Makara Sankranti..the whole experience, nationally

Special Dishes Cooked for Sankranti

Pongal in Tamil Nadupongal3

Til Poli

Tilache Ladootil-ke-ladoo

Sarsoon Ka Saag with Makke Di Roti or Corn Tortillas

Kurmure Ladoo

Many Melas or fairs are held on Makar Sankranti the most famous being the Kumbh Mela.

Kumbha means pot and Mela means Fair. This Mela is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage that is centred in four locations in India:

Prayag, Allahabad, UP at the confluence of the three holy rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and the subterranean Saraswati.

Haridwar, UP where the river Ganga enters the plains having originated from the Himalayas.

Ujjain, MP on the banks of the Shipra river.

Nasik,  Maharashtra on the banks of Godavari river.

The pilgrimage occurs four times every twelve years, once at each of the four locations. Each twelve-year cycle includes the Maha (great) Kumbha Mela at Prayag, attended by millions of people, making it the largest pilgrimage gathering around the world.

Makar Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makara Vilakku celebrations.

GUJARAT

In Gujarat the custom is for the elders to give gifts to the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. Kite flying is an important part of the festival and has become an internationally famous event. Brightly coloured kites dot the skies all over the state.

lord_ganesha_flying_kite_eng

“Kaipoche” means that your “patang” or kite has been cut ! “Manja” is the string used to fly the kites and many ingredients were used to make the string including ground glass and glue. As many accidents happened it has become a banned item.

MAHARASHTRA

In Maharashtra people exchange sweets called ‘Tilache ladoo’ that is made from sesame seeds, sugar or jiggery. They greet each other saying – “til-gud ghya, god god bola” meaning “accept these tilguds and speak sweet words”. Maharashtrian women wear a special black saree called Chandrakala which is embossed with crescent moons and stars and get together with other married women to exchange tilgud with a special ceremony called “Haldi Kunkum”.

PUNJAB

In Punjab huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankranthi and celebrated as “Lohri”. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires. The whole community joins in the singing and dancing of ‘Bhangra’.  Sankrant is celebrated as MAGHI and the body warming food of  Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Di Roti are served.

ASSAM

In Assam, the festival is celebrated as “Bhogali Bihu”.

UTTAR PRADESH

As it is the month of Magha, the Fair held at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers at Triveni in Allahabad is also called Magha Mela.  A ritual bath in the river is important on this day. According to a popular local belief in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, somebody who does not bathe on Makara Sankranti is born a donkey in his next birth. The belief is probably based on the lack of ritual daily baths in the cold weather. Khichiri is eaten and given away and some call the festival Khichiri Sankranti. People also distribute rice and lentils to the poor and needy.

Ritual bathing also takes place in Haridwar and Garh Mukteshwar and Patna in Bihar. Since it is also the season to fly kites, the evening sky is awash with colorful kites of all shapes and sizes. Several kite competitions are held in various localities.

KARNATAKA

In Karnataka people visit friends and relatives to exchange greetings, “Ellu bella thindu, Olle Maathu Aadu” (Eat sesame seeds and speak only good).sugarcane and a dish called Ellu (made with sesame seeds, coconuts, sugar candy. In Karnataka cows and bullocks are also decorated and fed ‘Pongal’- a sweet preparation of rice. Special prayers are offered and in the evening, the cattle are led out in a procession with the beat of drums and music.

In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire. The significance of this exchange is that sweetness should prevail in all the dealings.

Andhra Pradesh

In Andhra Pradesh this festival is called “Pedda Panduga” meaning the big festival. A three day festival is held between January 13th and 15th. Each day has a special significance.

  • The first day is called Bhogi panduga
  • The second day is Sankranthi
  • The third day is Kanuma

Aariselu, (known as Adirasam in TN) made of rice flour and Jaggery is a special dish. Kajjikayalu, jantikalu, puliharam (tamarind rice), garelu, boorelu, laddu and sweet pongal are the other dishes. Women and children visit homes of relatives and neighbours for tambulam consisting of tamalapakulu (betel leaves and arica nut, coconut and flowers.

