As Bhog is an integral and the most auspicious offering that is given to devotees after it has been ceremoniously provided to a God or Goddess as a part of a special ritual in His / Her name, it is always consumed happily and contentedly by first thanking the Superior Being following which the feast on the holy food starts. To serve Bhog to Gods or Goddesses in accordance with the rules of the Hindu religion, special plates like that of silver or copper is used which are not utilize regularly to eat everyday meals by human beings. Some skillful cooks who are hired to cook the meals of the Bhog are also required to bathe themselves and dress in squeaky clean attires. After the constituents of a Bhog are prepared, it is arranged neatly in the special plates and then placed in an orderly sequence before the idols of God or Goddesses. When the worshipping or Puja rituals are completely over, the Bhog is shared among the devotees who eat it with the belief that it is a form of blessing from the God or Goddess and thereby relish it with happiness and in devotion.
Durga Puja is a five-day long religious festival that is celebrated with pomp and gaiety in the eastern part of the country and the traditional Bhog of the Mother Goddess is the most talked about and enjoyable aspect. Most of the pandals which sprung up in full colour and decorations along with a lively ambience filled with cheerful people and exuberant beats of the Dhak in almost every corner of the eastern region serve the traditional form of Bhog to the devotees who throng there. Apart from being a source of culinary delight which pleases the tongue, stomach and senses, the most interesting feature of a Durga Puja Bhog is the crowd it seems to pull. When the time of serving Bhog to the people at mid-afternoon arrives, the crowd inside a pandal seems to grow in large numbers and the pushing and shouting of people to grab a seat in the first batch is a normal scene to be seen as everybody has the urge to savour the Bhog in the warmest and freshest form. The arguing over seats continues till the time of serving Bhog is over. Meanwhile, almost every devotee who throngs a pandal to eat Bhog always asks for second or third helpings of each food item of a Bhog because it is often lip-smackingly delicious. The community feasting of Bhog that happens in a pandal during Durga Puja is no less than a colourful eating ceremony that is witnessed at the banquet halls of every Indian wedding. With each person decked in formal finery at their best, the dining halls of a Durga Puja pandal looks like a place where a feast of merry souls is occurring. During the time of community feasting of Bhog in a Durga Puja pandal, people sit in rows of chairs and tables arranged neatly across a room and tuck into a hearty meal served in banana leaves / paper or plastic plates with emotions of happiness writ large on their faces. Meanwhile, the distributors of Bhog also don’t hesitate to give large portions of a food item to a person who asks for it and they are often found to hop happily from one seat to the next with their buckets and ladles with a pure motive to serve everyone wholeheartedly. The three days i.e. Saptami, Asthami and Navami are the ones during which people get to savour different delicacies at the time of Bhog and thereby these days are a fun-filled affair.
Some of the delicacies that constitutes a traditional Durga Puja Bhog-
Every Durga Puja pandal serves large portions of Khichuri as the foremost and mandatory meal at the time of Bhog. This comfort food takes a luxurious avatar during Durga Puja as it is cooked with ladles of ghee, spices and loads of nutritious veggies. The plate of Khichuri never fails to satisfy a devotee as most of them are often found to be calling out to the distributors of Bhog for second or third helpings of this relaxing and delicious meal of rice and pulses. With double benefits of being a delicacy of pleasure and abundant in nutritive features, Durga Puja always remains incomplete sans the Khichuri.
Labda / Sabzi
The second food item without which Durga Puja seems incomplete in addition to the Khichuri is the Labda or Sabzi. A superfood in itself, Labda / Sabzi comprises of an assortment of vegetables cooked to pay homage to the Mother Goddess and later to satiate a devotee. From radishes, potatoes, brinjal, cabbages, Labda/ Sabzi can consist of different types of vegetables and the combination is generally chosen by the team of cooks or the organizers of the Puja. Most Durga Puja pandals only serve Khichuri and Labda / Sabzi as a complete meal to the devotees and the two is a perfect pair and the absence of one makes a whole Durga Puja Bhog literally seem as if something is missing from the plate of holy goodness.
Begun Bhaja (Eggplant Fritters)
Some Durga Puja pandals serve Begun Bhaja (Eggplant Fritters) to the devotees as a food item in a Bhog plate. A deep-fried snack, Begun Bhaja is a perfect accompaniment that goes superbly well along with the traditional and mandatory Khichuri and Labda. When the strong and distinct taste of a brinjal along with extremely soft texture that is coated with oil goes into the mouth, it gives a surreal taste to the tongue that makes you feel as if you are in seventh heaven. Although Begun Bhaja does not feature as a Bhog item in many Durga Puja pandals, some do serve it to their guests or devotees as a measure of hoping to provide good hospitality during an auspicious festival.
Fish / Mutton Curry
Although a majority of Durga Puja pandals serve pure vegetarian food to the devotees, there is quite a few which do provides non-vegetarian food items like fish / mutton curry as a part of a Bhog meal. Made with loads of spices and chillies, the non-vegetarian food items of a Durga Bhog turns out to be always extremely filling and mouth-watering. The veggies and the meat that constitutes the non-vegetarian platter of a Durga Puja Bhog is healthy, delicious, a visual delight and provides a happy feeling to the nose too with its delicious aroma in addition to being a satisfying attribute of taste and hunger.
The classic Indian milk and rice dessert that makes its prominent appearance in every auspicious occasions and merry celebrations in the country is also served in its richest form as a last morsel in a Durga Puja Bhog. From raisins, cashewnuts and pistachios that goes into the Payesh for garnishing as well as elevating the level of its taste to the large amounts of sweeteners such as sugar and jaggery that goes into the milk and rice pudding, Payesh has been able to make a devotee happy as well as gladden the hearts of the ones who possess sweet tooth.
To end the Durga Puja Bhog on a beautiful note literally, sweets like Rasogolla, Sandesh, Barfi are often provided as a part of a dessert menu in some pandals. As sweets are an indispensable culinary treats of every happy or good occasion in India, it is also given as a part of the Durga Puja Bhog. Meanwhile, sweets and Jalebis are treated as the compulsory munch-ons in a nearby shop during the time of pandal hopping.
Durga Puja is a festival which truly signifies the spirit of Motherly Love as every person comes together in groups happily to celebrate it with pomp and gaiety. May the Mother Goddess shower her blessing upon all and help everyone to overcome the evil obstacles of life. Happy Durga Puja!