Thursday, March 29, 2007


We celebrated Ugadi on Monday. We refers to the Kannadigas, the Telugus, the Maharashtrians and the like. We at home of course celebrate every festival with everybody. As long as there is good food to be eaten, we Iyers are in! Ugadi is the new year’s day for all those observing the lunar calendar. People deck up the house and prepare a festive lunch and offer pujas in the temple. The important item of the festival lunch is Holige or Obattu and Ambode. I thought of preparing obattu, but then, my good friend Veena brought a few for us.

On Ugadi day, we also had a partial solar eclipse early in the morning. My mother was asking me, “did you observe the Grahanam(eclipse)?” I burst out laughing and asked her, “Amma, how do you observe Grahanam? After all you don’t have to prepare Parippu Kanji or payasam, right?” She said, “that’s true. You don’t have to prepare any thing.”

Having said so to my mother, my memories went back to the grahanams when we were growing up. Those days, grahanams were indeed days filled with lots of fun.
To start with, the whole village was in a relaxed mood during the time of eclipse as nobody was supposed to eat anything during the eclipse time. The last meal had to be had atleast 2 hours prior to the start of eclipse and the kitchens were closed till the end of eclipse. This meant that the womenfolk had no kitchen work and we could spend time with our mothers in relaxation. Otherwise, they would be always busy with preparing meals or other kitchen work. During the eclipse, nobody was supposed even to drink water. The stomach was to be free from work also, as digestive functions were also thought to be affected by the “rays emitted during eclipse.”

And then, there was a big congregation at the side of the stream to have a dip at the start of the eclipse along with some vedic chants to ward off the evil effects of the eclipse. (Most of the Kerala Iyer settlements were around a temple and there very often was a river, stream or pond on the banks of which there were some banyan trees. Many of these congregations took place under these trees. There was a platform built around the banyan tree which the men sat and discussed various matters from politics to everyday events). As it was rare to get the older women at the stream during the day time on the other days, we had swimming races with the daring seniors on such occasions. It was loads of fun to swim with Parvathi patti, Seshi patti and the likes, and observing them indulging in teasing each other and mock fighting. If the eclipse was for a short duration, the fun was much more, as we were all supposed to have another dip at the end of the eclipse. This meant all stayed back at the poolside until the eclipse ended and we never got out of the water. We were scolded when we reached home for being in water for so long “like buffaloes.” “What if you catch a cold,” we were asked. By then the mothers would get very busy anyway, as they had to prepare food for all from scratch, as they had emptied the kitchen for the eclipse. Not even dosa or idli batter would be kept aside for use after grahanam. The only item brought forward thru grahanam was curds in which a piece of dhurva grass was been placed to ward off evil effects.

During grahanam, various shanthi poojas were conducted in individual houses and also dhanams (alms) were given to brahmins, as it was believed that the people on whose birthstars the grahanam was falling, will have to suffer the ill effects of grahanam. They were also supposed to wear a pattam, a palm leaf on which some mantras were written to ward off evil effects. We would dance around the pattam wearers making fun of them. To my luck, I never had to wear a pattam when I was growing up, afterwards I never cared.

And how did we view the eclipse? We were sternly warned not to look at the sun directly. We did not have access to any special glasses/filters like the present day kids, we did not even have sunglasses, to view the eclipse. Our elders taught us to darken glass pieces with the soot from the oil lamp and view the sun thru this darkened glass. Another method was to look at the reflection of the eclispsed sun in a decanted solution of cowdung in water.

There was another important ritual to be observed by all pregnant women during the grahanam. They were advised to hide, literally, they were asked to stay inside a dark room, closing the doors and making sure that even a small hole or crack in a window or door was plugged. When I think of those days, I am surprised no one else kept conpany for these hiding ladies, atleast for small talk. They sat inside the room all alone during the period of grahanams. It was believed that pregnant women who did not hide during grahanam would deliver children with deformities. It is not clear to me whether this belief has any scientific backing, though we read often that many practices being observed blindly over generations on the advice of elders have sound scientific backing. I wonder what today’s young women do during grahanam and how many deformed children are born because of their not hiding. It is to be remembered here that today science has helped us to detect many deformities proir to the childbirth and corrective measures are taken immediately after the child is born and in some cases even in the foetus state itself. Such facilities were not available until toward the end of the 20th century. Today it is quite common to carry out many prenatal scans and tests.

