Thursday, October 28, 2010

Down Memory Lane

On his routine phone call, our younger son  (handsome and charming) mentioned the fast approaching  Halloween festival and how the whole neighborhood was getting ready for the festival. This brought back memories of our US visit during Halloween years ago. The whole place was filled with varieties of pumpkins and pumpkin festivals were being held all over the place. We had been to a few such festivals to see the pumpkin carvings.

This also brought to my mind that it was around this time that I started this blog in October 2005. I cannot just believe that this blog has been going on for the past 5 years. What started as just a pastime has become a demanding obsession now.  Our son casually told me one day,"Why don't you start a blog,  Ma?". I actually was not very conversant with the term blog, then. Although I had been using the Internet since the later 90s when our son went to the US for his higher studies to send him emails, chat with him and later to browse topics of my interest (read knitting, embroidery, hobby ideas etc), I had not been browsing any blogs till then. Our son explained to me what a blog was and I was still not sure what I would write there time and again. He said,"write whatever you want to write." After much deliberations and prompting by hubby dear, I said that I would try to write about all things happening around us today and how different they are from what they were when I was growing up. Or to put it in other words, how my astute and blessed mother-in-law would have commented on current affairs had she been around. That's how we decided on the name of the blog "Ammupatti's thoughts."

Ammu was the name of my beloved, alas late, mother-in-law in whose honor I have named my blog. Originally I intended to write my observation of everything around through her eyes (what she would have said were she to be around) for she was a keen observer and a lateral thinker. I learnt a lot about people's  body language and the actual meaning of their words from her. She had this wonderful ability to make friends with everyone, and engage in long conversations with them, be they little kids, teenagers, older people, college goers, anybody. She did not think any one was unreachable. And she had this "never say die" attitude, which I am still  learning. There was never a dull moment when she was around. She could go on talking to people of all ages and cultures. She would even talk to my friend Veena, who spoke no other language other than Kannada and my mother-in-law did not speak any Kannada. "What are you saying to Veena, Amma?" I would ask her, "She doesnt know our language." "She can perfectly follow what I say," she would reply.

And what started as just thoughts, soon metamorphosed into a food blog, owing to the continuous requests from my readers. I never knew today's youngsters would be so interested in learning cooking the traditional style. So I keep writing, though not as much as I would like to, due to my various other preoccupations.

Initially, not many people knew about my blog except close family members. Soon, other relatives around the world started noticing someone named Ammupatti writing about Puthucode and also observed some family photographs. They could not recognise who the author was, as there was no Ammupatti in my family. One asked the other and the chain continued until it reached one of my siblings who explained who the author was. Other Puthucodians also started noticing this blog about Puthucode. Soon enough I had many readers from all over the globe, some of whom have become very close friends and even visited me at my home in Bangalore and it is a nice feeling.

My brother told me this interesting incident that happened during this past Navarathri, which as I have said many times, is a very big festival in Puthucode. One lady who was visiting Puthucode along with some friends asked my mother (taking her to be just another Puthucodian),  which village she belonged to. My mother said she belonged to South village. (We have four main streets in our village which run due south, east, north and west). This lady then asked my mother, if she knew one Ammupatti from South village. My mother said that there was no Ammupatti in south village. The lady insisted that there was one. Then my mother asked her what her connection with Ammupatti was and the lady said that she just wanted to meet this grand old lady from South village who keeps a blog by the name of  Ammupatti's thoughts. My mother had a hearty laugh and said, "Oh that is my daughter." My brother insists this lady was pretty disappointed. "She was expecting to meet an octogenarian," he says.

This journey would not have been possible at all without the continuous support from my hubby dear and our beloved, handsome and charming sons, who patiently read all my drafts and gave me suggestions to improve and also helped me with the photographs. And of course, all of you readers, without whose inspiring comments, I would not have continued writing. Thanks to all of you.

I miss my dear mother-in-law and beloved appa, who would have been very happy to see that I was maintaining a blog with such good readership. These two were the people who were most proud of whatever I did. I actually may have inherited this writing bug from my appa, whose letters and diaries were always very interesting to read. My mother-in-law also used to write exhaustive letters, which give us a lot of merry moments even today.

Thank you my readers, once again and best wishes

Friday, October 22, 2010

Navarathri at Jalandhar

Hope everyone had a nice Navarathri. We had a nice Navarathri, this time at Jalandhar. While leaving for Jalandhar last month, my sis-in-law asked me,”What would you do for Navarathri in Jalandhar, you won’t be able to have your kolu and inviting people for thamboolam”. I said, “I will peacefully do all my puja and recitation of Lalitha Sahasranamam and Soudrya Lahiri and other stotras”. I did exactly that and I also made different neivedyams every day. On Vijayadasami day, we had Neyyappam, Vada, Dhokla, Semiya Payasam, tomato bhath, lemon rice and curds rice. We also invited two couples for lunch. I had the satisfaction of celebrating Navarathri at a faraway place.

