Monday, January 30, 2006


The other day, my brother told me Paru-athai passed
away. My immediate reaction was, "may her soul rest in
peace" ,literally, for, she was a woman who had lived
her life bravely, with a very strong will power and
strength of character and a load of love within her
for everyone and nothing else in this world. You
cannot say she had a checkered life nor was she an
extraordinary woman in the modern context. She was a
very very ordinary woman who had not stepped out of
the remote village she was born until her death at the
ripe age of 92, with no birthday celebrations. I doubt
if she herself knew about her birthday.

She was there ever-since I can remember. Perhaps she
was only 40, when I was a very young girl. Yet she
never looked young even then. The last I met her was
last year when I had gone to my native place after
several years. As usual she was there at the temple
and as usual she asked me with all the love and
concern in the world," how are you my child? Haven't
seen you for long. How is your family, the children
and the others?" She had the same questions to ask
everyone and she was happy if only we answered her.
She did not have any more expectations.

Who was this Paru-athai? Athai, in Tamil means paternal
aunt. No, she was not my father's sister. She was, in
fact , Paru-athai to every one in the village. No one
ever addressed her in any-other fashion. If she was
an ordinary woman, why do I think she was someone
special? Well, I feel she was a very very brave woman.

Paru-athai was a born widow! Surprising? Well, when she
was about 8 years old, she was married (she had not
even seen his face, prior to or during the ceremony).
When she was about 9 years old, one day, she was
called in while she was playing outside her house with
her friends and told she had become a widow. She did
not even understand what it meant. Anyway, she was
made to sit in a corner and everyone around cried
aloud beating their breasts. Young Paru did not know
what had happened. Nobody cared to explain to her.
When she felt hungry, no one was serving her food.
Now, young Paru cried and it was her father, who could
console his only daughter and explain to her that her
husband had died in a far away village. Paru did not
lose only her husband that day, she lost her youth,
her womanhood, her life. Her long hair,
which she adorned with flowers everyday, was cut and
her head was shaven. She was given a coarse red
unstitched cloth and she never wore any other type of
dress. She did not wear any jewelry nor was she
invited for any auspicious functions like, marriage,
baby showers etc. Yet, I have never seen her depressed
or showing any bitterness towards life. She took care
of all the children around, in the close knit society
we lived in. She was there to console the child who
fell down while playing, she was there to discipline
us whenever we children got into some mischief. She
lived with her only brother and took care of his
family and helped bringing up his children. When her
only brother died some 40 years ago, her brother's
family sheltered her and fed her and cared for her
till her death. That was the only good karma she had
earned in her previous life, perhaps.

These things flashed thru my mind when I heard about
her passing away and I saluted her will power
silently. I was telling my teenaged niece about
Paru-athai and she immediately asked me, why didn't
she drown herself and why did she have to live thru
this life with no one to love her no one for her to

I have often wondered what-gave strength to people
like Paru-athai to live thru the long life that was
given to them, when they had nothing to call their own
nor any thing to look forward to. It is not one
Paru-athai, I can remember so may young widows of her
age, as I was growing up in my remote village, who had
not known what life was, who were branded inauspicious
even before they could spell the word " auspicious"
who had not stepped out of their village even once. My
husband tells me, it is their unconditional
surrendering to God that gives them the strength to
live on without any expectations. The spirituality
that they imbibed as they were growing up gave them
the will power to live life that was given to them.

I also wonder why youngsters of today feel like taking
their own life for the slightest disappointment? Why
they think life is so cheap and worthless? Why is it
that they cannot take a "no" from any one or from
life? Who are to be blamed, they or their parents or
the society? I don't get an answer.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Recipe: Thiruvathira kari

THIRUVATHIRA KARI OR PUZHUKKU OR KOOTU, as it is known differently in different regions.

The main ingredient, in the thiruvathira kari, is a root vegetable known as "KAVATHU" or "KACHIL" in Kerala. This vegetable is availbale in all the big cities all over India, during thiruvathira season. This root comes in two colors, white and light pink. It is a big yam like root. This yam is also available in the Indian and Pacific stores (it comes from Fiji Islands, we were told) in the US.

The other ingredients are avarakkai or flat beans(Sem), red pumpkin and raw tur. Raw banana, sweet potatoes, koorka (another root vegetable available in Kerala) are also used in some regions.



Kavathu: 250 gms
Red pumpkin 250 gms
Avarakkai 200 gms
Toor pods 200gms
Turmeric powd. 1 tsp.
Grated coconut 1 cup
Green chillies 2 nos.
Curry leaves a few
Coconut oil 1 tbsp.
Mustard 2 tsp
Split urad dal 2 tsp
Red chillies 2 nos.
Jaggery a small piece
Salt to taste

Wash the kavathu in running water before cutting to remove all the soil. Scrape the skin and cut into 1" cubes. Peel and cut the red pumpkin into 1" cubes. Thread the avarakkai
and cut into 1" pieces. Remove the toor from the pods. Wash all the vegetables and pressure cook, with turmeric powder and salt. Grind the coconut and green chillies
coarsely. Heat a thick bottomed kadai and add the cooked vegetables and jaggery piece. Boil for 5 mnts., till all the vegetables are well mixed. Add the coconut mixture and boil for another 5 mnts. Remove from stove and add few curry leaves. In another small kadai heat the coconut oil and add the muxtard seeds. When the mustard starts spluttering add the urad dal and red chillies(cut into small bits) . When the urad dal turns brown in color, remove from fire, add a few curry leaves and pour into the prepared vegetable.

