Of all the Pujos that used to be celebrated at home during my childhood, Saraswati Pujo was perhaps the most awaited. Children of the family would collect donations from elders’ a week or so before the Pujo. We would then sit with our grandmother and mother to make a list of things required for the Pujo, right from rice, dal, fruits, gur, muri, chire (chirva), flowers, etc. Then started the shopping, every day after school, supervised and accompanied by elders of course. Usually our youngest uncle would guide the gang of cousins to the right shops. Advantages of growing up in a joint family, company of cousins made every occasion so much more fun, and indulgent uncles & aunts forever shielded us and gave in to our demands!
On the evening before the Saraswati Pujo, we would make a small pandal in our courtyard with my mother’s and aunts’ yellow saris and strings of yellow marigold flowers. Saraswati Pujo, also known as Basanti Pujo, falls on the day of Basant Panchami that marks the arrival of spring. Bright yellow happens to be the Goddess’s favourite colour. Going to the market to pick up an idol used to be another important task of that evening. I still remember walking through the lanes with so many magnificent idols of Vac Devi displayed by the potters, in different sizes and styles. The clam expression and the benevolent smile was however the hallmark of every idol of the fair goddess. After much deliberation, we would pick up an idol that would appear to smile benignly upon us. It was perhaps our childish fantasy, or perhaps a sense of connect with the divine that we felt then!
On reaching home with the Goddess we would proudly announce our arrival. Goddess Saraswati would be ushered in with the blow konch and the beat of kashor and placed respectfully on the vedi made for her worship. As the ladies of the house would busy themselves in the kitchen preparing naru (nariyel laddu), moa (laddu made of murmura and jaggery), khoier upra (sweetened parched paddy) etc., we would gather around the pandal finishing the decorations and placing our books & pens at the Goddess’s feet. Saraswati Pujo day was one of those rare days when we were forbidden to open our books (that made the day very special for us). On that day, we would invoke the Goddess of knowledge to grant us eternal wisdom.
On the morning of the Pujo, we girls would line up before pandal in yellow saris (borrowed from mom and aunts, tied over tops & t shirts). An elaborate bhog would be laid out before the Goddess – kichdi, labra (mixed vegetable), fried vegetables, puri, sabzi, kheer, moa, naru, fruits, sweets etc. Ber, khoi (parched paddy) & curd, a few items without which the Pujo is considered incomplete, would be placed before the Goddess. In fact, as kids we were not allowed to eat ber before Saraswati Pujo. We were told that we would do miserably in our exams if we didn’t listen. A thakur moshai or Panditji would come to perform the Pujo. On Pujo days Panditjis’ were in high demand and needed to be pre-booked.
After the Pujo we would all sit down to have the prasad, starting with khoi & curd and ending with tomato chutney, kheer and other sweets, what a feast that was. Somehow the same items cooked on regular days never tasted as delicious.
Having been away from home for a while, the fervent excitement that I once felt during Saraswati Pujo is just a fond memory. Since all the children are away, my mother now does a very small Pujo at home. An elaborate Saraswati Pujo is performed at my sister’s place for the sake of my nephew. A single child, with cousins in other cities, my nephew will never know the fun and the excitement of participating whole-heartedly in Saraswati Pujo with siblings and gang of cousins!