AROUND THIS TIME of the year in West Bengal, I am told there is a windstorm that is received with mixed feelings. Its ferocity is legendary, but it also brings relief from the peculiar brand of stifling, humid, heat that grips the region in the first few months of the year. Kalbaisakhi as the storm is known as, is the harbinger of a festivalthat marks the first month of the year in the Vedic solar calendar.
Poila Baisakhi, the Bengali New Year, plays out roughly on April 14th or 15th,but the festival is not restricted to West Bengal alone. Many regions celebrate and refer to this time in their own unique way. It goes by the name of Baisakhi in Punjab, Bohag Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu and Vishu in Kerala.
These are variations of the same festive theme and have their origins in the harvest,specifically, harvest of the rabi crop. After all the rigours of tending to one’s crop,Baisakhi marks the time when farmers finally reap the fruits of their labour. A bumper harvest calls for carnivalesque celebrations. A mela-likeatmosphere prevails. Festivities, fairs, cultural programmes and foodhave always played a central role in the ensuing celebrations.
In Bengal, the Baisakhi feast includes lentil-and-vegetable preparations like kadai sunthi moonger dal (moong dal prepared with green peas) and aloo phoolkopir dalna (a dish prepared with potatoes and cauliflower). Traditional fish delicacies include bodi diya pabda machher jhol (a much-loved fish prepared with spices sprinkled and topped with roundels made from moong dal), sorsein chingri (mustard prawns) and the famous kochi pathar jhol (mutton curry) for meat lovers. Of course, a Bengali meal is never quite complete without sweets. Expect the emphatic presence of mishti doi (traditionally prepared sweet curd) and rosogolla.
Punjabis welcome Baisakhi with a whole range of delicacies including sarson da saga (a dish prepared with green mustard leaves), dal makhni (lentils with cream and butter) and of course the famous tandoori chicken and chicken butter masala, served with rice and lachha parantha.
Walk in to Eden Pavilion, ITC Sonar, Kolkata, anytime between 11th April and 19th April for a traditional Poila Baisakhi feast. On the 14th of April, Punjabi delicacies will be on offer at the Baisakhi event at The Peshwa Pavilion, ITC Maratha, Mumbai. For a gastronomic experience that combines the star culinary attractions of both Punjab and West Bengal, there’s a terrific Vaisakhi event at Hornby’s Pavilion, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai, on the 14th of April. Sheraton New Hotel, New Delhi, also has feasts lined up for the first month of the Tamil Calendar (Chitterai) and that of the Malayalam Calendar (Vishu).