Prasadham (food offerings) served in Hindu temples are generally prepared to please the palates of devotees. But there are some exceptions, it is also served for the sole purpose of cleansing the souls of pilgrims in sacred temples like Puri Jagannath Temple. It is believed that one can attain moksha (salvation from sins/ rebirth) by partaking the prasadam offered in this temple, hence the offerings in here are known as Mahaprasad (supreme offerings). Chhena Poda is one such Mahaprasad prepared in this temple kitchen, the largest in the world.
Saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world, was used a few thousand years ago by Indian queens to decorate their forehead with a design like the sun, moon, crescent moon, or star. It was ground into a paste along with ghee and used as kumkum, hence the name kumkum flower/ kunguma poo. This tradition of applying kumkum is still practiced by almost every Hindu woman even today. Nowadays we use turmeric powder in the preparation of kumkum.
Reading Panchangam (an almanac prepared based on Indian calendar system) is an age-old custom followed every year on the day of Tamil New Year celebrated in the middle of April. A few centuries ago royal priests were summoned to read a new Panchangam in the king’s court mentioning important dates of the year and also foretelling the calamities like flood, war, etc. Even today every TV channel telecasts the speech rendered by astrologers predicting the next prime minister, rain fall, gold price, etc. that are of great interest to all walks of life .
Oil bath, almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago, offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. Nowadays people prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there, but they take oil bath at home only on the day of Deepavali festival every year as a religious ritual.
For centuries Indians have been enjoying the luxury of employing a battery of domestic helps like a cook, house maid, driver, gardener, etc. Nowadays people prefer to avail the services of Uber than appointing a cook or driver, but finding it difficult to manage their daily chores without the support of house maids. On the other hand house maids have been increasingly lackadaisical about their works in recent times. Some, especially the urbanites, may identify their maids in some way or the other with the poster shared in social media.
Elders in our families are unable to withstand to watch the children blowing out candles on their birthday as lighting up lamps is considered auspicious here and it symbolizes brightening up the people’s lives. Earlier traditional lamps (kuthu vilakku) were treated as supreme deities at home, but statues & pictures gradually gained the special status rather than those lamps. Nowadays we gift lamps to our friends & relatives for wedding or for house-warming ceremony wishing them happy & prosperous life. We also prepare edible lamps & light them during Thirukarthigai festival.
Sweet saffron rice (zarda pulao) is a Persian rice dish, and it was the most sought-after pulao among the royals during the Mughal era dated back to 16th century. Noor Jahan, the multi-talented Mughal empress, devised new techniques to stain rice grains with edible dyes. Zarda pulao was made using such rice grains of various colours and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at the royal weddings & banquets. She brought revolutionary changes in every art form, she designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds, and she also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which is regarded as a draft of Taj Mahal.
Besides candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, and other sugary snacks there were also healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. All the children relished them as much as any other snacks like puffs, samosa, or chips during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
Lord Ganesha is worshiped by Hindus in the same manner God Janus is regarded in Greek mythology. It is interesting to find the striking similarities between the two as they both hold the honor of being the first god worshiped in every ritual. I also like to start my day by listening to the hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written on Him by the 14th century poetess Avvaiyar sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.
I feel sorry for the children today that they are not able to savor our traditional beetroot relish as we did during our childhood days. It was a delightful experience for the kids to relish the beautiful reddish-purple beetroot puree infused with delicious flavors of native fruits served in the wedding feasts. Beetroot sweet pachadi, the most popular fruit dessert, was usually featured in every feast until few years ago. Nowadays vanilla ice cream with fruit salad takes precedence over this traditional fruit dessert.
Turmeric rhizomes are inextricably intertwined with our culture & traditions, all our religious rituals are performed only in the presence of turmeric powder. Even the family ties are religiously acknowledged by tying a turmeric smeared thread around the wrist or neck (for women) before the deities, priests & other elders. Women used to observe fasting until the sacred turmeric thread is tied around the neck when they get married and also on the day of Karadaiyan nonbu usually falls in the middle of March.
Appalam making is a leading cottage industry prevalent in my maternal grandfather’s village. As a kid I was completely awestruck watching women & girls in our neighbourhood kneading mountainous dough, rolling appalam at lightning speed, and stacking dried appalam like a tower. Whenever I was upset with my cousins or siblings I used to run to one of those houses and spend endless hours there watching them making appalam while enjoying their warmth & the food. During my mother’s recent visit there, they fondly remembered my childhood favorite appala-poo and prepared them along with appalam specially for me, even though they are not into this business currently.
