Bhog is the cooked food that is offered in Hindu rituals in India. Traditionally ( and even now) people queued up to receive the blessed food (prasad). With time, the prasad was made accessible to devotees through advanced online bookings across various websites. Most of these prasad bookings are restricted to items that are hugely popular. For instance laddus of Siddhivinayak Temple, Maharashtra can be pre-booked and devotes can get a home delivery of Aravana Payasam prepared from jaggery, ghee and a special variety of rice called Unakkalari(red coloured raw rice) of Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple through DTDC. The temple economy has pervaded the net through advanced bookings of such offerings and attractive deals offering combinations of various prasad is also available in some web-portals.
Like other regions bhog has been an integral component of Bengali Hindu rituals. Mandar Mukhopadhay in his article “Jogbiyoggunbhag” published in Robbar, Pratidin1 recounts several bhog which were particularly famous – bhog offered in Radhakanta temple , ras-bhog ( food offered during ras, a festival celebrated in the full moon night of kartik/ October- November, an annual festival celebrating Lord Krishna’s desire to dance), “nanda-bhog” and “pancham doler bhog” (bhog offered during Holi-the festival of colours). Bhog, as Mandar Mukhopadhyay recounts was not only prepared in temple complexes but also prepared in households. Notions of purity and pollution and codes of preparation were rather strict. Reminiscing about bhog preparation in households, Mandar Mukhopadhyay mentions that the cooking area was splashed with cow-dung water and mopped neatly before cooking. Bell metal cookware was washed with tamarind pulp and ashes from the clay oven used to cook vegetarian food. Women were responsible for bhog preparation. Usually senior women were in charge of bhog preparation probably to maintain notions of purity associated with food offered in Hindu rituals. In Bengal, women during their menstrual cycle were refrained from taking part in Hindu rituals, so I am assuming similar practices were followed in bhog preparation as well.
Annabhog or rice based bhog is cooked in Brahmin households. The codes of prohibition around food prohibited a Brahmin to consume anna / rice from non Brahmin households hence there existed a practice of preparing luchi ( round discs of fried fluffy bread from flour) in non-Brahmin households. Mahendranath Dutta in his book Kolikatar Puraton Kahini O Pratha (1929) recounts experiences from his childhood days when Brahmin households served rice-based meals because everybody could eat at Brahmin households2. Similarly Kayastha household n Dutta’s account served Luchi- based meals.
Each household had their own speciality. For instance I loved the jora ilish and rice bhog that was offered during Lakshmi Puja in a neighbouring household.3 Similarly, I miss the Luchi- Suji ( Semolina prepared with ghee and sugar) bhog that is offered in Janmasthami in our household . One item that is commonly associated with bhog across festivals is khichudi (one meal dish prepared from rice, pulse and vegetables eaten with fritters and chutney).
With Durga Puja around the corner, bhog is one integral component. The journey of Durga Puja from household to community-centric has re-shaped bhog preparation and distribution as well. In Kolkata, Puja organisers arrange for home delivery of bhog in neighbourhoods. Some bhog staples are khichudi, labra (a mish mash of seasonal vegetables) and chutney( a tomato based tangy preparation). Some organisers have replaced labra with alur dom (a potato based curry). Runny khichudi and labra are my favourite.
In Delhi, Mumbai, the puja organisers serve “bhog” on Saptamai, Ashtami, Navami. Special arrangements are made for senior citizens so that they don’t have to stand in the long queues. Hence it is of no wonder that the food giants are making their way to sponsor such initiatives. If you are in Kolkata and your puja committee has collaborated with Nutrela you might find Nutrela products blended in your puja bhog. This year, Nutrela has started a new initiative: Nutrela Mahapujor Mahabhog with a vision to introduce “soya bhog” in Durga Puja palate. They have selected 26 clubs across Kolkata and will award “Nutrela Mahapujor Mohabhog” title to the Puja committee who manages to whisk up a delicious bhog using Nutrela products. This is a new dimension of corporatisation of Durga Puja and bhog-culture.
Time will tell if soya bhog can go along with labra and alur dom!
1 Mandar Mukhopadhyay (2013) “Jogbiyoggunbhog” Robbar, Pratidin, 6 October 2013. Pp 28-31.
2 Mahendranath Dutta (1929) Kolikatar Puraton Kahini O Pratha . Kolkata: The Mahendra Publishing Committee.
3 This practice was common in Bangal (East- Bengal) households. In some households, raw Hilsa was offered and later cooked and distributed. Some offered cooked hilsa as well.