The attraction in North India is of course, the Ramlila when, on Vijayadashami day, the effigies of Raavan, Kumbhkaran and Meghdhoot are burnt with bursting of a lot of crackers and merriment. My maid was asking me, if we had similar burning of effigies in our place, to which I said, no. She asked me,”Aap to Raavan ka pooja karte honge, na”( perhaps,you would be doing puja to Ravana), “I have heard there are people down south who worship Ravana”. I said, though we do not worship Ravana, we dont burn any effigies either. However, we decided to go and watch the fun in the evening. We barely managed to see the last effigy, of Ravana, being burnt. We did wander through the very crowded mela though. Maybe the next year we will be able to see the whole event.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadashami

We are already into the 8th day of Navarathri. Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadashami are the 3 most important days of Navarathri. Durgashtami is specially celebrated in Kerala as “Pooja vaipu”(keeping for the pooja). On the evening of Durgashtami, after cleaning the Pooja room, children keep all their books on a decorated stool for pooja. All the holy books like Ramayana, Mahabharatha and other books of religious importance are arranged. The books are then covered with a red silk cloth.

On Mahanavami day, Saraswathi pooja is performed to the collection of books. All family members including the children perform the pooja. The neivedyam on Saraswathi pooja includes palpayasam, vella payar and vada. Arati and neivedyam are done in the evening also. On the next day, i.e., Vijaya dashami day, punarpooja is done to the collection of books. The neivedyam on Vijayadashami day includes neyyappam and payasam.  After the pooja and arathi,  the books are distributed to the respective owners. All the members sit facing east and after writing the alphabet (Vidhyarambham or initiation to studies) in rice, start reading the books.Children are sent to school only after Vidhyarambham.

Vidhyarambham or Aksharabhyasam (initiating to the alphabets) is done on Vijayadashami day for children above the age of 2 who are not yet initiated to letters. After the pooja, children sitting on the laps of their parent, are made to write “Om Maha Ganapathaye Namah” followed by all the alphabets on rice filled in a tray. From now on they can start reading and writing.

In Kerala Vidhyarambham as a community festival is conducted in many places, the more famous one being Thunjan Parambu. Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthassan was a very famous poet of Kerala and he is considered as the father of Malayalam language. The place (in Malappuram district of Kerala) where he lived has been converted into a memorial and huge function of initiating children to Vidhyarambham takes place here. It is believed that children who are introduced to learning here will attain great scholastic skills.

Many temples in and outside Kerala also have Vidhyarambham function on Vijayadashami day. Temples like Mookambika in Kollur (Karnataka) have Vidhyarambham function on all days of the year.

Saraswati pooja is also known as “Adachu pooja” (closed pooja) as the books are kept covered and not touched for two days. One is not supposed to read or write on these two days. When we were children, we would be so happy to keep the school books covered for two days. And yet, we did not miss out on any story books, for which we were promptly admonished. But these are not our school books, we used to say.

Vijaya Dashami is also celebrated as Aayudha Pooja. People keep all their tools and house hold knives etc., and do pooja to them. Vehicles are also decorated and pooja is done to them.My friend Veena, to whom Vidhyarambham was a new word when I introduced her to our custom, always asks me, "Why are you not keeping your household implements like knife, scissors etc., on pooja”? She would herself answer, "For you, books and pen are your tools”.

Happy Saraswathi pooja and Vidhyarambham!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vella Payar (Sweet Cowpeas)

No Navarathri is complete for Puthucodians without this sweetened cowpeas neivedyam. Most of the houses will have this offering on the first day itself as a sweet beginning.This is also distributed as Prasadam in the temple during Navarathri. I invariably  make this neivedyam on the first day as well as on Saraswati puja day. 

This dish is also prepared when the new born baby is put in the cradle for the first time. Yes, we have a function for putting the baby in the cradle. Usually it is done on the 28th day after the baby is born in the maternal grandparents’ home as is the custom. When the baby is taken to the paternal grandparents’ home, there again is a cradle function. But I digress; Vellapayar brought back memories.

Let us get on with the recipe.

Cowpeas: 1 cup (it is also known as black eyed peas)
Jaggery : 3/4 cup
Cardamom powder: 1tsp.
Freshly grated coconut: 2 tbsp.


Wash and soak the peas in enough water (the water level should be above the peas) overnight. Pressure cook the peas in the same water. The peas should be cooked very soft. Otherwise they will harden when put in the jaggery syrup.

Melt the jaggery in one cup of water. Strain to remove all the impurities, sand particles etc. Pour the strained syrup in a wide, thick bottomed pan and heat to make a soft syrup. Add the coconut gratings and cooked peas. Mix well. Keep stirring until all the moisture is absorbed. Remove from heat, add cardamom powder and offer as neivedyam.


Happy Navarathri!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Navarathri Neivedyams

Having said that Navarathri is the celebration of the power of the Divine Mother, Shakthi, and hence the celebratrion of womanhood, it also has to be admitted that it is the busiest season for women. Any festival is a lot of activity in the Indian families and a festival spreading over 9 nights and 10 days keeps the women all the more busy.