Chukku-malli kaapi is a traditional South Indian digestive elixir prepared using dried ginger & other spices, herbs and palm jaggery. Since Indian medicine systems like Siddha or Ayurveda recommends to take fresh ginger in an empty stomach in the morning & dried ginger later in the day to improve the digestion.
Sodhi is an exotic Sri Lankan curry prepared with lentils and vegetables stewed in coconut milk. Although sodhi is not a spicy curry, it has grown popular among the people living in & around Tirunelveli who usually enjoy spicy curries. Meals with sodhi served at the wedding feasts in our family is a lavish spread of creamy sodhi, pungent ginger chutney, spicy potato fries, crunchy appalam, scrumptious coconut milk dessert (payasam), sweet boondhi and fresh curd as below. Wedding in our family is usually hosted by bride’s family. However bride’s family is treated with a sumptuous meal (maruveetu sappadu) with sodhi the day after marriage, and it is a unique custom prevalent here to signify the confluence of both the families.
Neivilangai has always been featured in our family’s Deepavali menu every year. (You may check out our other Deepavali recipes here.) These melt-in-mouth lentil flour laddu are popular among Indians & Sri Lankans also. North Indians use Bengal gram flour or wheat flour, whereas south Indians use green gram flour or black gram flour for making delicious laddu.
Kummiyanam is a nutritious dessert made of rice, assorted legumes & palm jaggery prepared by the people in Tirunelveli, Nagerkoil, or Kanyakumari. It is offered to the lamented souls while remembering them in Aadi month (a Tamil calendar month usually falls between 15th of July & 15th of August). In this month we remember departed men on Aadi amavasyai (no moon day) and women on aadi irudhi (last day of Aadi). Likewise, I heard Japanese visiting cemeteries during the same period to remember the departed.
Aadi Perukku is a festival of fertility & prosperity celebrated in south India for over 500 years. It was mentioned in Sangam Tamil literature, Paripadal, written in the 14th century about the celebration of this festival.
Tamarind rice is a traditional rice dish popular not only in Tamilnadu but also in other states in South India and are called as puliyodharai, puliohare, or puli sadam. Puliyodharai stays good & tastes divine even if it is kept without being refrigerated for 3 or 4 days. Earlier people used to pack tamarind rice and carry it in large quantities for their family trips and it was regarded as the ideal food for travel.
Chitrannam is a platter of different rice varieties usually prepared on the day of Aadi perukku ie. 18th day of Aadi month in Tamil calendar. It is believed that whatever we do on that day would grow manifold, so farmers used to sow their seeds expecting a good yield, businessmen venture into new business, and people in every walk of life eager to start something new.
Panchamirtham is a sacred fruit salad that we offer to deities at home and is also used for abishegam (bathing deities) in temples. The renowned Palani panchamirtham made using bananas that are exclusively grown near Palani hills is offered to Lord Muruga in Palani temple. You can check this video to see how panchamirtham abishegam is performed to the deity.
Idli milagai podi is an indispensable condiment in every south Indian’s pantry. I find idli podi satisfying only when I feel the coarse grits inside my mouth, and hence I do not like to use the finely powdered store-bought idli podi. We use roasted rice for its sandy texture, roasted asafoetida & raw garlic for the wonderful aroma that brings everyone to the kitchen while grinding idli podi.
Panakam is a traditional ayurvedic lemonade offered as neivedyam to deities at home on the day of Sashti Viratham (fasting) observed by Saivites and also on the day of Rama Navami celebrated by Vaishnavites. Rama navami is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Rama and Kandha Sashti Viratham is usually observed on the Sashti thithi of every month and is also observed for seven consecutive days in the month of Iyppasi after Deepavali.
Ulundham Paruppu Sadham (Blackgram rice) is a unique rice dish popular in Tirunelveli and surrounding regions and this rice is typically served with ellu thuvaiyal for lunch. We usually serve this nutritious meal to young girls during their cycle every month and also to pregnant women as blackgram is beneficial to strengthen their hip bones. Nevertheless it can be served to kids, men & old people alike.