Monday, July 21, 2008

Aaniyum Aadiyum story

To celebrate the onset of Aani and Aadi, I have posted a story that my mother in law used to tell my children on the stories website, Kathai Kathaiyam Karanamam.

My handsome and charming son has also added a section on the sidebar to the right that keeps up to date with the latest posts on our other blogs. Justlanded in particular seems to see a lot of activity.

Recipe: Kovil Payasam

Having said so much about the invocation and installation of Bhagavathy to ward off all evils and bring in prosperity, the next question naturally is, "what is the special food prepared and offered to Bhagavathy on Karkitaka Sankranthi day?" There is no elaborate sadhya prepared and yet, being Sankranthi, something special needs to be prepared. The rice is cooked in a special way known as Pongal sadham, which is different from the usual pongals. Actually in Kerala Iyer households in the olden days, Pongal meant this Pongal sadham; we were not introduced to Venpongal or Sarkkarai Pongal then. There is a sambar to go with the Pongal and a simple vegetable curry, vadams and a simple payasam.

This Sankranthi, I prepared what in our house is known as Kovil Payasam, since this is the payasam usually prepared in the temples for neivedyams. This is a very simple payasam to make. In those days, whenever we wanted to offer payasam to the temple deity, we would carry the rice, jaggery, coconut, the uruli in which to prepare the payasam and of course one or two pieces of firewood to cook the payasam, to the temple. The Poojari then would prepare the payasam, offer as neivedyam and give the prasadam back to us. We would carry the uruli and payasam back home.

Now for the recipe

Rice: 1cup
Jaggery: 2 cups
Grated coconut: ½ cup
Ghee: 2 tbsp.
Cardamom powder: 1 tsp.


Wash the rice and cook in a pressure cooker using 3 cups of water. Dissolve the jaggery in one cup of water. Strain the jaggery and pour the strained syrup in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the cooked rice and keep stirring until all the liquid is evaporated. Add the grated coconut, ghee and cardamom powder. Offer this payasam as neivedyam to Sree Bhagavathy and partake the prasadam.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mithunam and Karkitakam (Aaniyum Aadium)

In Kerala the monsoon stretches on and on. It starts with the south-west monsoon during Edavapathi and moves on to become Thulavarsham during the north-east monsoon. The old timers say there is a difference in the way it rains during the two monsoons. The Edavapathi moves on to the months of Mithunam and Karkitakam (Aani and Aadi) which are wetter. And Karkitakam is the month when the rain never seems to stop. The skies are always a sinister dark and there could be a cloud burst at any moment. Karkitakam is a very difficult month in Kerala, especially for the daily wage earners as there would be no work for them due to incessant rains. There won’t be much to eat either as the reserve food would have been consumed by the start of Karkitakam. Hence the month is aptly called Kalla Karkitakam or the evil month.

Though it is called Kalla Karkitakam, a lot of preparation goes into welcoming Karkitakam. People start preparing for the month well in advance. In the summer, we would hang gourds like pumpkin, ashgourd, vellari (it is called calabash, I think) from hooks from the ceiling for use in Karkitakam, since there would be no vegetables available during the month of Karkitakam itself thanks to the non-stop rains. This was especially so in the olden days when people had to make do with local produce. The mud roads would get cut off very often due to heavy rains making it impossible to bring anything from nearby villages also. The womenfolk would have made sun dried wafers and vegetables in the summer for use in Karkitakam. And there were of course some mangoes and jackfruits still coming in. And the jackfruit seeds! The children loved it, For some reason, the elders were not very fond of them.

The whole house was given a good cleaning and no nook or corner was spared. Even the ceilings were cleaned to make sure that there were no insects or reptiles that would have made the cool interiors their home during the hot summer. The insides of the houses would always be dark during these months making it difficult to spot such creatures. Hence the thorough cleaning. Most houses had a tiled roof and there were always some dried leaves and other junk accumulated on them during the summer months, which if not cleared would hold the rain water which would start seeping into the house.
The day before the Karkitaka Sankranthi (1st of Karkitakam, around 15th July, 16th July in 2008) there is a ritual of driving out the evil spirit of Jyeshta and welcoming in the benign Sreebhagavathy (The Godess of Prosperity). The house is cleaned with a broom and a muram (a dustpan made of bamboo) and the trash is thrown out with chants of “Chetta purathu, Sreedevi Akathu,” which meant, let us drive out Jyeshta (the evil spirits) and welcome Sreedevi.

