The flavour of family bonding finds expression through its social customs. Bengal’s son-in-laws get a day to come closer with their other family in a very traditional way. A treat for the son-in-law awaits every year from his in-laws or ‘Shoshur bari’- as they say in Bengal. Held in the Bengali month of ‘Jaistha’, Jamaishasthi is a social custom. The ‘jamai’ or the son-in-law is treated with his favourite delicacies by his in-laws specially to ensure that he treats their daughter with due respect for the rest of the year.
The menu includes special Bengali dishes such as ‘various fish delicacies’, ‘prawn malaikari’ & special jamaishasthi ‘sondesh’. Lavish gifts are given to the son-in-law & he too in return gifts his mother-in-law with something special. For the day he relishes the attention he receives from his in-laws. The fast pace of life and the changing social norms has mellowed down the once very happening social custom among the Bengalis. The word Jamai (son-in-law) suggests a relationship much closer to heart.
So Jamaisashthi was an occasion when the entire family got involved in preparing to welcome the son-in law. Fish being a Bengali delicacy was in great demand in the local fish market. Large sized fishes were delivered to homes, ‘handis of rasagollas’ and packets of ‘sondesh’ were ordered from the sweet shops. Fifteen to sixteen dishes were prepared to serve their favourite Jamai. The full course lunch right from ‘gorom bhate ghee to pan-masala’ was prepared by the food loving Bengalis for their loving son-in-laws.
On the arrival of the daughter and son-in-law a brief social ritual was performed. The son-in-law was given five fruits followed by ‘aashirbad’ with ‘dhan and dubbo’. A mark or a “phota” with curd was applied on the forehead of the son-in-law and a yellow thread tied around his wrist. These rituals are still performed till date. Lunch was always a lengthy affair. Bowls of finely cooked vegetable curries and various fish curries were elaborately arranged around the main dish, a plate full of rice or pollau. The son-in-law relished the food while the whole household looked on and his mother-in-law
Fanned him with the finely pleated palm leaf hand fan. It is said that Jamaishasthi originated ages ago as a part of a women’s socio-religious duty. Goddess Shasthi is always worshipped by the women folk of the family for the goodwill of their children. It was told that there once existed a family in a certain town whose youngest daughter-in-law was a greedy woman. She used to eat most of the dishes and blame it on the cat that used to frequent their home. The cat who is the appurtenance (bahana) of Goddess Shasthi complained about the in justice done to her. It is said the daughter-in-law of the household gave birth to seven sons and a daughter but all her children were stolen from her. Heartbroken she was driven away from home to the jungle. While she sat crying Goddess Shasthi took pity on her and appeared before her in the guise of an old woman. When the young woman poured out her sorrow, Shasthi reminded her of her past wrongdoings. She repented and asked for mercy. She was then asked to perform some social rituals which brought back her children. This story inspired many women folk to pray to the Goddess Shasthi for their children and perform puja. This slowly took turn to Jamai Shasthi.