Ashtami Celebrations in Sadar Bazaar

I’ve said this before (many times) but I’m going to say it again anyway:  I never cease to be amazed by the extraordinary kindness of people in India and the everyday  willingness of complete strangers to open their hearts,  homes and recipe books to me – particularly in Old Delhi.

On Tuesday Dean and I  were extremely  touched to be invited to an intimate family Navratra celebration.  At the home of the Arora family (Amit and his mother Kamlesh) in Old Delhi, a world away from the mayhem of the Durga Puja pandals,  we took part in a quiet and dignified Ashtami Puja.

Ashtami is celebrated on the 8th day of Navratra and is a moment many families hold a special ceremony to offer prayers to the Mother Goddess or Durga/Kali. For the Aroras, Ashtami is a particularly poignant time because it is a time memories of Amit’s father Ashok (of Ashok and Ashok fame) who died suddenly in 1997, come flooding back.

As in Ashok’s day, nine little girls  from the neighbourhood are invited in to represent devi, or goddesses.

4 beautiful goddesses: Moni, Seema, Nandini, Kajal

My devi of the day: Moni

The girls, some as young as 2, all sit perfectly still throughout the proceedings. First, Vijender, from the local temple, lays out offerings for Durga: coconut, almonds, sugar, walnuts, almonds, raisins, burfi and puris topped with chick peas and halwa.

Kamlesh leads the puja, emotional as she remembers her husband, a picture of whom can be seen in the shrine. In his day, Amit tells us later, everyone was invited and his father  used to take Polaroid pictures of everyone to hand out.

When the prayers are finished, and Dean and I have taken a turn at offering prayers,  Kamlesh gets to work in the kitchen, frying up mountains of puris.

As the room fills with the smell of ghee and incense, Amit ties sacred threads round each child’s wrist.

Tying the scared threads

The devi are then served their food.  On Ashtami it’s traditional to eat chole, (spiced chick peas), sooji halwa, (semolina halwa) and freshly fried puris (puffed, deep fried bread). The food looks  and smells wonderful but it’s our turn to be patient as we watch the devi devour their food.

Where are my puris?

Soon the plates are clean  and the girls revert to being a little less heavenly. Perhaps  they’ve been on best behaviour too long or  a sugar rush from the halwa suddenly kicks in but when they realize Amit has a stash of  chocolate and crisps a stampede ensues.

When the snack supplies and 20 rupee notes have been exhausted, the children clatter off down the stairs leaving us to savour our own plates of Ashtami food.

In the Hindu calendar, this is the time of year blessings are bestowed and counted. As I walk slowly back through Sadar Bazaar, Khari Baoli and Lal Kuan I marvel for the millionth time at  the great good fortune that brought me to India then led me to Old Delhi.

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18 thoughts on “Ashtami Celebrations in Sadar Bazaar

  1. Hi pamela,
    Amaazin pics, we all love the ashthmi celebrations……. And after 7 days of fasting, this food makes the wait worthit….. 🙂

  2. Thank you very much for bringing to life a wonderful simple family gathering-as I sat in my conservatory in grey Cheshire your words and photos transported me to the warmth,colour and friendliness of India -you are indeed lucky-keep sharing your luck with the rest of us especially in these times of great global difficulties

  3. Bryanne – thanks! Yes, this is along way from Cheshire and I should know – I grew up in Nantwich!

  4. Ashtami is the main day of the Puja for bengalis too. Giving Anjali or the offering of flowers is the main thing and wearing traditional clothes. Khichudi would be equivalent of halwa poori…coincidentally I manged to give Anjali this year at Mumbai…and felt the same warmth that has come out so beautifully in this post

  5. actually I had luchi alurdom on ashtami and as Bappi Lahiri reminded us in his concert the next night…puri is called luchi in Bangali 🙂

  6. The traditions are different but the same theme seems to bind India together – in the South, we have what is called Golu. For the nine days, 5 or 7 steps are decorated like a stage and laid out with dolls – traditionally idols of gods and goddesses but now open to modern interpretation. Little girls (and ladies) of the neighbourhood are invited every evening to have fun admiring the painstakingly decorated golu often with a small tableau of village life on the side. Chickpea or other legume based “sundals” or tempered salads is prepared by the hostess and shared. Bhajans (devotional songs) are sung. Voila – the Devi is honoured with yet another tradition!

  7. Hi Miri – thanks for sharing your Golu traditions – it’s great to hear about all the different ways of honouring the Goddess!

  8. Hi Pamela,

    I read your blog today for the first time. No that’s not completely true, I was on your blog once when I was searching for Channa Bhatura recipe couple of months ago. I read Sita Ram Diwan’s Channa Bhatura recipe and left. Today, when I came back for the same recipe I really had an urge to read more and explore your blog. I skimmed through a lot of your posts and enjoyed your writing about food, especially the first time experience with food. I really like the expressions used in the blog to express your India food journey. I was born and brought up in New Delhi. I LOVE GOOD food too and cook quite often to enjoy good recipes handed down by people or my loving family. I truly believe that the authenticity of Indian food is when you go out and explore street food. Let me know if you would be interested in trying out food places in newer places in Delhi, especially North Delhi and I will be more than happy to share them with you and know your views about it. :0) Good work.

  9. Hi,
    Just wanted to say that I love your blog, just found it too. I’m in the United States and will be traveling to India in two weeks, I’ll be in India for three months and am excited about trying as much food as I can find. Really interested in street food too. I was there as a young boy 35 years ago (my father is from India) but this is my first trip as an adult, Should be fun. Would love to meet you if the timing was right. Keep up the great blog.

    Damon

  10. Pingback: Gulabi Chikki – Coming Up Roses In 2012 | eat and dust

  11. Interesting blog…….I can almost smell the food. Asthami celebrations are a must for Hindus, we also invite little girls from our relations and neighbourhood for halwa, puri , chana, gifts of money etc.

  12. Pingback: Ashtami Goddesses and Free Food in Old Delhi | eat and dust

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