Friday, October 12, 2007

Sumangali Prarthana

The Poonool lunch was also a grand affair; only we were so overstuffed with good things, we just couldn’t do justice to the lunch. Post lunch, most of the invitees outside the immediate family circle left. The rest of us were in a relaxed mood and spent some time catching up with the others.

We couldn’t fully relax yet as there was another function, Sumangali Prarthana, slated for the next day. This is a ritual seeking the blessings of women of the family who are no more; something akin to the nandi sradham, only there are no vedic rituals or mantras in this ritual. It is purely a ladies’ function. In most families this function is performed during important events like marriage, upanayanam etc, while in some families it is performed every year. It is believed that performing this puja will satisfy the unfulfilled yearnings of all the girls and ladies who have passed away at young age and they would in turn bless the family. It is common practice to conduct the Sumangali Prarthana before the marriage if the daughter is getting married and after the new daughter-in-law comes home if the son is getting married. This function is not performed on Tuesdays or Saturdays.

Usually, 7 ladies and 2 young girls (preferably below the age of 10) are invited to participate in the function, partake the feast and receive thamboolam. There is no objection for near relatives of the hostess to participate. Now a days many people do with 7 (6+1) or (5+2) ladies as it has become difficult to get together the 9 ladies to sit for the function. Usually only sumangalis are only invited for the purpose though I have heard that there are exceptions to this rule. Different families follow different customs. The ladies who sit for the puja represent all the women of the family who are no more alive. Since there is no explicit avahanam through manthrams of any pithrus, ladies generally accept the invitation. This function is very akin to the nandisradham performed prior to the upanayanam in many respects. While nandisradham is presided over and conducted by the purohitha of the family and the kartha is a gent; this function is presided over by the elderly lady members of the family. Usually the kartha is a sumangali from the family. The gifts to the ladies vary among families and also depend on the financial status of the kartha, very similar to the nandi sradham. The menu for the feast is also very similar. Though no vedic rituals are performed, Sumangali Prarthana is considered to be a very important and sacred function and all the preparations are done with a great deal of Shradha and Bhakthi. This is one function where the gents of the family are excluded from the rituals. They are asked to enter the hall only after initial puja is offered to do namaskarams and seek the blessings. Otherwise, they can stick around to offer any help around or in the kitchen and then await call for lunch, when the ladies have been fed and seen off.

The consent and convenience of all the prospective participants would have been obtained in advance and there would always be a few standbys for any unexpected dropouts. In the olden days, the preparations for the function had to start the previous evening. Armed with a bucket of oil and packets of turmeric powder, kumkum, flowers, betel leaves and nuts, and shikakai powder, we would go to all the invitees’ houses and invite them giving a measure of oil and the other things we carried. The items were for the lady’s bath and adornment the next day. I am not sure if the custom is being followed anywhere today. Perhaps, these days one would have to carry, shampoo sachets, moisturizing cream, lipstick and the like. We did not have that invitation round this time at our home as most of the participants were from the family and immediate family.

All the participants are supposed to take an oil bath in the morning and come dressed in 9 yards saree only. There is no match to the beauty of the ladies all dressed in nine yards sarees and with no make up other than turmeric powder in their face and flowers in their hair, fresh from an oilbath.

In memory of those souls who are no more with us, a new 9 yards saree and pavadai as offering (these two would be used by some members of the family after the puja) are kept in wooden trays, along with oil, betel leaves, flowers, turmeric, kumkum and neem leaves early in the morning and the blessings are sought. This has to be done by a member of the family before taking bath! In all our rituals, I have not some across another ritual which is done before taking bath. As I was staying at a neighboring house (not enough space for all invitees at home), my mother sent word for me at 5.30am. I sent back the messenger as I was yet to bathe. My mother sent the messenger back saying, “I want her to come here before taking bath”. It has been a long time since I myself conducted this ritual. When my astute and blessed mother-in-law was alive, she used to take care of these little things and I used to be busy in the kitchen.

My mother made me offer the saree and pavadai with oil and other items to the elders (who are in heaven) and asked me to pray for their blessings for the family. This done, the saree had to be washed and dried before the actual function.
In some families new dresses for all the girls and ladies of the family are bought and kept at the puja and later on used by the family members. Anyway, not all the dresses are washed prior to the function.

