My childhood memories of Kanjake Puja (celebrated on Ashtmi or Navami Puja during Navratras as per beliefs of a particular family) are of getting up early morning to the smell of Suji being roasted in desi ghee for making Halwa. It used to be one of the very few days when my 2 brothers and I would wake up early, take a shower and get all ready before 8 am on a school holiday.
I remember the morning was full of action. My mother doing a million things in the kitchen at the same time- making halwa, boiling Kala-chaana, heating oil for frying pooris. My elder brother would be sent off to invite minor girls or the Kanjakes to our homes. Kanjakes are minor girls who are seen as ‘swaroop’ or ‘incarnations’ of Ma Vaishno Devi and thus the Puja rituals are associated with worshipping the little girls as the ‘Devi Incarnate’. The Kanjakes or girls from around the neighbourhood are invited home and a ritualistic washing of their feet, applying tilak, garlanding them and after worshipping them, giving away gifts and Prashaad is the usual routine of the Kanjake Puja.
My father would get the house mandir ready. There will be Mata ke Bhajan playing on the tape-recorder (there were no CD-players in that era!) in the background. My grandmother doing her routine morning pooja (7 times Hanuman Chalisa, reading Sukhmani Saheb Jap) at home, which was always followed by a visit to the temple and gurudwara. As Punjabis we had never been taught to differentiate between Hindu and Sikh traditions
Kanjake, for us kids had another significance. It marked the end of 8 days of fasting and abstinence from non-vegetarian food. At that age, those 8 days of foregoing even our favourite egg omelette sprinkled liberally with onions & tomatoes seemed like an eternity! And not a day of the Navratris would pass by without my mother and grandmother having to answer each of the three of us queries of how many more days before we could eat normal food (read that as chicken, eggs and fish)!
Well, things haven’t changed much since then. We still celebrate the day with its trademark Kanjake Prashaad- Chhole, Poori and Halwa. I still play my favourite bhajans in the morning. It’s still a very happy day.
But some things have changed because of our new lifestyles in a urban city like Delhi. As a working woman, it has become difficult for me to manage all the rituals and thus I have cut down on the gamut of the activities involved. But the parts we loved then, I still do follow very rigorously and the special food of the day, the Kanjake Prashaad is a must-do for me! Alhough we get the prashaad ready, due to lack of time in the mornings we don’t invite the Kanjakes. We instead give away the prashaad and small gifts to the people who help us in our community and day-to-day life, like the local laundry/washerman bhaiya, or the didi who helps cook at my home or the lady that picks up the garbage etc.
Another change is that earlier we used to abstain from onions and garlic along with all types of non-vegetarian food during Navratras. But now since we spend most of our day in our offices, in meetings, travelling at odd hours out of the city on work and more, we have compromised on this to some extent. We for example don’t eat non-vegetarian foods, but don’t mind eating food that has the essential Indian garnishing of onion and garlic.
And bestest of all changes nowadays is the Special Navratra Feasts available in various restaurants. Be it the corner Food joint or a trendy chain of restaurants in malls, during these 8-9 days a variety of ‘Vrat Bhojan’ or ‘fasting foods’ are available widely. While traditionally it used to be Kuttu ke aate ki poori, potato curry and paneer. Now you get Kachche Kele ki subzi (Curry made of unripe Banana), Kadhi, different types of kheer, Khatte vrat wale chawal ki khichdi and what not! And all made with mouth-watering spices and recipes that just do not make you miss the onion/garlic or the non-vegetarian. Another funny thing is that for the last couple of years, it is my better half who has been keeping the Navratra fasts on all the 8 days, while I gorge on all the feasts at restaurants!
For me these Navratra rituals are some of the ties to my childhood. For me the joy of celebrating Kanjake lies in revisiting childhood memories by doing some of the many rituals and practices that my mother and grandmother used to do! By celebrating the girl child, by paying our respects to the ‘Goddess Shakti’ and by ‘initiating’ my Bengali better-half into some basic Punjabi culture, I feel I am still keeping my traditions alive. After all, I might have forgotten the religious aspects but I most certainly haven’t forgotten the happiness this day brings.
Let me share my easy-peasy-working-woman’s recipe for the Prashaad. It is a really simple and easy one that takes very less effort and time to get some steaming hot Halwa, Channa and Poori.
1 cup sooji
1 cup sugar
4 cups water
Roast Suji in desi ghee or vegetable oil (for the calorie conscious!) till its brown. Then add sugar and water while stirring. Bring it to a boil and then cook it well on low flame.
Soak kala chana overnight. In the morning boil till it i tender. In a Kadhai put 2 spoons of oil. When the oil heats up add half a teaspoon jeera. When jeera starts crackling, add little salt, lal mirch, dhania powder and haldi. Then add boiled chana without water. Cook for 5 minutes till its completely dry.
To serve to Kanjake and do the Puja in your home mandir, put 2 poories, a little bit of halwa and chhole. Keep some money and a chocolate handy as a gift, to give to the little girls that you can find in your family and your neighbourhood!
Happy Navratras & Kanjake Puja!