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Diwali special: Kali Puja and Khichuri

October 2006
Diwali special: Kali Puja and Khichuri

Kali Puja and Khichuri

A Bengali alternative to Diwali

Kali Puja and khichuri are as much to the quintessential Bengali bhadralok as Diwali and dry fruit barfis are to the rest of India. The puja takes place on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik.

Special drummers called dhakis, beating huge drums made of hollow branches and goatskin, arrive from rural Bengal to join in the festivities. It is believed that Raja Krishnachandra of Nadia district ordered the worshipping of Kali on Diwali night. Just like Diwali, houses are decorated with candles and oil-filled clay lamps(diyas) during Kali Puja. Children and adults burst crackers and light tubris (flower pots).

Goddess Kali has always enjoyed a significant presence in our culture. She appears in various forms as an embodiment of Shakti . Kali, Durga, Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati are all different forms of the ultimate power that are revered on different occasions.

Her facial expressions depict the extent of her powers of destruction. The severed head she holds in one hand instantly arouses fear and her protruding tongue symbolizes the mockery of human ignorance. She is seen standing on Lord Shiva's chest and wearing a garland of skulls.

According to Hindu tradition, we are living in the Kali Age; the time of a resurgence of the divine feminine spirit. Using the powerful imagery of paintings, sculptures, and writings, the celebration of Kali Puja explores and illumines the rich meanings of feminine divinity.

The sheer power and magnetism of Goddess Kali has even drawn pop Diva Tina Turner to make a visit to God's own country, Kerala. This goddess of pop came to pick up some tips for a Merchant Ivory film on the goddess.

If theme is what makes Durga Puja a spectacle in Kolkata and its suburbs, variety of form is the specialty of Kali Puja. Shwet Kali, Adi Chamunda, Dashamunda, Hanuman Kali you name it and the pandals have it! It is a virtual treat for the ardent pandal hopper who would never find two similar forms of Kali being worshipped. The grotesque forms of Kali are rarely worshipped and neither are animal sacrifices made.

As Kali is associated with dark rites and devil worship, the rituals performed are austere and offered with great devotion.

Gastronomic delights of the festival season are the products of a gracious and spacious culture. Almost all Bengali households gear up for a mast mast must-meal of khichuri or the really special mangsher khichuri (khichadi with mutton) on Kali Puja day. All khichuri aficionados, take note! To serve four you will need:

150 g boiled/basmati rice,

150 g masoor dal,

200 g potatoes,

500 g mutton/lamb,

250 g tomatoes(cut into 4 pieces),

250 g onion paste,

25g garlic paste,

25g ginger paste

2-3 sticks cinnamon,

2-3 cloves,

2-3 cardamom,

2-3 dry red chillies,

6-8 florets of cauliflower,

50g green peas

jeera paste,

bay leaves,

salt and sugar to taste,

ghee(saturated fat)

2 tsp turmeric powder


For 2-3 hours, marinate the mutton/lamb with onion, ginger, garlic and red chilli paste and salt to taste. Heat pan with some cooking medium. Allow the garam masala (cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves) to pop and then pour in the marinade. Cook the meat on a low flame till half done. Pour adequate quantity of water for the mutton/lamb to cook.

In the meantime, roast the lentils and rice in ghee/saturated fat. Wash the florets of cauliflower, the potato-halves and the green peas in a sieve. Place a round bottom dekchi/ vessel on the fire and pour adequate water into the roasted lentil-rice mixture along with the cauliflower, potatoes and green peas. Add a pinch of turmeric, some ginger paste, jeera paste, salt and sugar to taste and let it cook till half done. Now pour in the half cooked mutton/lamb and allow it to cook.

No dish is complete without some fries. The best option with mangsher khichuri would be to deep fry some onion rings or thinly sliced brinjal (aubergines) and pumpkin. Use a mouth-watering tomato chutney as a dip to go with these fries.

And VOILA! You are ready to tuck in.



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