On Kanuma,  farmers decorate their cattle and offer prayers for a good harvest. They sell their produce and get money. People visit temples and family gatherings happen.

Cinema is a very popular media all over the South and people make it a point of going to a newly released film.

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Pongal…Makara Sankranthi..The Farmers Festival

India’s economy, culture and traditions are usually based on agriculture. The seasons, the produce grown typically at the time of the year are all important features of the celebration of festivals. Food cooked and shared at these festivals is made from ingredients that are abundantly available in that season. ‘Pongal’ is the biggest festival of Tamil Nadu and is traditionally celebrated at harvest time by the common man, the farmer. It is a thanksgiving to the sun god, nature, rain and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest.

Sankranthi is the day in every Hindu month when the Sun transits from one Sun sign to another. Makara Sankaranti is the day on which the sun begins its journey northwards as Sankramana means “to commence movement”. It marks the transition of the Sun from Dhanur Rashi or Sagittarius into Makara Rasi (Capricorn). It is the start of Uttarayana Punya Kala, which means the auspicious northward journey of the Sun.

This day is very significant as it occurs three weeks after the Winter Solstice on December 21st or 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere which marks the beginning of increase of daytime. Traditionally, this is an important harvest time in India.
Makar Sankranti is one of the largest and most auspicious festivals in the Indian subcontinent. Usually occurring on January 14th or 15th, in the month of Pausha or Thai the festival is celebrated all over the country as a Farmer’s festival. The farming community gets money in their hands by selling the harvested produce and can afford to buy new clothes, equipment etc. In South India the festival comes after the austere month of Margazhi when only devotion and prayers reign supreme. All auspicious events like house warming, marriages etc. are postponed till the month of Thai or Makara is ushered in.

Sankranthi, the main day of this three day celebration starts in households with a puja to Lord Suryanarayana, the Sun God. A kolam in the shape of a chariot is drawn and decorated with sugarcane, fresh turmeric and ginger plants. A bronze ‘vengalai paanai’ or rice pot is decorated with haldi and kumkum and placed on the fire and milk is boiled. When it starts to overflow the whole family joins in the chorus ‘Pongalo Pongal’. In Tamil the word ‘Pongal’ means “boiling over or to spill over.” The boiling over of milk in the clay pot is auspicious and denotes the fulfilment of the wishes of the family in abundance. Then new rice, split moong dhal is added and cooked to a mash. Finally new jaggery is added and the dish Pongal is garnished with cashewnuts and raisins roasted in ghee with a dash of cardamom powder. In many families in rural Tamil Nadu a new earthen pot is used to cook the dish. The wooden fire is built in the middle of a rangoli decorated courtyard and the dish is cooked, offered to the Sun God with the blowing of the shanku (a conch) to announce that it will be a year blessed with good tidings. This Prasad is distributed to all.

Sweets, made with new gur or vellam, til or sesame are prepared all over India and distributed. Til laddu, revadi are some of the popular sweets. Til generates heat in the body and improves the system that has become sluggish in the winter. So, food prepared in this festival is meant to keep the body warm and to provide high energy.
Brothers give gifts to their sisters, mothers honour their married daughters and farming Landlords give gifts of food, clothes and money to their workers. Gurus visit their devotees to bestow blessings on them.

On the day after Makara Sankranti, called Maattu Pongal in Tamil Nadu, the animal kingdom, in particular the cows are honoured. The famous sport of ‘jalli kattu’ or bull fights take place on this day. This has been recently banned due to accidents where people have been gored by enraged bulls. In coastal areas, cock fights are held. Young girls feed the animals, birds and fishes as a symbol of oneness with all God’s creations.

Travel in many parts of India is considered to be inappropriate, as these days are dedicated for re-union of the families. However, the fourth day is picnic time in Tamil Nadu and is called ‘Kaanum Pongal’ when everybody goes sightseeing.
Kite flying is an important feature of this festival when the sprightly winds catch the soaring kites and take the messages of human beings to the Gods.