Girls and women wear marudhani (mehndi) in their hands and feet. It was not only a beautification, marudhani protected the feet from worm infections that were common during the monsoon, we all walked barefoot back then.

The first day of Karkitakam also happens to be the beginning of Dakshinayanam, the day when the sun starts its southward movement. On this day, Sankaramana Tharpanam is offered to the pitrus, seeking their blessings. Thereafter Sreebhagavathy is invocated and installed in the puja room on a decorated plank or low stool, by lighting a lamp. A religious book like the Bhagavatham or Ramayanam is kept on the plank along with a valkannadi(mirror), betel leaves and nuts, turmeric and kumkum, flowers and a glass of water. The betel leaves and nuts and flowers and water are changed everyday throughout the month. Puja is offered everyday seeking protection from the ill effects of continuous rains and praying for prosperity in the following months.

A lot of religious activities go on during the month of Karkitakam seeking the blessings of Gods. In Kerala, the month is also known as Ramayana Masam as people read the Ramayana in this month. Usually it is a community activity with the neighbours congregating at one house in the evenings and reading the holy book after lighting the lamp. .Nowadays, the Ramayanam reading is arranged in the temples where people congregate.

Happy Ramayana Maasam to all readers.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monsoon Magic

June is the month when school reopens after the summer holidays in many parts of the country. It is on June 1st that schools reopen in Kerala and it is also the day when the south west monsoon breaks out in Kerala, which in Kerala is known as Edavapathi as it starts by the 15th of the Malayalam month of Edavam. The Kerala monsoon is to be experienced to be believed. No words can describe the sheer magic of the rains. It just pours and pours with thunder and lightning. There are sheets of water pouring from the skies. The volume of water that pours down in a shower is so much that within minutes you will find a small stream of knee deep water, but it also subsides minutes after the rain stops.

The children love it. When I was growing up monsoon was the season we all liked best. The stream near our house (thodu) would over flow with brown muddy water. We enjoyed swimming in the overflowing thodu in rain much to the anxiety of our elders, who would caution us not to swim in the swirling waters. It was bliss floating in the water with rain water pouring on you from the skies. How I miss all those little pleasures in life.

We made paper boats and sailed it in the flowing drain water in front of our houses. We had competition as to whose boat would sail farther. We looked forward for our evening visits to the temple. There would be knee deep water in the granite paved compound of the temple and we loved running and splashing the water on each other much to the displeasure of the elders who would get drenched. “Wait until I tell your mother,” they would threaten us. There would be a ban on our going to the temple next day unless we promised to behave. On the way to school we would play in the puddles. We were also mesmerized looking at the little whirls created by the raindrops in the puddles.

In the villages there would be flash floods in small canals and we loved wading through them. The wells would get filled to the brim which made our chore of drawing water from the wells an easy task. There was one house in our village where they had to manually pour out the water from their well because it used to overflow. We had firewood stoves those days and the smoke blowing out of the chimneys on rainy days was a sight I loved and I can still smell the fragrance of the bubbling oil at the end of the burning firewood.
Flickr photo by freebird used under Creative Commons License

We were lucky enough to have a school within 5 minutes walking distance from home. But for many other children, some of whom had to walk upto 5 - 8 miles, it must have been the dreadful season balancing their books, lunch boxes and an umbrella, mostly through paddy fields with knee deep water. By the time they reached school, they would be wet to their skins and they had to spend the whole day with their wet clothes on. They had only an ottayadi patha or a narrow trail dividing two fields, made of mud to walk between the paddy fields. Many times if there was a breach in the mud trail and it was flooded with water, you just slipped and fell in it. Books got washed away, lunch boxes got washed away and still they would reach school with umbrellas in hand. It is quite a sight to behold little children leaving for school with their best dresses and umbrellas in hand. When we were children we had umbrellas made of palm leaves with a long bamboo handle which was known as olakuda or pattakuda. There were big ones and small ones and they were not foldable. This meant we needed lot of space to keep them when we reached school. Mothers wrote their childrens’ names inside the umbrellas so that they wouldn’t get mixed up. The olakuda had a large span and it fully protected us from the rains. The farm laborers used a modified version of this olakuda, which was much larger and conical in shape and had a cap like ring inside the umbrella which would sit on their head, thus holding the umbrella as they worked with both their hands.

After coming to Bangalore, we still had rains in the earlier years, but the charm was not there. You could not get wet in the Bangalore rains as the moment the rain falls it would become chill. We had rains throughout the year. Now Bangalore does not get much rains and I yearn for the Monsoon Magic of God’s own Kerala.