I was away from blogger for sometime as i was on a vacation....Just like every year this year too me and my family celebrated Bhogali /Magh Bihu in our village house.Namkhola is a small village near Mangaldoi in Assam.Bhogali bihu is a harvest festival which marks the end of winter harvesting.The term Bhog means enjoyment,merriment and luxury...this is the time of the year when granaries are full .There is lots of feasting and enjoyment all over the Assam during this time (mid Jan to mid Feb).The same festival is observed all over India as Makar Sankranti/Pongal/Lohri .We usually reach Namkhola on the day of Uruka i.e. the eve of Sankranti. On this eve people organise Bhoj(feast) either within the family or in groups.We like to keep it as an only family feast.This year as my daughter's school was open on the day of Uruka ,we left for our village only after lunch ,so by the time we reached there it was almost dusk.It is almost a two and half hour drive from Guwahati,on our way we saw more than hundred Mejis and few Bhellaghars (I will explain to you about them in my next two posts).Above is one such picture of an unusual Bhellaghar built by the people of a village we crossed.
As we reached our home we saw Nirah making arrangements for the preparation of Sunga-Pitha.Well I must explain here that Pithas are special delicacies prepared in many forms by various methods like steaming,frying or by baking over a hot plate.Special skill is needed to make Sunga Pitha.Sunga means Bamboo.The Bamboo is cut into the desired sizes as shown in the pictures below. Bora Sawal( a special variety of rice which is very sticky in nature and has a very unique taste and aroma) is the main ingredient of this recipe.....the rice is pre -soaked and the Sungas are washed .Because this pitha is cooked inside Bamboo ,it offers a special flavour .
Usha she has been working with our family for a period of more than twenty years.Making sunga peethas with Usha on the day of Uruka is the part I love the most.The sungas are filled with pre soaked rice and little water.Once filled the ends of the sunga are covered by tying banana leaves.
Now all the filled sungas are arranged or inclined in a row over the stand which was prepared before.As I mentioned earlier one needs to be an expert to carry out this process....and Usha is one such person.Kids were super excited(mine are in pink and orange jackets),you never see them so happy and joyful while visiting a Mc'Donald's or a Pizza hunt or a Super Mall.While a continuous flame of very mild kind is required here,a wood fire is not recommended to avoid too much of heat as it will burn the bamboo or sunga...instead Hay is used .At the beginning a small heap of hay is burnt ,to which additional hay is added at frequent intervals by the help of a thin bamboo stick.It is a long process while Usha was busy here and the kids running around here and there we adults were chatting enjoying the bon fire .
I took this picture to show you how the hay is used here......after a certain time the fire is stopped to turn the sides of the sungas for uniform cooking of the peethas...once turned again the same process is repeated.Cooking outside the house over wood flame is another big attraction of Uruka-feast.The menu ranges from all kind of meats like mutton,chicken,duck and fish(right from our own fish pond).Because i am a strict vegetarian my dishes were prepared in the kitchen...it was a Labda(a mix veg curry),very fresh paneer curry(paneer is cottage cheese...it was freshly prepared at home ) and another fried vegetable dish.Food cooked over wood fire has its own taste....many find it many times tastier than the food cooked over our kitchen stoves.
We served the food on special natural plates....the sheets of banana stem are used as plates as you can see here.This picture was clicked while the steaming hot rice was just served to the kids after a heavy session of eating loads of fried fish and fried chicken.After a great dinner we called it a night as we needed to get up very early in the morning to take part in Meji burning.
Next morning Usha sliced the sungas to scoop out the pithas.
Sunga peetha as a breakfast is a real treat on the day of Bihu...it is consumed with either milk or curd and sugar or jaggery(molasses) as a sweetener.But we needed to wait here because breakfast would be served only after burning of the Meji out in the fields.At this time we the ladies of the house were busy preparing the offerings to the God.....to be continued.