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The Gates to Heaven—Vaikunta Ekadashi and Arudra Darisanam

THE MONTH OF MARGAZHI

The dark, chilly atmosphere of a winter morning dawns in South India with the sound of music and chants coming through the air. People wrapped up in woollies rush to the neighbourhood temple. There the Utsavar Moorthi, the processional representation of the temple deity,  is decorated and kept ready to be taken around the streets with everyone joining in the procession, participating in the Bhajan singing and reciting sacred texts.

Home fronts are decorated with huge kolams, geometrical drawings executed with great intricacy. These kolams or rangolis are embellished, with the bright yellow flowers of the pumpkin creeper placed in the middle amidst a dollop of cow dung.Kolam with pumkin flower on a blob of cow dung.jpg

People after a bath stand ready with offerings to the deity who will be brought around by devotees on a palanquin carried on shoulders.

Margazhi, the 9th month of the Tamil Calendar, occurs between mid-December and mid-January. The name of the month is derived from the Sanskrit word Margasirsi. The full moon day generally happens on the day when the star, Mrugasirsa rules. This year, Margazhi  commenced on December 17th and will end with the Bogi Pandigai/Hoi on January 14, 2016.

Margazhi or Maag is dedicated to spiritual activities and no weddings or social events take place. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna gives a list of the best of everything where he resides and says that he is Margazhi among the 12 months. No wonder that the whole month is dedicated to the divine.

Bramha Muhurtham is the time between 4.00 am to 6.00 am. It is considered to be a good time to do pooja and to practice singing, music, to study and to do Yoga. Throughout the month of Margazhi, the Brahma Muhurtham is especially dedicated to the Devas.

Both Vaishnavas and Saivas of Hinduism have special rituals based on religious texts and saints who are associated with this period. For Vaishnavas the Tirupaavai Pasurams are rendered in the early morning in all temples and houses. In the Srirangam temple, the Adhyayana Utsavam is held for 21 days. The recitation of the first 1000 verses, the beautiful Tiruvaimozhi by Nammalwar –the  most important part of the four thousand Divya Prabhandam Pasurams in honour of Lord Vishnu/Narayana—takes place during the 10 days prior to Vaikunta Ekadasi. This period is known as ‘Pagal Pathu’. Starting from Vaikunta Ekadasi, for the next ten days, the remaining three thousand verses of the Divya Prabandham are recited. This period is known as ‘Raapathu or Irappathu’. This is performed at many Divya Desam centres including Sri Rangam.

Vaikunta Ekadasi

Vaikunta Ekadasi is a very significant celebration in Vishnu temples like Tirupati, Srirangam Sri Ranganatha Temple and at the Bhadrachalam Temple. In Kerala, it is known as Swarga Vathil Ekadashi and this year it will be celebrated on December 1st 2015. It is usually celebrated in the early hours of the tenth day of the Adhyayana Utsavam. Symbolically, the Swargavasal—the doors to the heavens (a specially designated door in every temple)—are opened in all temples and throngs of people wait in the early hours of the morning to enter the gates and participate in the procession when the ruling deity of each temple is carried around in a procession.

Vaikunta Ekadasi at Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Temple.jpg

Ekadashi, is the eleventh day or Tithi (occurring twice) in the Hindu lunar calendar. Vaikunta Ekadasi’s significance is talked about in the Padma Purana. The Purana tells of Lord Vishnu  taking the form of ‘Ekadasi’ – female energy – to kill the demon Muran in the month of Margazhi. Impressed by ‘Ekadasi,’ Lord Vishnu gave her the blessing that whoever worshipped him on this day, would reach ‘Vaikunta’, his heavenly abode.
Ekadashi
Like all Ekadasi days, devotees fast on this day. They keep awake the whole night and spend the hours in meditation, prayers and singing Hari Kirtanam. Rice is not eaten on ekadashi days. The belief is that the demon Mura finds refuge in the rice eaten on Ekadasi.

