devi Mahatmya. The splotch of vermillion and theshankha and pala bangles adorning her wrists may be a misleading, but Swarna Chitrakar is a Muslim by religion and yet it is appalling to witness her crooning ancient Puranic tales, singing tales of the great goddess of the Hindu pantheon. Like Swarna, many of the other patuas, most of them from her village in West Midnapore, are Muslims but Durga plays an important part in their lives and in their art. “Ever since we were little children, we heard tales of the mother Goddess from our fathers and uncles who had heard it from their fathers. The tales of Durga run in out veins linger at the tip of our tongues,” says Swarna.
       Besides, Chandi mangal kabya’s dramatic tales of how Chandi forces Dhanapati, a merchant and staunch worshipper of Lord Shiva, acknowledge her divinity and the travail’s of Dhanapati’s son Srimanta in his quest to earn the benediction of the goddess and rescue his father from the wrath of Chandi, Bengal’s patachitra has captured Durga in a myriad forms. The patua’s of Bengal have explored and largely exhausted the vast repertoire of mythical tales that have Durga, the supreme goddess as the protagonist. “We pain Durga in various forms, sometimes she is seated in a lotus like Mahalakshmi, sometimes she stands formidable with eighteen hands, each carrying a weapon, sometimes she is seen as a gentle mother seated with Ganesha in her arms,’ informs Swarna.
    It is interesting to note howpatachitra is perhaps the earliest predecessor of sliding audio-visual storytelling, in other words cinema. “The patachitra scrolls that depict series of scenes from various mythical tales, accompanied by the musical commentary is among the most ancient forms of entertainment, informative entertainment,” says artist Mrinal Mandal, who has to his credit in-depth engagement with the nuances ofpatachitra, one of his primary interests. Rama’s akal bodhon, which was the genesis of autumnal awakening of the Goddess, the birth of Ganesha from the dirt of Durga’s body, Durga or Parvati’ marriage to Lord Shiva and her journey to Kailash, followed by an entourage of the greatest deities of the Vedic pantheon, and of course the classic scene of Mahishasura Vadh, find expression in bengal’spatachitra. Besides, Durga’s ten avatars, Dashamahavidya — the fearsome Chhinnamasta, blood squirting out of her headless torso as the mother goddess reveals her frightening visage, her self-decapitated head clutched in her fist. Then there is the serene kamala, the hypnotic Bagala, the old ugly widow Dhumavati riding a horseless carriage, the mother as the cosmos as Bhuvaneshwari, Tara, the ocean of knowledge, the supreme Kali with her garland of skulls, Matangi , the fierce Bhairavi and Tripurasundari, she who is the most beautiful in all three worlds.
    It is amazing how Durga is depicted in all her forms and grandeur in humble colours made of anything from turmeric roots to burnt rice, suit from clay ovens and charred clay, all organic mind you, what with the sudden obsession with eco-friendly) and it is all the more interesting to note how Durga is a omnipresent entity in the lives of these patuas, irrespective the boundaries of human constructs like religions, caste and creed. She glows like a sun as the symbol of the oneness of the many and the varied.

It's a pity I cannot find the photographs I had clicked at the time.

Anyway, so Durga Puja is only 3 days away! And boy are we excited. Yes Durga Puja is about ostentatious pandals, mind-boggling light-works, swarming crowds, frightening queues outside restaurants, traffic jam capable of driving you to insanity. Durga Puja is also ablut clandestine romance surreptitious brush of hands, first sight, first love, unrequitted love, heartbreaks and more. And though Durga Puja is not the only time that young love blossoms, (favourable conditions are available all year round), there is something about falling in love at the Puja Mandap. And Durga is about Khichuri! Yes the delicious rice and lentil mashes Bengali's can make a feast out of.  So I am bringing this Puja Ashchhe Series to a close with Khichuri. But this isn't just any khichuri, this one has meat in it. Yes I am obsessed with meats, can't do without them. So here's my version of Murgi/Chicken khichuri. Though I am still going to savour the absolutely vegetarian version of the khichuri on Maha Ashtami.You could use lamb or goat meat too! And from this recipe eliminate the onion, garlic and meat, and you will have a delightful vegetarian version of the Bengali Bhog er Khichuri! 


Chicken - 1 kg
Gobindobhog rice - 200g
Moong Dal - 120 g 
Massor Dal - 100 g
Finely sliced onions - 1 cup packed 
Minced Garlic - 1 tsp 
Grated ginger - 4 tbsp 
Cubed tomatoes - 3 medium sized 
Potatoes (cut in small cubes) - 3 large 
Peas (blanched) - 1 cup 
Turmeric powder - 2 tbsp
Red chili powder - 1 tbsp (heaped)
Asafoetida powder - 1 tsp 
Mustard oil 
Ghee - 50 g 
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste (We add quite a bit, say 4 tbsp for this quantity) 

Whole spices 
Cardamom - 4-5 
Cinnamon stick - 2 inch 
Cloves - 4-5 
Bay leaves- 2
Whole dried red chilies - 4
Whole cumin seeds - 1 tsp 


Wash the rice and lentils together and spread it out on a newspaper to dry out.

Fry the potatoes in mustard oil with a pinch of salt and turmeric powder, until golden and almost done. Keep aside.

In a deep bottomed pan, heat about 4 tbsp mustard oil and three quarters of the ghee.

Add the whole spices and once they begin to splutter add the asafoetida powder.

Once the spices exude their aroma (be very careful after adding asafoeida), add the sliced onions, and fry until a deep golden.

Add the garlic paste and fry for a few more minutes. Now add the chicken, half the grated ginger, turmeric and chili powder and fry until oil separates.

Now add the rice and lentils and fry for about 5-8 minutes. Add warm water and bring to boil. Lower heat cover and sook until rice begins to soften.

Remove cover, add salt, chopped tomatoes, remaining grated ginger, fried potatoes and peas. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the rice and lentils are thoroughly cooked. Chicken should be cooked by then.

 The khichuri will be thick, neither too runny, nor absolutely dry. Add sugar and let it simmer for another five minutes uncovered.

Drizzle remaining ghee and remove from heat. Serve hot with chutney on the side.

You could use Basmati is Gobindobhog rice is not available to you. 
In case you are using frozen peas, simply thaw and use. 

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