This a delicious vegetable. This goes well with rice, chappathi and dosa also.

Recipe: Thiruvathira kali


Thiruvathira Kali and Kari are the naivedhyam items prepared for Thiruvathira. One of the rarest occasions when a savoury item, that too cooked vegetable, is offered to God along with a sweet dish (of course, ususally vada is offered with appam or kozhukkattai or payasam) as neivedhyam.

South Indians being rice eaters, most of the offerings also are made of rice. December-January being the season when root vegetables are harvested, these are included in the kari.



Raw Rice 1 cup
Greem gram dal 1/2 cup
Jaggery 21/2 to 3 cups(depending on individual liking)
Grated coconut 1/2 cup
Cardomom powder 1tsp.
Ghee 1 tbsp.


Wash the rice well and dry. Roast the dried rice to a light pink color and powder. Roast the green gram dal to a light brown color. Half cook the roasted dal. Melt the jaggery in 3 cups of water and strain to remove dirt and sand particles. In a large thick bottomed kadai pour the melted and strained jaggery and boil. Add the half cooked dal and grated coconut and cardomom powder. When the mixture starts boiling, reduce the heat and add the roasted rice flour, little at a time, stirring well all the time. When all the rice flour has been added, keep stirring well until all the water has been absorbed and rice flour is well cooked. Add the ghee and mix well and remove.

The kali should have a shining surface when done.

This is the traditional kali as was being prepared from my childhood days. It can be optionaly decorated with cashewnuts and raisins fried in ghee, to make it richer.

This kali can be prepared in a pressure cooker with more ease. Cook the roasted green gram dal with one cup of water in the pressure cooker ( until one whistle ). Open and pour the strained jaggery, coconut gratings and cardomom powder. When the mixture starts boiling add the roasted rice flour gradually, stirring well. When all the rice flour has been added, close the cooker and reduce the heat to the minimum. When steam starts coming out , place the weight and cook for 15-20 mnts and switch off. Open the lid of the cooker after half an hour and pour the ghee and mix well. The kali would be ready.

Rice and green gram dal can be roasted in the microwave oven. Place the rice or dal in a thin layer in a cermaic or glass plate (do not use a plastic plate for this purpose) and microwave high for 1 minute. Mix well and microwave high again for 1 minute. Mix well and microwave high again for 1 minute. Mix well and microwave for 2 minutes in 70% power. Mix well and microwave for 2 minutes in 70% power 3 more times , mixing well in between.


Today, is Thiruvathira. Observed on the Fullmoon day of Dhanur Masa, on the day of Thiruvathira star, this is the day, Devi Parvathi joins Lord Siva, after her long penance. For a moment my mind was taken back to my childhood days. I also learned that there are also other legends about the importance of this day linking it with Kama deva, Srikrishna and the Gopikas. Thiruvathira used to be celebrated as a very important festival back in Kerala. Observing Thiruvathira vratham ( Nonbu, as it was called ) would bring long life to the husband and thereby prosperity and goodlife to the family. ( The Nonbu dishes will be dealt at a later date. ) It was a male-centric society in those days. The women folk, including little girls, would get up quite early in the morning during the whole of Dhanurmasa (which would be quite cold, in those days) and go to the nearyby tank or river and take bath. They will go in a sort of procession singing various songs. They will be singing while taking bath in the river also and go to the temple after the bath dressed in their best. Thiruvathira would be the day of fasting. No one eats rice preparations, but they would eat things made of wheat and all types of fruits. The practice of presenting bunches of bananas to the elders existed. During this season huge swings will come up in the backyards of most of the houses hung from strong branches of tall trees such as mango tree, jack fruit tree etc. Most of the houses in the villages of Kerala have such trees even today. The swings are made of ropes hung from the branch with a wooden plank for the seat or made of a well grown bamboo tree shoot, vertically split into two. While it is excitement and fun for the teens, it is quite scary to the kids below ten. The backyard of the houese will be noisy and boisterous with the excitement, shouts and laughs of the children. We were a lucky lot having a lot to eat, a lot of children to play around with and no care in the world. Very often I sit and compare the lot of kids of the present days with those of olden days. We children had a jolly time swinging and singing. We would visit all the neighbourhood houses (These swings were not part of the so called tamil brahmin culture). After lunch there was the practice of Thiruvathirakali. Women from the neighbourhood would get together in a common place and dance to the thiruvathira pattu. Today, the relocated lot like us get to see them in some TV Channel minus all the excitements and joy at some odd time of the day, very often determined by the sponsor.