Though the cooking for this function is usually done by the women in the family, the hired cook prepared the feast as all of us were quite tired after the poonool. An elaborate lunch (again samaradhanai vattam) was prepared including

Parikkai pitla,
Vazhakkai kari
Chakka kari,
Pudalangai thoran,
Payar thoran,

The menu also included three types of fruits, mango, jackfruit and banana. Vadai and Neiyappam were also prepared. It is a practice at home to make polis which was discontinued this time as no one was in a mood to have more sweets.

When all the invited ladies arrive, they are received with kumkum, haldi, flowers and pachai (rouge!). This pachai is a paste made of kumkum and water and is applied on both sides of the cheek outside the earlobes.

They are then taken to the function hall where a place has been marked for each one with two places for the deceased seniors at the head of the hall. The saree and pavadai meant for the deceased seniors are kept in the palakai along with some gold chain and flowers and betel leaves, neemleaves, turmeric and kumkum. Banana leaves are laid out for serving food at the place where the saree and pavadai are kept (this place is called pudavai kalam – meaning where pudavai or saree is kept) meant for the departed souls and also for all the invited participants, after having invoked the departed seniors. After all the items are served on the leaves, puja is done offering flowers, turmeric powder, kumkum betel leaves, neem leaves and water to the departed souls and all the invitees, by the eldest lady of the family .The other members of the family including male members offer puja and namaskarms at the pudavai kalam site only. Doopam and Deepam are offered at the place where elders are invoked, i.e., at the pudavai kalam and also to all the participating ladies by the eldest lady of the family.

This is one of the functions where ladies are served first. After lunch, the ladies are given a special mixture called Chukkumanam (mixture of dried ginger and jaggery) as a digestive aid after the heavy meal. They are also given paanakam to drink. They are offered thamboolam, dakshina and mehendi. These days, people give more expensive gifts like sarees, bangles, and the like to the invited ladies. After the invited ladies are seen off, the other members of the family have their lunch. The food served at pudavai kalam ( the two places earmarked for the departed ) is partaken of by two ladies of the family.

After lunch the saree and pavadai are given to some family members who have to wear them and replace them at the same place. In the night a pot of water is also kept near the pudavai kalam to quench the thirst of the heavenly visitors.
In the olden days (during the time of my grandmother), the saree kept at the pudavai kalam was kept inside a trunk after the function and worn only after the next Sumangali Prarthana. The saree inside the box, kept after the previous Sumangali Prarthana was taken out on this occasion and worn by a member of the family. It so happened that sometimes the interval between two Sumangali Prarthanas was too long and by the time the saree was taken out it would have started wearing out. Hence after my grandmother passed away, the elders in the family decided to discontinue this practice of keeping the saree inside a box.

Thus ended the grand finale to our big get together. All the guests started taking leave one by one from that evening with loads and loads of happy memories of the past few days.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Recipe: Puzhukku

Raw Banana: 1 no.
Vellapayar (Cow peas, lobia, Chowli): 2 tbsps.
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp.
Black pepper powder: 1 tsp.
Salt to taste.
Jaggery: a small piece
Grated coconut: 1tbsp
Curry leaves: a few
Coconut oil 2 tsp for garnishing.


Presoak the cow peas overnight. Slit the banana lengthwise and cut into 1 cm thick pieces. Pressure cook the cowpeas and banana pieces along with turmeric powder and pepper powder with just enough water. Remove and boil. Add the jaggery and salt. Boil for a few more minutes until all the ingredients are well blended. Remove and add curry leaves and coconut gratings. Pour the coconut oil on top.

Delicious Puzhukku is ready. ENJOY.

Along with my recipe for Puliyekuthi Poduthuval this is my entry for JFI Banana.

Recipe: Puliyekuthi Poduthuval

Puliyekuthi Poduthuval is a family favourite, especially that of my beloved father. He just loved it. It has a delicious taste, with the combined flavours of the different vegetables that go into it and the tangy taste of the tamarind, all of it enhanced by the aroma of the special powder, freshly ground. The banana used in this recipe is called Mondan or Pondan or Vannan differently in different parts of Kerala.

Raw banana: 1
Fully ripe Red Pumpkin: 250 gms
Brinjal : 200gms
Ladies finger (Okra): 200gms
Yam (Arvi, Chembu): 200gms
(Some people put arvi leaves folded into small bundles. We don’t use this at home.)
Turmeric powder: 1tsp
Tamarind: lemon sized ball
Jaggery: a small piece
Salt to taste
Curry leaves: 1 sprig

Roast and powder-
Boiled rice (Not cooked but the boiled rice used for idlis): 1 tbsp.
Toor dal: 1tsp.
Methi seeds: ½ tsp.
Hing: size of a pea
Red chillies: 2 or more as per taste
Curry leaves: a few

For garnishing-
Oil: 1 tbsp.
Mustard seeds: 2 tsp.
Urad dal: 2 tsp.
Red chilies: 1 (broken into small pieces)
Curry leaves: a few

Soak tamarind in little warm water and squeeze out the pulp. Keep it aside.