There are people who advise the young generation to hide during grahanam today also, as was illustrated by our friend whose daughter had a child two days before this solar eclipse. He called us to give the good news and said, “see her luck, she does not have to hide during grahanam.”

Monday, March 19, 2007

Karadayan Nonbu

I just cannot believe that it is already one year since I wrote about Karadayan Nonbu. It cetainly doesn’t feel like that long. Time really flies. The usual question people ask us when we meet is, “ How do you spend your time”. I can only ask them in reply, “what time?” I can actually hear my sons saying, ”you will never get time.” It is true, I somehow manage to fill my time to the brim with the result that my only complaint always is that I don’t have enough time.

We are back to the malayalam month of Meena or Panguni in Tamil. As usual we observed Karadayan nonbu on the 1st of Meena. This year, the sankrama was at 2.30am on the 15th and hence the priest conveniently announced that 6.30-7.30pm on the 14th would be the auspicious time to do the pooja. When I asked him why he advanced the time, he said, “Madam, nobody will get up at that hour and observe the puja. 6.30-7.30pm on the 14th is auspicious for conducting any puja as per the Panchanga." The priests have to be very diplomatic these days. I can remember times when we would keep awake till 11.30pm to do the puja or would wake up at 1.00am and get ready to do the puja. I must admit, however, that I also did the puja at about 7.30pm on the 14th this year. Our family priest has many fine qualities, but when it comes to mixing the practical with the spiritual, he excels himself.

An interesting point about this puja is that in our village (I don’t know about other places) and also in my husband’s village, jasmine or other types of flowers are not offered during this puja. The flowers offered are what are known as Arali in Malayalam which has a sweet frangrance. As in the past years we managed to get the flowers from a nearby garden this year also.

As usual, I prepared both vella adai and kara adai as per my tried and tested recipe. Some of my friends say, they use karamani or chickpeas in place of green gram dal. I feel green gram dal gives body to the adai and also makes it very soft.

Although, I had blogged about the recipe last year, I didn’t have the pictures for it then. Each of these pictures follows the various steps in making the adais: making the balls out of the dough, flattening them, placing them on the steamer and then finally the steamed adais.

After preparing the adais, I got ready for the puja. There is one place for each female member of the family, however small the girl is. Even if there is only one female member, usually we never have one neyvedyam kolam (rangoli). It is usually two. I offer the neyvedyam and charadu for the Tulsi plant.

After the kolam is made, the puja offering is prepared thus: A banana leaf is put on each kolam. One sweet adai, one kozhukkattai and butter, two bananas, betel leaves and nuts, two pieces of turmeric, arali flowers and the all important Nonbu Charadu.

After doing the puja, the charadu is tied around the neck and the neyvedyam is partaken by the offerers. (This is one of the few occasions that ladies get to eat before men). Though you can have any number of adais, it is only one adai and one kozhukkattai kept during the puja, The verses for the puja are

Urukkatha vennayum Oradayum notren
Orukalum en kanavan piriyathirukkanam

which can be translated as “I offer butter and one adai, let me and my husband be together always."

The Uppadai or the savoury adai is also not offered as neyvedyam. It is only to have as a savoury item after the sweet adais.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sambandhi Sandai

Ever since I started writing about “Kerala Iyer Wedding”, many people have been asking me why I have not yet written about Sambandhi Sandai. So, here we go. Sambandhi Sandai is an event dreaded by the bride’s party and some fine entertainment that other visitors eagerly anticipate.