In Srivilliputhur, the home of the saint Andal, her compositions of Thiruppaavai, consisting of 30 verses is performed. Each day one verse is chanted beginning with the ‘Margazhi neerattu’ festival and the ‘pachcha paraputhal’. The final two verses are also chanted in most temples everyday. The presiding deities, Andal and Rengamannar, are offered vegetables and ugarcane. On Bhogi, the final day of the month, a farewell or Piriya Vidai is performed and Sri Andal Neerattu Utsavam is followed by Sri Andal Thirukkalyanam. The same ritual of singing the Thiruppaavai’s is observed in homes as well.

andal1's garland

Arudhara Dharshanam 

Arudhra Darshan is the most auspicious day associated with Lord Nataraja. It falls on the full moon day, Poornima in Marghazhi, the longest night of the year. This year it falls on 26th December 2015. In the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple it marks the conclusion of ten days Margazhi Brahmotsavam and is performed in all Siva temples. Arudhra is the golden red flame and Siva performs his cosmic dance in the form of this column of fire.

thedanceoflordshiva1The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva stands for the five aspects of existence, Creation, Protection,Destruction, Embodiment and Release. This symbolic cosmic dance is what science says that happens in every cell and particle of life, the very source of energy.

Arudra Darshanam celebrates the ecstatic cosmic dance of Lord Shiva. The famous Pancha Sabhas, the five cosmic dance halls of Shiva are:

Hall of Gold—Kanakasabhai at Chidambaram

Hall of Silver—Velli Sabhai at Madurai

Hall of Rubies—Ratnasabhai at Tiruvalankadu

Hall of Copper –Taambarasabha at Tirunelveli

Hall of Pictures –Chitrasabha at Kutralam

In the month of Margazhi, Tiruvempaavai the first millennium saint, Manikkavaachakar’s  hymns are chanted in the evening, and his image is brought to the shrine of Nataraja. His image is part of Margazhi processions and celebrations in Siva temples all over South India.Manikka

The festivals in the Hindu calendar are associated with the weather and the harvest. The cold weather in Margazhi with its limited daylight induced torpid tendencies. So it is possible that, to motivate early rising and brisk activity and to shake off the sleepy and lethargic feelings, religion, spirituality and the ‘Bhakti’ maargam was used to promote good health and community activities.

The concepts of celebrating the gods’ last few sleeping hours before they woke up to ‘Uttarayana’ after the end of  the Dakshinayana kaalam when (the sun travels over the southern hemisphere) was encouraged in devotees.

Other important festivals in this holy month are Hanumantha  Jayanti and the culmination of pilgrimage season at Sabarimala  Ayyappa Temple.

Marghazhi is also the grand month for the music season especially in Chennai. The frantic Sabha hopping to listen to music, watch dance and drama performances and listen to religious discourses keeps people totally busy and active.

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Margazhi..the holy month and Andal

Andal or Kodai is one of the twelve Alwars or saints in the Vaishnava tradition.She lived in the first half of 8th century CE  Some scholars fix the possible date of Andal as far back as 3000 years BCE.

Andal was born at Srivilliputhur near Madurai, in the Tamil month of Adi (July 15th to August 15th) under birth-star Pooram, on a Tuesday, on the fourth day after the New Moon…Shukla Paksha, the bright fortnight.Andal

Baby Andal was found in the Tulasi garden, in the premises of the temple of Sri Vatapatra Sai. Perialwar, her father, found her while tending the garden and brought her up as his own daughter. Andal grew up in the spiritual surroundings of the temple and joined in the worship of the ruling deity, Krishna/Perumal. she listened avidly to the holy discourses, and to the recitals of the Vedas, epics or puranas and to the bhajans and keerthans sung in that agraharam. From childhood she was fascinated by the Leelas (pranks) of Krishna and developed a deep love for the Lord.

andal 3

Daily, Andal helped her father to weave the flower garlands that were offered to the temple Deity during the pooja. One morning, Perialwar was shocked to find Andal wearing the flower-garland intended for the Deity and admiring in the mirror and enjoying it. This was an act of sacrilege as the flowers were considered to be contaminated and sullied. That day, in deep anguish, he did not offer that garland to the Deity. That night Perumal appeared in his dream and isaid that the garland worn by Andal was special to the Lord and he wanted only those flowers to adorn his figure in the temple.

andal1's garland

Then Perialwar understood that his daughter Kodai was not an ordinary girl.  From then onwards she was popularly known as ‘Andal’, the one who ruled Bhagwan. she entered the annals of Vaishnava sampradaayam as ‘Choodai Kodutha Nachiar’, patroness who would offer flowers worn by her. It became a routine for Andal to wear the flower garland prior to offering to the Deity.

