It was only during the late nineties and early millennium, when we Indians started celebrating Valentine’s Day. Movies and television serials started glorifying and consumer based companies found a tremendous business opportunity in the nation’s newfound fad. Over the next few years, it proved to be more than a fad, and has now become a national festival of epic proportions.
Gokhale’s famous quote, ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’ bears testimony to that fact that Bongs have always been the pioneers of change. So it should not come as a surprise to you that Bengalis have been celebrating the ‘festival of love’, long before the rest of the nation started to fall head over heels for it.
On the day of Vasant Panchami, West Bengal celebrates Saraswati Pooja – Bongs’ very own version of the Valentine’s Day. The festival is celebrated when nature begins shedding off its morbid winter hues and starts dressing up for spring, thus adding the much needed spunk and youth to it.
Saraswati – the goddess of knowledge and wisdom is widely worshipped in the artistic and musically inclined Bengali community. However, over the years, teenagers have successfully found a different purpose for celebrating this festival. The festivity starts way before the actual day, when students go out to other institutions to invite their counterparts for attending the event. For most female exclusive schools, Puja day is the only occasion when boys are allowed to enter the hallowed precincts of the ever forbidden girls’ schools; those innocent giggles from the school windows are something which has fascinated teenage boys for ages.
Post the invites are rolled out and sleepless nights spent in making meticulous arrangements to welcome the deity, it’s time for the big day. Like any grand Indian festival, what you wear is of utmost importance. Girls drape themselves in marigold colored saree and guys wear quintessentially Bengali kurta pajama. After offering the “pushpanjali” at their respective pandals, people huddle into groups and engage in small talk while couples deftly escape the prying eyes of parents to spend the day with each other.
All transgressions are forgiven on this day because Maa is ever magnanimous. The idea of ‘date’ is usually incomplete without good food, and Bongs who are all so well known for their culinary abilities aka obsessions, can never seem to get enough of their gastronomic experiences. The usual menu consists of Khichdi, mixed vegetable curry, fried veggies, sweets, etc. The pocket money heavy lot, however, skip the routine delicacies and go out to dine in restaurants followed by a romantic movie, thus completing the experience.
For the intellectual and yet intensely romantic lot, Bengalis have found the true union of wisdom and love and they don’t even need the nod from Saint Valentine for it. So the next time you want to ask a Bong out, make sure you check out the calendar for Saraswati Pooja, it will inevitably evoke some warm memories and make your job easier.