When I think of sambandhi sandai, my memories travel back some half a century in time to the fifties and sixties, to a society that considered demands for dowry, seeru, the way that the various rituals were conducted, etc as just and were dictated very strictly by the prospective in-laws of the bride. Such demands for dowry, seeru, etc were an integral part of any marriage and treated as important as the rituals. Many marriage proposals broke down on the issue of dowry. Also there were instances where the in-laws to be would get a goldsmith to test the quality and/or the weight of the gold or demand bills from reputed shops before the wedding functions started. Besides, there were always one or two close relatives of the groom who would have been disappointed in not having succeeded in getting their daughter or niece wedded to the groom, now seeking their revenge by having a go at the bride’s party. The interests of the latter people were only to create some mischief in the proceedings. It should also be borne in mind that those were the days when the present day event managers were absent and for the conduct of the function the bride’s parents depended heavily on the men and women folk, young and old, in the village with the attended shortcomings as well as lack of etiquette and experience. All these contributed to some friction here and there, unfortunately some were blown out of proportion resulting in verbal exchanges fanned by some unscrupulous relatives, often with their own agenda.

Sambandhi Sandai literally means a fight between the new relatives. In the Kerala Iyer weddings (actually in almost all Indian weddings), the bride’s parents are supposed to be responsible for the smooth conduct of the wedding, starting from the marriage pandal, nadaswaram, catering, entertaining the guests to bidding farewell to all the guests. The onus for the successful conduct of the wedding rested solely on the bride’s party. The bridegroom’s party are the honored guests, who need to be received at the entrance hall, made confortable, invited for each ritual of the marriage and for meals (with coconuts, plantain fruits, parippu thengai kutty as the occasion demands, accompanied by nadaswaram each time), in short, all their needs however small or big are to be met to their satisfaction. It was the bride’s party’s responsibility to see that they had no wants and were happily entertained.

In a big function like a marriage, when there are so many rituals to be completed and so many meals to be served and so many other arrangements to be made, involving so many people, young and old, it can always happen that there are one or two slip ups in any of the above. There are always people who could find fault with something or the other just to make an issue and blow it out of proportion and to humiliate the bride’s parents, as they are the event managers.

In the olden days, as the marriages were usually conducted in the bride’s residence, the guests were accomodated in a nearby house. So usually, the “sambandhi sandai” started with complaints of the inadequacies of the accomodation and other inconveneinces in the quarters allotted to them. More often than not, this came from the son-in-law of the bridegroom’s parents, as he is the most important guest of their family. Some inconvenience to their mappilai (son-in-law) was something nobody could ignore.

This continues even today, though in another form. These days, most of the weddings are arranged in wedding halls with equal number of rooms for both the bride’s and bridegroom’s parties. It often happens that the bridegroom’s party demands more rooms for their guests, leaving the bride’s party with very little room to accommodate their guests. I remember during my cousin’s daughter’s wedding, the bridegroom’s athai and athimbar (parternal aunt and uncle, who are the daughter and son-in-law of that family) demanded a separate room for them at 11.30 pm and my cousin had to actually vacate the room where his sister and family were put up and send them to a hotel about 5kms away.

Then, there were always the sandai for milk for the baby and again the VIP guests. In the olden days, the only source of milk was the neighbour who owned cows or from the nearby towns, during big occasions. There were no refrigerators to preserve the milk and hence after the guests have been served with coffee and the payasam made, the milk would be used for setting curds for the next day. Around 10 pm would come the demand for the milk and naturally there would be no milk available. A loud unleashing would follow and this was one demand that could never be fulfilled because there was no hope for procuring milk at that late hour in small places. My mother-in-law used to remember this story relating to the time of her marriage. Some guests demanded milk for a big group at 11 pm and one of her uncles decided to play a trick on the guests. He filled a big pot with water and added one glass of milk in it and gave it to the guests saying that was the only milk availbale at that hour. What followed, my astute and blessed mother-in-law could never remember. (She had many such stories up her sleeves. I only wish I had started on this blogging endeavour during her time.) It is very different today even in remote villages, where pasterurised milk is available and almost all households have refrigerators.

Other important issues during the olden days for sambandhi sandai was dowry (which has almost died out today), seer, the items for breakfast, lunch and dinner,etc. In general, issues as insignificant as who received the bridegroom’s mother at the entrance, to the size of ladoo could start a war of words. Usually, the bride’s parents would bend over backwards to pacify the “warmongers” and would even be prepared to fall at their feet and beg pardon for any unforeseen shortcomings, but the sandai reaches its full crescendo, when one of the guests from the bride’s side starts raising their voice against the shouting brigade. Usually, there is somebody on the bride’s side who do not want to give in for all their demands and the sandai becomes a real do or die and sometimes ends in a walkout by the groom’s party. There have been instances when people have walked out halfway through their dinner or halfway through the marriage functions. One can only imagine the agony of the parents of the bride, after all the care taken by them.