As Andal grew up, day by day, her love for Krishna also increased and she resolved to marry Him. When Andal attained puberty, Vishnuchittar or Periaalwar was amazed at her total devotion and desire to marry Krishna. Andal was advised to observe the Margazhi Bath rituals, a custom observed by nubile girls to win good husbands.

Andal gathered all the girls of her neighbourhood at Ayarpadi at dawn during the month of Margazhi. She imagined herself as a Gopika on the banks of the river Yamuna and performed rituals and bathed the Deity. She danced with her friends to the poems and songs that she composed in praise of Krishna.  These thirty hymns that described awakening her sakhis/thozhis, going to the river banks, singing bhajans and bathing and adorning the Deity form the subject matter of the Thiruppavai.Andal and friends

Apart form Thiruppavai, Andal has also composed and sung 143 Hymns in Nachiar Tirumozhi in which her intense love for Krishna, in varying moods of bridal love expressing tender  hope, utter dejection, joyful triumph, woeful sorrow and total surrender, are depicted.

Andal came to the conclusion that Lord Krishna was the Deity of Sri Rangam–Lord Ranganatha– and chose Him as her Consort.

Lord Ranganatha appeared to Perialwar in a dream and asked him to bring Andal to Sri Rangam in bridal attire. A palanquin, beautifully decorated, was sent from the Sri Rangam temple as instructed by the Lord in a dream to the temple chief.

King Vallaba Deva made elaborate arrangements, decorated the procession route, joined the bridal party and greeted Andal with music and other auspicious symbols needed for a Divine wedding. People cheered.

Andal walked into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and as she worshipped the Lotus Feet of Perumal, she became one with the Lord. To the astonishment and wonder of the people assembled, Andal’s physical body merged with the Deity, Lord Ranganatha.Andal and perumal

Margazhi–the holy month of prayer, devotional singing and austerity is always associated with Andal and her divine love for Perumal. Her songs are sung, one each day in the prescribed order and she is venerated as a saint!

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KARTHIGAI DEEPAM—SIVA THE COLUMN OF FIRE

Siva is worshipped as the elements in five temples in the South:

Space in Chidambaram
Water in Tiruvanaikkaval
Fire in Tiruvannamalai
Earth in Kanchipuram
Air in Sri Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh)

Diwali is the festival that is associated with the lighting of lamps all over India. In the South however, Kaarthigai Deepam is the festival that is by name and concept connected to the lighting of the little earthen lamps.Karthikai_Deepam.jpg

Kaarthigai Deepam takes its name from the month (November-December) and star Kaarthigai on which this festival of lights occurs. It is celebrated over three days around the full moon day (Poornima), when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades). This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the skies in the shape of a pendant dangling from the ear.

One of the earliest references to the festival is found in the Ahananuru, a book of poems that dates back to the Sangam Age (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.). The Ahananuru states that Karthigai is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Karthigai. It was one of the most important festivals (peruvizha) of the ancient Tamils who were also part of modern Kerala. Avaiyyar, the famous poetess, refers to the festival in her songs.

The important days are called Annamalai Deepam and Sarvalaya Deepam.

Annamalai Deepam or Mahabharanidheepam, refers to the bright fire that is lit on top of a hill in the temple city of Thiruvannamalai. thiruvannamalaiThe story related to this festival is that once to prove the supremacy amongst the trinity, Brahma and Vishnu took up the challenge of locating the top of the head and the feet of Lord Shiva. They failed in the task and Shiva appeared as a column of fire with no beginning or end. This jyothi (divine light) appeared on the hill of Thiruvannamalai. In commemoration, a huge lamp is lit at sunset on a hill top in this town, famous abode of Ramana Maharishi. This is the highlight of the festival and is known as AnnamalaiDeepam.

