Vasant Panchami Part Two: Stealing Kul

Aditi Raychoudhury. My sister and I stealing kul. 2021. Colored version to come some day. #pencildrawing

Its the fifth (panchami) day of Spring (Basant) in Bengal and with it comes this festival dedicated to the Goddess of Knowledge, Saraswati. I used to love everything about this festival. It’s a day of freedom from learning as we surrender our books, instruments, ghungrus (dancing bells), pens and pencils in front of the Goddess of learning, so that she can bless each one of these tokens of learning and make us fruitful in our pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. It is often very intimate in scale and for us, it was always held at one of my favorite family’s home – the Chatterjis.

Chatterji Jethu* was sprightly, a great gardener and just an overall gentle and affectionate person to be with, especially because he would always invite us when the lychees in his yard were ready for our raiding. Chatterji Jethima* was known for her cooking skills through out the neighborhood – especially her aachaars** and ghughni*** and luchi***. The neighborhood adult community came together to cook giant vats of food as we ran around playing with our friends. We would sit down in batches to eat the bhog****, served on plates made with the shaal pata (Shorea_robusta).

Vasant Panchami. 2017. Watercolor and Ink.
Vasant Panchami. 2017. Watercolor and Ink.
Sal leaf plates: Stitched together with small sticks. It is a cottage industry mostly run by women.
Sal Leaf Bowls

But the most exciting part was that we could finally eat the forbidden fruit – Kul (Indian Jujube).. but only after the prayers had been offered. But, really wait for prayers before we could eat Kul?? We have waited long enough for the fruit to be just ripe and ready to eat.

Here I am with my sister Pratiti Raychoudhury throwing caution to the wind and creeping in to steal some kul after everything has been beautifully arranged for the Goddess to eat and bless but before prayers have been offered and blessings have been completed. Will eating kul before the eager Goddess make her petulant enough to dump a bunch of Math problems we can’t solve? Are we going to get failing grades? Who cares, eating this fruit before the ceremony has taken place is worth every drop in grades.

*Terms for your parents’ friends when they are older than your father
**Aachaar : Indian preserves
*** Whole yellow peas curry with about 4″ diameter fried bread
****Food that has been blessed by Gods/ Goddesses.

Vasant Panchami (वसन्त पञ्चमी । বসন্ত পঞ্চমী ।)

Vasant Panchami. 2017. Watercolor and Ink.
Vasant Panchami. 2017. Watercolor and Ink.

Yippee! The air is clear and crisp, and the skies are the closest they ever get to a California blue in the tropics. Its early February. We are all dressed in yellow. No books, no homework, no dance, or anything that bears any resemblance to learning.  It is Vasant Panchami (the 5th day of Spring). We have gleefully surrendered all our pencils, pens, paints, brushes, books, instruments and any other conceivable source of knowledge to Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. She can take her own sweet time to bless them. We are too busy. Its a day to eat, play, eat… repeat!  Luchi, begun bhaja, labda, bhaandhaa kopir chochori, khichudi, chaatni, papod bhaaja, and kool, lots of kool!

We are at one of my favorite “uncle’s” house – Chatterji Jethu. He wasn’t our uncle – but, growing up we didn’t call our elders by name or even as Mr. or Mrs. Everyone was an uncle or an aunt.

Chatterji Jethu was lean, energetic, a fabulous gardener, cook and best of all, he was always smiling. Every year we celebrated Basant Panchami at his house with all our neighbours and friends.

So here it is – my most potent memory of this festival. Me, up on a guava tree, watching the menfolk fry luchis. Yummy.