Bhut chadurdoshi and Choddo Shak - Bengali 14 Greens ritual
By Barnali Dutta, published by Prasadam:
Tomorrow is Kali puja. On this day the Mother, the Goddess of Strength [Shakti], the source of all, the universal principle of energy, power or creativity is worshipped and this is also known as the famous Festival of Lights - Diwali. By Diwali I remember that in the market today, alongside large displays of fire crackers, lined up wicker baskets full of green herb is to be found too. In no time I had decided and amassed with lots of health arrived there. Truely, it is a rare opportunity to have so many rare edible green vegetables available in the market in Kolkata these days.
According to our forefathers this is the time at the end of the monsoons when people should start eating herbs in Bengal. I still wonder how much have we progressed or advanced or modernized from our forefathers. Man has left behind a wonderful way of educating the common masses about the simple and healthy way of living and building oneself incorporating these in their lives in the form of slokas or local proverbs and rhymes. But we are those who think we know better often tend to distort the knowledge by modifying them ourselves however slight it might be which has gathered with time reaching an acceptable form.
The saying goes something like this, on the "Charaka Samhita" we must eat edible green herbs in order to free ourselves from the attraction of "Kartik" [Bengali pre-winter month] because in the season of Kartika all the doors leading to the house of the God of death, Yam, stays open. The meaning of the saying can be translated in this manner, in the post monsoon period and winter we are prone to disease attacks and thus should consume this herb in order to retain our strength and ward off the dangers.
The general rule that follows is that we can resume consumption of herbs from this day onwards till the onset of the next monsoon. Gathering, cleaning and digestion of herbs during the monsoon can be problematic since small herbs remain submerged in the dirty waters. Insects hatch eggs on the leaves and digestion capabilities are also reduced during this period.
Now lets look at the question why the Fourteen [choddo] green herbs [shak]. Today we know why. These precious herbs surface only on this day since they are incorporated into the ritual ingredients and is not to be seen throughout the rest of the year. Thus our forefathers made efforts to lock these very special [best] herbs of Bengal forever in the form of rituals since they were worried that these would become extinct otherwise and also being a ritual this would be followed by everyone and not only those who paid heed to the teachings.A thing to notice is that have we been able to take any such measure for our future generations?!
After so many requests to the vendors in the local market for the last whole week to get all fourteen herbs separately, ultimately I had negotiated the different plants with a packet of mixed herb pieces as available on this day for the ritual, though I was not sure all the leaves that I received were the actual ones I was looking for. I could not compromise about the hygiene factor so I took the step to blanch and cook, against Bengali recipe for the dish. Carefully discarded bad leaves and in our family we used to discard all the suspicious portions liberally. Then washed, cleaned, washed, cleaned, floated in gallons of water, removed leaves from the top, discarded the dirty water, repeated with patience until the water showed no traces of dirt particles. After this I blanched the leaves in hot and quickly in iced cold water for a few minutes, drain all the water to make the leaves slightly dry and it is ready for cooking. Finally, now I am somewhat relieved, but not satisfied about the herbs type.
- ওল (Amarphophallus campanulatus),
- কেউ (Costus speciosus),
- বেতো (Chenopodium album),
- কালাকাসুন্দে (Cassia sophera),
- সর্ষে (Brassica campestris),
- নিম (Azadirachta Indica),
- জয়ন্তী (Sesbania sesban),
- শালিঞ্চ / সাঞ্চে (Alternanthera sessilis),
- গুরুচী/ গুলঞ্চ পাতা (Tinospora cardifolia),
- পটুক/পটল পাতা (Trichosanthes dioica),
- শেলুকা (Cordia Dichotoma),
- হিঞ্চে (Enhydra fluctuans),
- ঘেটু / ভাট / ভন্টাকি (Clerodendrum infortunatum),
- শুষনি (Marsilea qudrifolia),
ref চিরঞ্জীব বনৌষধি, ১ম খন্ড, পৃষ্ঠা ২
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Prep time: 1 hour | Cook time: 10 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 10 min | Yield: 6 persons
Serving size: 2 tbsp | Calories per serving: ___
Reference from "Charaka Samhita"
On the onset of autumn the sudden change of weather brought about by the heat warmifies our heat-starved cold body due to lack of sunlights during the monsoon and thus engaging the pitta imbalance, which may cause various infectious diseases these herbs have the potential in them to keep such diseases at bay.
- Wash and clean carefully all the herbs under tepid water, blanch and keep in a colander to drain all the water.
- Cut vegetables lengthwise first then in tiny pieces.
- Heat oil in a wide frying pan, fry dry lentil dumplings first and keep aside. Fry red chilis in the remaining oil, take out all except one. Add onion seeds and minced green chili. Add herbs and vegetables, salt and sugar and cover promptly for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Open the lid, fry well just until they are done. Now add fried dumplings, mix them well and put off the fire. The Bengali special green for festival day is ready to be served.
- This dish tastes unexpectedly good with hot rice, fried red chili and Bengali mustard mango sauce Kasundi.