Sarvalaya Deepam refers to the day when the karthigai deepam is lit in all the temples. Bonfires are symbolically lit in front of temples in the evening to signify Lord Shiva’s burning of the chariots of wicked demons who were troubling mankind.

Homes are cleaned and in the evening kolams are drawn in front of the houses and little clay lamps are placed as decoration on it. Lamps also decorate homes after a ritual lighting of all the lamps in the house and adeeparathanai inside the pooja-room. The lamps glow all over the streets. Clay oil lamps are usually lit outside around the house and brass and silver lamps are arranged inside homes. Holy places too are decorated with rows of lamps lit to brighten up the environment.

On the third day, a lamp is compulsorily lit at the back of the house where the garbage bin is kept and is called ‘kuppai karthigai’. The holistic approach of Hinduism to recognize and acclaim every aspect of daily life in prayer and worship is demonstrated by this little gesture.

The star Karthigai is also associated with Lord Muruga or Karthikeya.

The story of Lord Kartikeya’s birth is given in Kumar Sambhavam (the episode of Karthik Kumar). Sati, the consort of Shiva immolated herself in the Daksha Yagna, as she could not bear the insult to her husband. Siva was terribly grieved and began to dance his thandava of destruction. Then Shiva withdrew from the world and went into deep meditation in the Himalayas. Reborn as Uma Parvati, the daughter of the mountain king Himavaan (the Himalayas), she began to serve the Lord.

Meanwhile, the demon Surapadman ravaged the earth and tormented mankind. The Gods realized that only a son born of Shiva and Parvati could lead the gods to victory over Tarakaasuran, Surapadman and their demon vassals. They sent Kaama, the lord of love, to shoot a flower arrow at Shiva to make him fall in love with Parvati. Shiva opened his third eye and burnt Kaama to ashes instantly. Rathi, Kaama’s wife pleaded with Shiva and brought him back to life in reality for her but in a formless state for others.

Shiva fell in love with Parvathi but burning sparks of the fiery seed of Shiva were unbearable and even Agni could not bear them. These six embers were transported by the river Ganga into the Sara Vana, a forest and Sara Vana Bhava (Kartikeya) was born. He was raised by the six Kartikas. Parvati combined these six babies into one with six faces, ie. Shanmukha. Siva’s son then led the army of the Devas to victory against the demons.

Kartikeya known as Subramania, Skanda, Guha, Shadannana or Shanmukha (six faced one) represents a perfect person. As Muruga, he is also known as the God of Tamizh language. As God of war, he is the fiercest of all the Gods. While Ganesh removes all obstacles, Skanda bestows valour and courage. He is worshiped to solve problems related to Mars, especially Mangala dosha or Kuja dosha.

One of the oldest festivals celebrated in the south, Karthigai is a festival of lamps in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The lighted lamp is considered an auspicious symbol and believed to ward off evil forces and usher in prosperity and joy. While the lighted lamp is important for all Hindu rituals and festivals, it is an integral part of Karthigai.

Arunachala_Deepam-582

When the light on the top of the Tiruvannamalai Hill is lit on the Kartigai Deepam day, people worship it. They recite “Harohara”, meaning that one who sees the light of lights burning eternally in the heart through constant meditation attains immortality. The light on the hill of Arunachala brings the message that the Self or Lord Shiva is radiance personified. He is the light of lights.

This festival commemorates the bonding between brothers and sisters in South India like Bhaiya-Dhuj and Raakhi. Sisters pray for the prosperity and success of their brothers and light lamps to illuminate the relationship and bonds.

Special food is cooked for the festival. pori-urundai-1Puffed rice or pori is made into laddus with vellam or gur. Soaked rice, banana, coconut pieces and gur is made into a fine paste and cooked in ghee into round balls of delicious eats appamcalled Appam. As it is winter time, the vellam creates heat in the body. An adai or thick pancake/dosa is made with rice and all the dhals. This is a high protein food that also warms up the body to cope with damp and chilly atmosphere of November—December.

Leftover crackers from Deepavali are exhausted in this festival as a tribute to the war God Kartikeya.

