The day of mothers-in-law and sons-in-law: Jamai Shoshti

Known for its colossal Durga Pooja and yellow-saree draped musings of Saraswati pooja, the Jamai Shoshti festival is the only occasion dedicated to the men-folk in West Bengal.

Like the world has Father’s Day, Mother’s day, the Bengalis have their “day of the son-in-law”, when the jamai-s get pampered by their doting mothers-in-law, with an overwhelming menu of delicious dishes prepared with generous helpings of mustard paste, milk cream, and tons of aromatic spices.

The legend behind this celebration is just as amusing as the rituals. In the olden days, parents of a married woman would wait to visit her till she bore a child. This translated into a woman’s prolonged separation from parents if she didn’t conceive sooner. But how long could parents stay without seeing their daughters? They had to find a way out.

Now, mothers in this part of the world observe the Sashti pooja to pray for the wellbeing of their children. The higher-ups in the social structure decided that the sixth day of the waxing moon phase in the Bengali month of Jyeshta will be observed as “Jamai Sashti”.

Sons-in-law, along with the wife, will be invited to their in-laws home for a full day of celebrations. The mother-in-law will pray for his health, prosperity, and for the couple to be blessed with a child soon. This, in turn, granted the family an opportunity to avail of the daughter’s company.

With time, social orthodoxies grew obsolete and were rejected by newer generations. Though no parents in Bengal wait indefinitely till their daughter bears a child to meet her, the fondly awaited Jamai Shoshti stays rooted in the culture of this land.

The day begins with the couple arriving at the girl’s place; Bengali men prefer to reach for their crisp traditional kurta-pajamas for this trip, some brave the dhoti as well. These days you get pre-stitched dhotis with drawstrings, so it isn’t a harrowing adventure anymore.

Sweet shops across Bengal are full to the brim; the couple shows up at the door with a large earthen pot of mishti doi and another one packed with rasagullas.

The devoted mother-in-law welcomes them with a thali of dhaan (wheat), tender durba grass, and five types of fruits. With a dot of curd on his forehead, sprinkles of dhaan and durba grass, and offering of the fruits, the mother-in-law extends her blessings to the husband of her daughter and concludes the ritual by tying a yellow ceremonial thread on his wrist.

Breakfast is generally kept light with puffed rice, sweets like sandesh and mishti doi, mangoes, and ripe jackfruit lobes. Some may opt for deep-fried luchi and spicy potato curry, known as aloo’r dom as well.

The showstopper of this day is the lunch that allows the mother-in-law an opportunity to show off her skill acquired through decades of practice. The menu starts with fried fish and vegetables for starters, and a heap of Basmati rice is broken in with moong dal preparation.

Then course by course, Bengali specialties like dhoka’r dalna, doi-potol, chingri machher malaikari, rui macher kalia, kasha mutton, payesh, mango chutney, papad, and paan arrive in tow.

The afternoon is spent in sharing a heart-to-heart, laughing, and lazing around. After another round of sweets and snacks in the evening, the couple prepares to leave. With passing of time, the age-old Jamai Shoshti has undergone a lot of change. Home cooked food is often switched for home delivered food. A few families may opt to share a meal together at their favourite restaurant.

With young couples moving to different states or countries, numerous Bengali women step into their mother’s shoes and put together an extravagant course for their husbands on this day. The mother, however, is always on the phone, to their rescue when she struggles with a complicated recipe.

Television actress Debina Bonnerjee shares a beautiful vlog of Jamai Shoshti celebrations at her home.

How do you celebrate Jamai Shoshti in your home? Tell us in the comments below.