While exploring this cuisine, I also learnt a lot about the Parsi culture, festivals and traditions. Excited to share this new knowledge, I pestered Shelley for every microscopic detail about these celebrations and luckily, she obliged. While there are many celebrations that can be discussed some of the prominent ceremonies that occur in a person’s life born into a Parsi family include, Agarni, Navjote and the wedding.
Agarni is godh bharai or baby shower, hosted when the mother is either 7 or 9 months pregnant. While the reason for the selection of these months is unknown, it is assumed that the ceremony signifies life in the womb. Since, it was around this time that the heartbeat of babies could be heard in earlier times, the month was chosen based on when the heartbeat was heard. Thankfully due to technology it is much earlier now, but the tradition continues. Another peculiar aspect of this ceremony that intrigued me was the fact that it is only hosted for the first child. While Shelley agreed that the second child feels left out because of it, the reason is consigned to oblivion.
Navjote is the thread ceremony, where the child is initiated into the Zoroastrian faith. ‘Nav’ meaning new and ‘jote’ meaning life is referred as the induction of new life. Usually organised when the child is either 7 or 9 years old, the fixation behind these numbers is both of realised but couldn’t answer. A priest is invited to the house on this auspicious occasion and the child (whether it’s a girl or boy) is armoured with a sudrah (sacred vest) and kusti (thread). Before the ceremony, the child is taken for nahan (holy bath) after which he/she emerges in new clothes, usually a white pyjama and shawl over the shoulders. Following the holy bath, the initiate recites the prayers with the priest and takes the pledge of faith, embarking his own journey of life.
A wedding is a grand event and in a Parsi house it is customarily a 3-day affair. Beginning the celebration with engagement, the second day is Aadarni where the groom and bride exchange silver rings, followed by the final day when the wedding takes place. Since, many people decide to remain engaged for longer periods, the wedding becomes a 2-day affair. The main ceremony in itself is quite simple and involves the bride and groom reciting prayers followed by a food and drinks reception. A Parsi bride looks surreal in a white and gold sari, while the groom sports a traditional white robe called dugli and trousers. The attire is completed with a ceremonial black coloured hat.
The food spread for these occasions is more or less similar and known as Lagan-nu-bhonu. The food is served around the table by waiters as everyone sits down and enjoys the meal together, thus being called patra-nu-bhonu (sit down food). Typically it is served on a banana leaf in India, a custom that came around after Parsi families came to Gujrat from Iran.
Image (Sali-ma-marghi): theallonsy.com
The first servings include the classic lagan-nu-achaar which is a carrots & dry fruit pickle, along with saariyas (fried sago papad) and roti. The second serving is for starters and includes sali-ma-marghi (chicken) or sali-ma-ghost (mutton) which is a masala meat served with fried potato sticks on top. Tareli machi and patra-ni-machi are another commonly served options. Tareli machi is simply fried fish, while patra-ni-machi is fish marinated in coconut & coriander chutney, wrapped in banana lead and steamed. Keema Patties is a Parsi classic you can often find during weddings. The masala mutton mince is wrapped around in mash potatoes and fried to achieve crispy exterior with soft flavourful interior.
Image (Lagan-nu-custard): Mumbaimag.com
The third serving is the rice course and contains either pulao dar or curry rice. Pulao dar is the parsi version of biryani topped with vegetarian dhansak dal. Shelley emphasises here that, it will never be a non-vegetarian dhansak since that is cooked on a sad occasion. The fourth serving is typically a lagan-nu-stew which is chopped vegetables cooked in parsi spices. The fifth serving is desserts which is either sev, ravo or lagan-nu-custard (baked custard with eggs, milk and sugar).
While, the menu for lagan-nu-bhonu remains similar during Navjote and Wedding, Agarni is celebrated with food cooked and served differently. First the mother to be is bestowed with Agarni-lu-larvo, a triangle shaped laddu which weighs a whopping 1 1/2 kg! The tip of this laddu is fed to another married women who is not pregnant in hopes that she will soon carry a baby. The other ladies attending the ceremony also receive smaller versions of this laddu as a souvenir. The mithai served on the table is often fish shaped while the spread is usual Sagan-nu-bhonu containing curry rice or fry fish. Accompanied by raspberry soda, these meals are something you should experience at least once!
Disclaimer: In any culture, every person has their own way of doing things. Thus, kindly keep in mind this is the knowledge I have received by one Parsi person and narrates how things are done in one normal Parsi family.
Read Part One here!
Featured Image Courtesy: homegrown.co.in