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Saying it With Sweets at Deepavali/Diwali Time

LaddusIn India no meal starts without a token piece of a sweet served on the plate or banana leaf. On any given occasion—engagements and weddings, birth and birthdays, festivals and religious occasions, house warming and new office opening—the Indian tradition is to exchange platters of sweets and snacks with neighbours, family and friends.

Diwali is a time when sweets reign supreme in the minds of people.  Each region has its own speciality like the rasgulla’s of Bengal, the pedas of Maharashtra, the malpoa and phirni of the North but there are certain sweets that are Pan –Indian. They do take on regional flavours but the shape and basic technology for making them remain the same.

Take the Laddoo, a round ball-shaped Indian sweet. The base ingredients is usually grammotichoor flour or channa (cottage cheese) based . Laddoos are usually bite-sized delights that can be held in the hand and gobbled up. In the North it is called moti-choor laddu as the drops of fried gram are like little pearls and suspended in a moist, sugar syrup. In the south it is called Kunja laddoo and the drops of fried gram flour are bigger and the sweet is drier with a longer shelf life.  The laddoo is also made from just fried gram flour –Besan ka laddoo and garnished with nuts while in the South it is made from powdered Rava-semolina and sugar with nuts added to it. The besan and rava laddus are great conversation stoppers as once you pop it into the mouth—you cannot bite it or nibble bits of it as it will disintegrate in your hand—it will take a while to dissolve and be consumed.

HalwaThe word Halwa comes from the Arabic root word Hilwa which means sweet. It is used in connection with most sweets, desserts or candy. In India the word Halwa is used to describe sweets that are glutenous or like a thick pudding. Halwas are usually sweet, rich and full of dry fruits and nuts. The South Indian Rava Kesari (because of its colour) becomes Suji Halwa in the North. Tirunelveli is famous for its glutenous halwa just as Bombay Halwa is a great delicacy. This sweet too can shut up mouths as first you fight with its pull and stretch consistency and then in the mouth you really have to chew at it! You can prove your social status by serving Almond Halwa which costs a bomb a bite. The professional sweetmeat maker is also called halwai! A new bride’s cooking talents are judged by the excellence of her halwa! If a mother-in-law wanted to take out her ire on the daughter-in-law she would be asked to make wheat halwa, a truly laborious process that involved soaking, grinding of whole wheat, squeezing out the milk and then stirring it without resting in a wok until it reached the halwa consistency. The smart DIl nowadays buys it from famous sweetmeat establishments.

Another time tested sweet that can literally make or break a cook’s reputation and her family’s/guest’s teeth is the Mysore Pak. Mys PakIt requires great expertise to make this humble looking sweet. If not taken out of the wok and fire at the appropriate juncture, Mysore pak can become the rock of Gibraltar!  The smart sweetmeat maker has reinvented this sweet as ‘Mysorepa’ and has popularised it—actually it is nothing but the North Indian besan ka barfi with a softer, melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

BarfiBarfi is the eponymous name for any sweet that is cut into squares, diamonds or shaped into rounds. In Tamil Nadu it has become Barbi (not the doll for sure). Barfis can be made from many ingredients but mostly they are milk or khoya based. The barfis are usually arranged in shops into diamond shaped towers attracting customers. The edible silver varq was added on top of barfis as a garnish. It was meant to be a aphrodisiac and to give it a rich look. In recent years, there has been bitter resistance to the silver foil as Vegetarian lobbyists claim that varq is hammered between animal fat or hide and is thus a non-vegetarian product. However, pure vegeterian options of varq are available in markets.

Another popular pan-Indian sweet is the half-moon shaped Gujjia/somasi/karjikka that isGujjia filled with various stuffings and then deep fried. In the south the filling is usually a mixture of powdered fried gram, sugar and coconut while in the North it has khoa fillings. The Chandrakala and Suryakala are variations of this sweet fried puff pastry. A savoury version is also made stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and masalas.

Saying it with sweets has never been so easy…pop into a sweet shop and choose traditional, new, modern or unusual sweets. They also get packed in special boxes…designer ones at that! And you can make a sweet splash amongst your social circle. Have a sweet Diwali!