We, tamil brahmins, celebrated thiruvathira, in the following way. The front yards of all the houses were cleaned and thick layer of cowdung paste was applied. We girls would then make "kolams" ( rangoli, as it is commonly called today ) with rice flour competing with the neighbours. The whole agraharam would look like a kolam competition venue. We didn't have cameras to phtograph them, nor did we know about kolam competitions. In our own way, we tried to outdo others. Once we finished our house, we would go to our friends and make more kolams in their frontyard also. By the previous evening the whole agraharam would be full of fragrance from fried rice flour and arali flower. This was the season of jamanthi flowers and most of the houses had jamanthi plants and we will get together and make gralands of jamanthi flowers and kanakambarams. And we would go to bed late at 8pm(!) all excited. By 3 in the morning our grandmother ( we fondly call her echiyamma ) would sound the call and we all would get up. It would be very cold and we would like to cling to our sheets some more, but by then our athai would have got all of us up. When amma and echiyamma got ready to go for bath, (lighting a kerosene hurricane lamp and keeping the soaps and soapnut powder and towels ready) , our athai would oil our hair and we all would march to the river nearby. At that hour there wont be enough space for all of us to take bath as the whole village would be there ready for their bath. Once back home, we would get attired in our best with big necklaces and earrings and flowers adorning our hair (athai helps us in getting ready). Amma and echiyamma would be busy preparing huge quantities of Kali and and kari. Then, we go to the Siva temple, joined by other friends on the way. We come back and then do the puja and offer kali, kari and butter.

The neivedyam was done in the following way. There would be one place for each of the female member of the family and individual kolam would be made for each one. One banana leaf was placed on each kolam. Two banans, two betelleaves and nuts, pieces of turmeric and flowers were placed at one end of the banana leaf. At the centre of the leaf, kali and butter were placed and on the side, kari was placed next to it. Each member would do her own neivedyam and then sit there and partake the prasadam then and there. One of the few occasions, when ladies would partake the food prepared before the menfolk did. We, girls also got to eat the betel leaves on that day. After the women had finished, the men folk would be served .

Today, I get up at 6 am and make kari and kali all alone and do the puja at 8.30am. We are the only one family observing it in the whole neighbourhood. Like all other urban neighbourhoods, ours is also inhabited by people brought up in different cultures, speak different languages, eat different foods and worship Gods in different forms and celebrate different festivals. I somehow managed to take it to my brothers, as they are not observing thiruvathira this year.


Newyear's day came and went without much noise. I wanted to bake a cake, which got delayed upto the 3rd. I wanted to make the same recipe as we did for Anand's birthday, but I couldn't get the recipe in time. I tried out a different, much tried and tested recipe.

The weather had been quite warm for December and January and with Pongal around, it is only going to be warmer.

more on homecoming

We had to invite a newly wed couple for lunch, which was done on the 25th December.The menu was samabar, kootu, thoran(carrot,cabbage and beans), thayir pachadi, rasam, pappadam and semiya payasam.

All these, in between our strenous cleaning exercises. Thankfully, there weren't many cockroaches. We had put a mixture of boric powder, sugar and wheat flour, made into small balls in all the cupboards. Once again this mixtuer proved to be very effective in keeping them away.

deferred sradham

We had a very important religious function to perform, the sradham for my in-laws.The vadhyar had told us, before we left for the US, that we could perform the sradham on our return, in case we could not perform in the US on the appointed days. In such case , the sradham can be performed on some specific days, Ashtami or Ekadasi of the Krishnapaksha in any month. He also said that it could be a hiranya sradham with food for the brahmins or with offering of rice and vazhakkai or the elaborate parvana sradham with Homam and food for the brahmins. There was a debate on what type of sradham to be performed ( considering our already depleted energy levels ) - parvana sradham calls for elaborate arrangements before the sradham and a continuous 8 hours work on the sradham day, including the elaborate cooking. I couldn't think of performing a sradham without homam and finally we decided upon the parvana sradham. We performed the sradham (a deferred one) on the 23nd December.


It is a long time since I blogged last. We had been very busy putting the house in order on our return after our overseas tour of 5 months.

The house was covered with dust and it took almost 6 weeks of dusting and swabbing to get the house 90% dust free. The dust brought its own allergy problems like, skin irritation, throat irritation, etc. So much of dust had collected in house which remained closed fully for over five months during one of the heaviest monsoon season. I am at a loss to imagine the condition if it were to bo closed during the summer months. It was a shocking realisation to what extent we have brought destruction to our atmosphere in utter disregard for our own health and that of our children. I strongly doubt if we continue the uncontrolled destruction of our health and the health of the generations to come whether we will be able to retain the global intellectual superiority we enjoy today.

And, we had a lot of mails to be opened and looked into, which led to visits to banks and other places.An affidavit for Anand had aslo got to be done in between.

We reached back on the 8th December and on 13th we had Karthikai festival. We had to get the house ready for that by cleaning and getting all our "vilakkus" (lamps) out and preparing them by putting oil and cotton wicks. I still stick to the old rural tradition of lighting earthen lamps with oil and cotton wicks in front of the house , while many families in the cities ( I don't know if the present generation at the villages still use earthen oil lamps ) have long abandoned this practice and have turned to the much easier option of lighting candles.

More about the festival and the naivedyams (prasadams) to be offered later.