While I was writing this, one of my friends happened to read a preview of my post and asked me to elaborate on the scene, as she had never witnessed a sambandhi sandai.

The one sambandhi sandai I remember clearly was during a wedding in our village when I was a little girl of 9 or 10 years old.

The scene : The bridegroom’s party sitting for their evening tiffin. Bondas were being served as part of the tiffin. The boy who was serving the tiffin had reached the place where the mother of the groom was having her meal. Having come near the lady, the boy asked, “ Bonda, mami?” (i.e., “Would you like another bonda, aunty?”). The lady suddenly got up from her seat complaining in a loud voice and almost breaking down, “Look at the impropriety of the boy. Shouldn’t he know whom he is addressing. How dare he address me as ‘bonda mami’. Am I a bonda mami? Is this the way I should be insulted on my son’s wedding day? I cannot tolerate this. I am not going to have anything to do with any of the proceedings from this minute.” She went on and on and the boy who was serving bonda and all others were completely shocked at the turn of the events. It was a very common practice while serving to announce the dish he or she is serving like “bonda, mami” or “payasam, mama” and with no offence meant. Soon all the relatives of the groom surrounded the lady and some started blaming the boy and yet others started consoling the lady and in general a great commotion was created. The bride’s party was taken aback and did not know what to do. There were more rituals to be completed. The groom’s brother (who was just a boy of 20+) emerged and ordered the bride’s father, who was old enough to be his own father, to go and apologise to his mother, if he wanted his daughter’s wedding rituals to be completed. I can never forget this incident and the pain, agony and shame on the bride’s father’s face.

It is not for nothing that they say in Tamil, Veettai katti par, Kalyanam Panni Par meaning, construct a house or conduct marriage to know how difficult these tasks are.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Recipe: Thenkuzhal and Manoharam (2 in 1 sweet and salty crunchies)

After reading my posts on a Kerala Iyer Wedding, friends have been asking me why I still have not written about Seer Bakshanam and most importantly Sambandhi Sandai. I will write about these later.

In the meanwhile I have been busy with my vattal making and my annual squash preparations.

I also had to send some snacks for our handsome and charming son through a friend who was visiting India. I decided to write about that first.

This time around, I made the family favourite of sweet and salty crunchies. The salty variety is known as Thenkuzhal and the sweet variety is known as Manoharam. I also made melon seeds halwa and kanupodi.

Thenkuzhal literally means “tubes of honey”. Perhaps it got the name because it looks like a hollow tube. In the olden days, peolple who used to collect produce from the forest used to bring back honey that they collected in the hollow of a bamboo tree. Curiously, thenkuzhal is not a sweet preparation.

Manoharam means “simply beautiful or delicious”. This crunchy sweet just melts in the mouth. This is one of the favourites which is used to fill the Parupputhengai kudu and to make the “kuttys” during the wedding and other functions. Many such kuttys are needed for a wedding. Usually, South Indian sweets are soft. Manoharam is a rare crunchy sweet.

Let us move on and see how the 2 in 1 sweet and salty crunchies are prepared. The ingredients are the same for both. My mother used to make this with rice flour and urad dal powder. I have learned a tastier combination from my cousin-in-law, Rajam. I like this combination better, it is simply delicious. Thanks Rajam!

Both of these preparations require a mould to shape the dough. It is a container with a mould at one end. this mould has differently shaped and sized holes for the dough to squeeze through. a piston is used to squeeze the dough through.


Rice flour : 2 cups
Bengal gram dal : 2/3 cup
Green gram : 1/3 cup
Urad dal : 1 tbsp.
Butter : 2 tbsp.

The above ingredients are same for both thenkuzhal and manoharam. Roast the bengal gram dal and green gram and urad dal separately, until they turn slightly pink in colour and a nice aroma emanates. Cool and powder them together to a very fine consistency. Sieve to ensure fineness. The proportion is, 1 cup of mixed grams powder to 2 cups of rice flour.