KUNJA LADDU

Kunja

The sweet laddu made out of boondi is also known as kunjaa laadu in Tambram parlance. This would have originated from the word gunjaa laadu as the Sanskrit word gunjaa means a berry. This berry was used as a measure of weight, especially for gold. Since a laddu, a tightly packed sphere of many boondis or droplets of fried gram flour, looked like tiny berries, it became kunja laddu.

The Diabetic Sweet

In India the statistics are saying that 1 in every four people is diabetic…exaggeration or just positive, reported diagnosis—one really doesn’t know. This has created a special niche market and many people are catering to these clients.

Dry fruits mixed, mashed and made crunchy with nuts made without addition of sugar or gur/vellam is commonly available in Sweet shops.

Special sweet makers, chocolate and cake makers are announcing a wide range of diabetic sweets. So if you have a relative, friend or neighbour look out for this range of products! The diabetics need not be deprived of their share of seasonal sweets.

Celebrating Deepavali with Cakes and Confectionary

Diwali need not necessarily be celebrated with Indian sweets and savouries. Bakers and Chocolatiers are now flooding the market with cakes made like diyas, iced with Diwali symbols and eggless too for the orthodox reveller.

So think about a box of goodies that are different to the palate.

Jalebi or JangiriJalebi

The Jalebi is an Arabian sweet that became popular in the Indian Subcontinent has existed in the Indian subcontinent for at least 500 years.It is made by deep-frying fermented, floury batter in a circular shape with decorative whorls and then soaked in sugar syrup. One of the earliest known references to the sweet appears in a Jain work — Priyamkarnapakatha — by Jinasura circa 1450 BCE. This was cited in cookery books including the 17th-century classic Bhojan-kutuhala by Raghunatha. It is served warm or cold.

Jalebi

Ingredients

2 cups          Flour/maida
1 ½ tbsp.      Fine grained semolina or rice flour
¼ tsp.          Baking powder
2 tbsp.         Curds (plain yogurt)
1 ¼              Cups warm water
½ tsp.          Saffron threads, dry-roasted, powdered
3 cups          Sugar
2 2/3            Cups water
½ tsp.          Cardamom powder
1 ½ tbsp.      Kewra or rose water
2 cups          Ghee or vegetable oil for frying

Method

  1. Mix the flour, semolina or rice flour, baking powder, curd and ¾ cup of the water in a bowl and thoroughly beat it into a batter with a whisk.
  2. Add remaining water and 1/8 tsp. of saffron powder and whisk until smooth.
  3. Set aside for about 2 hours to ferment. Whisk thoroughly before use.
  4. Prepare string syrup by dissolving sugar in the water. Add saffron and cardamom powder just before switching off the flame.
  5. Make a eyehole in a thin muslin cloth bag.
  6. Heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan.
  7. Pour the batter into the clothbag and let it flow in a steady stream into the hot oil forming whorls. Make four or five in batches and deep fry until golden and crisp all over but not brown.
  8. Remove from the wok and drain on kitchen paper.
  9. Immerse in the sugar syrup and leave the jalebis in for at least 4-5 minutes so that they soak the syrup.
  10. Drain and serve hot by heating them up in the micro or in a griddle.

Jaangiri or Emarti is a a variant of the jalebi. It is eaten with curds and served at meals in weddings and festivals. It is made a special variety of urad dhal/ullundu paruppu, called jalebi paruppu, soaked in sugar syrup and saffron is added for colour.

jangiri

Method

Take 2 cups of sugar and a cup of water and prepare a one-string sugar syrup. Flavour it with cardamom powder and saffron.

A ¼ kilo of urad dhal is soaked in water for four hours, and ground into a fine batter. The batter is poured through an eyehole in a thin muslin cloth into ghee or cooking oil and deep fried. The jalebis is made into two circles and then a lacy whorl is geometrically added all round.

Dip the fried jalebis in the sugar syrup until it expands in size and soaks up a significant amount of the syrup. Serve hot or cold.

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