Dry roast all the ingredients for the powder, in the following order. Heat the pan and add the hing. When it starts getting fried, add the rice (washed). When the rice starts popping, add the rest of the ingredients and fry until they are all a nice pink color with a nice aroma. Cool and grind to a fine powder. Keep aside.

Cut the banana and pumpkin into 2” cubes. Wash and cut the brinjal and ladies finger to 2” pieces. Peel and cut the arvi. Boil the tamarind pulp with 3 cups of water and add the arvi. When arvi is half cooked add the banana and pumpkin pieces. Add the brinjal and ladyfingers when banana and pumpkin are half cooked. Add the turmeric powder, salt and jaggery. Add half cup of water to the prepared powder and make a paste. When the vegetables are fully cooked, add this paste and boil. If the consistency is too thick add a little more water and boil. It should be thicker than sambar in consistency, almost to the consistency of kootu. Even if the consistency is little watery, it will thicken as the curry cools. When the curry has boiled for 5 minutes remove it from the stove. Add a few curry leaves.

Heat another pan. Add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds crackle, add the urad dal and red chilli pieces.. When the urad dal is pink in color and the red chillies get fried, add the curry leaves and pour this tadka into the curry.

Enjoy with rice. This curry is mixed with rice using what we at home call fried oil. This is the oil left over from frying papads etc. This gives a delicious taste to the food. The right accompaniment for Puliyekuthi Poduthuval is Papads. The menu at home on Puliyekuthi Poduthuval day is Puliyekuthi Poduthuval, Rasam and papad.

P.S. Arvi is best peeled after boiling them first. The skin comes off easily. What I do is to wash and put the arvi at the bottom of the pressure cooker with enough water and keep the other vegetables, excepting brinjal and ladyfingers, on top of it in a separate container. I add the tamarind juice, turmeric powder and salt also into the vegetables. Brinjal and ladies fingers are cooked separately. When the pressure cooker is ready, I remove the arvi, peel and cut them, mix all the vegetables and boil for 5 minutes and add the rest of the ingredients.

This along with the Puzhukku recipe is my entry for JFI Banana.

JFI Banana

As with JFI rice, with Banana as the theme of this JFI, I was perplexed not knowing what recipe to post. Not because I did not have any original recipes, just that growing up in a Kerala village wholly dependent on the vegetables grown in our backyards (the most common being banana), we had a regular supply of bananas all through the year. And we had varieties and varieties of bananas and then some. Some were meant to be used only as vegetable, some as fruit and others as both vegetable and fruit. There would always be one or two full bunches of banana hanging from the hook in the ceiling in all households. Raw banana went into every preparation, be it molakootal, mezhukkupuratti , kalan or avial and just about everything else. Hence the dilemma.

And what was the first solid diet of infants? It was again our good old nutritious bananas, sun dried and powdered. This powder was mixed with buttermilk and cooked over a slow fire to get a jam-like consistency. We called it koozhu. Children grew healthy and strong eating this home made baby food. There was no fear of adulteration, non-availability or having the need to carry boxes and boxes of baby food while travelling. In the event of the powder not available readily on any particular day, the bananas were cut into small bits, ground and cooked. A special type of banana called kunnan was used for baby food. Nendran banana was the next alternative.

What part of the banana tree is not used? The stem, the flowers and the raw fruit are used as vegetables. Ripe fruit is of course an all time favourite. The leaves are our age-old disposable plates and don’t forget our yummy elai adais. Banana as a fruit or vegetable has many medicinal properties. The other parts of the banana tree, like the stem and flowers are also used as medicine. The juice of the banana stem is especially recommended for diabetics.

After much deliberation, I decided on Puliyekuthi Poduthuval and Puzhukku. Puliyekuthi Poduthuval literally means a poduthuval in which puli (tamarind) has been used. Puzhukku means steam-cooked or boiled. It is a very simple but mouth watering preparation. Commonly used as a side dish to Kanji, we also use it as a side dish with rice.
Puliyekuthi Poduthuval is a typical Kerala Iyer speciality whereas Puzhukku is an original Kerala dish.