Additional ingredients for Thenkuzhal:
Hing or asafoetida : size of a pea, soaked in water (one may use hing powder also)
Jeera : 1 tsp.
Salt to taste

Oil for deep frying.


Sieve the rice flour and the gram flour together. Knead the butter and salt together by hand in a wide pan. Add the flour, jeera, hing and enough water to make a stiff dough (stiffer than chapathi dough). Heat oil. When the oil smokes, press the dough through the mould using the plate with 5 plain holes. Remove from oil when cooked. This is Thenkuzhal. Enjoy!

For Manoharam:

Make the dough using rice flour, gram flour, butter and only a pinch of salt and fry as above. Fry the dough into thenkuzhal as above.

Break the fried thenkuzhal into 1” pieces.

For 1 measure of broken thenkuzhal use the following ingredients:

Jaggery : 3/4 measure ( sugar also can be used instead of jaggery)
Coconut or copra pieces : 2 tbsp.
Dried ginger powder : 1 tbsp.

Melt the jaggery in 1 cup of water. Strain to remove any impurities or sand. Pour into a thick bottomed wide pan, add the the coconut pieces and boil to get a very thick syrup. To test the thickness of the syrup, drop half teaspoon syrup into little cold water; it should make a hard stone like ball. (Care should be taken to boil the syrup to a thick consistency or the thenkuzhal will become soggy). Remove from stove add the dried ginger powder and broken thenkuzhal. Keep stirring with a long and firm spatula until all the pieces are coated with the syrup and the pieces are separated. This is a slightly tedious process. Enjoy the delicious manoharam!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Recipe: Kashi Halwa

Having aroused the appetite of everybody by giving a big list of the goodies we had during the wedding, I feel it only proper to give the recipe of some of the goodies we had. We already have recipes of Rava Kesari, Aviyal, Olan, Nendran Chips, Sarkkarai puratti, Sambar, Kalan, Idli Molagai podi, Puliyodarai, etc.

We will now prepare Kashi Halwa. Many people are under the impression that Kashi Halwa is some special sweet of the city of Kashi or Benares. Far from it, Kashi Phal in Hindi means ash gourd or winter melon, Vellai Pooshanikkai in Tamil, Elavan or Kumbalanga in Malayalam, Kumbalakkai in Kannada Boodha Gummidikkai in Telugu. This vegetable is cooling, and also a laxative and diuretic. Additionally, it supplies bulk with a low calorie count. The juice of this vegetable is said to have many medicinal properties. This vegetable can be used to prepare many dishes (for instance, olan). Kashi Halwa, however tops the list.

To prepare Kashi Halwa, one must use fully mature ash gourd, which is heavy for its size. When cut it should be firm and not spongy. The vegetable should be peeled, washed, deseeded and grated. The gratings should be squeezed to remove all the water content. The gratings should be dry. Do not throw away the water. It can be used as vegetable stock for preparing soups or even sambar or rasam or dal.


Grated and squeezed ash gourd : 2 cups
Milk : 1 cup
Sugar : 1 cup
Ghee : 3 tbsp.
Saffron : 2 – 3 strands
Orange food color : a pinch
Cashew nuts(broken) : 1 tbsp
Raisins : 1 tbsp.
Cardamom powder : ½ tsp.

Boil the milk and cook the grated and squeezed ash gourd in the milk. (I did it in a pressure cooker, so that by the time the ash gourd cooks the milk also thickens). Mix the saffron in a little milk and add to the cooked ash gourd. Mix the food color also in a little milk and add to the cooked ash gourd. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat 2 tbsp. of ghee and saute the cooked ash gourd in it for 5 minutes, Add the sugar and keep stirring until all the sugar is absorbed and the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan. Add one tbsp. of ghee and mix well. Add the cardomom powder and remove from the stove. Heat the remaining ghee in a pan and add the cashew nuts and raisins. When the cashew nuts turn light pink in color pour onto the halwa. Mix well.

Enjoy the delicious Kashi halwa!