The preparations for Navarathri has to start a couple of weeks in advance, like preparing the “kolupadi”(steps for arranging the dolls), taking the dolls out from their safes, cleaning the dolls, decorating the kolu mantap, planning the kolu neivedyams and invitee lists, planning the give away gifts,planning the pujas, the list is endless.Though there always was a lot of activity prior to Navarathri in the olden days, it has become much more hectic in the present day situation for the working women.

For the Puthucodians though, Navarathri is even more hectic as there is the 10 day temple festival in the Bhagavathi temple. Navarathri is the annual festival in the Annapoorneswari temple and has always been a big celebration. The celebrations are getting grander by the year with Her children, who are spread all over the world, becoming more and more prosperous. This annual festival is also the time for a grand reunion for all the Puthucodians.

When we were children,we had wooden collapsible steps for the arranging of the dolls, which would be put together by the carpenter at the beginning of Navarathri and dismantled after Navarathri every year. From the time the carpenter arrived for putting up the Mandapa padi (the steps), we children would get ready for the bigger events to follow. We had to run a lot of errands to get things ready. The great event was making a adhesive paste with maida. There were no quick fix or instant adhesives then. The local decorator was Mr.Swamy, who would get called to all the households to cut and paste flowers, animals and festoons out of crepe paper. With the help of the children (children from all families helped Mr.Swamy in this in all the houses), Mr.Swamy would finish the job in time for the women to arrange the dolls on the first day of Navarathri. Then we had to take out the dolls from the wooden boxes and almirahs, clean them and do minor repairs if needed. We had to dress up some of the dolls. With scraps of material collected from the tailor, we would dress up the dolls and make necklaces with beads for decorating them.

After installing Devi at the Kolu mantap, puja and neivedyams were offered three times a day and special pujas were offered on the last three days. Some households observed a special Navarathri puja on all the 9 days which was more elaborate. Our echiyamma and Kalathappa (my paternal grandparents)observed the special Navarathri puja whenever they were in Puthucode during Navarathri. Sometimes the harvesting season, when they would be at our farmhouse,
coincided with Navarathri. Our Kalathappa believed in the dictum, “Work is Worship” and stayed put in the farm house. Only our echiyamma would make a lightning trip home on the important days of Navarathri. In those years, we had special puja only on the last three days. However, we children participated in the daily special Navarathri puja at our Amman’s (our echiyamma’s beloved brother) house.

There would be a payasam for the Navarathri puja every day in the morning. It could be palpayasam, maasi pournami payasam, kovil payasam or neypayasam. When one had enough of payasams, there would be what in our house is knowns as Shashti payasam. This is an interesting payasam. Some rice would be cooked in milk and water and 2 pieces of jaggery would be kept on top and offered for puja. We children would fight for the piece of jaggery.

The practice those days was to invite everyone on all days and distribute prasadams and thamboolam to all. We children would visit all houses on a regular basis and by the time we returned our hands would be full of little packets filled with all sorts of goodies given as prasadams from all houses. That would suffice for our dinner.

In Puthucode (that is the only place I have been to for Navarathri other than Bangalore), a variety of neivedyams were offered. We had sweets as well as savouries for Neivedyams and each day there was a new one. The common neivedyams offered were Sweet Payar (this was a must),Chundal (we knew about only one type of Chundal, that is the Kondai kadalai chundal), Neyyappam, Morappam, Bajji, Bonda, Pakoda, Sweet Aval, Okkarai, Kozhukkattais (Sweet, Ulundu, Ammini, Sweet Ammini), Puttu, Vada, Pori urundai etc. In Bangalore, where I have seen only Tamilians having the Bommaikolu, the neivedyams are almost always a chundal, either chana or chana dal or moong or rajma, etc.

With people getting busier and having to visit many houses and also entertain guests in their houses, these days it is very difficult to determine the number of guests you would have on a particular day. The new trend is to fix one or two days and invite people on those days only so that one can have an idea about the expected guests. And yet, somebody would always drop in on some other day. So these days, I make a  sweet and savoury like rava ladoo, ribbon pakoda, thenkuzhal, manoharam or muthucharam at the beginning of Navarathri which would keep until the end of Navarathri. This could be offered to guests visiting anytime. Additionally, I would prepare limited quantities of  fresh neivedyams every day for distribution. I plan it in such a way that I would have couple of people visiting everyday for thamboolam.

Puthucode Navarathri itself is material for series of blog posts, which I dare not attempt now.

Happy Navarathri!

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Navarathri is an important festival in the Hindu Calendar. Though there are 2 navarathris celebrated in India, the Vasantha Navarathri (in March-April) and the Sharad Navarathri (in September-October), the Sharad Navarathri is more famous especially in South India.
Sharad Navarathri is dedicated to Mother Durga and is celebrated for 9 days (navarathri literally means 9 nights). The most important ritual of Navarathri is the Bommaikolu (arranging the dolls).
Mother Durga is worshipped on all the 9 days in three different forms. The first three days are dedicated to Durga, the next three days to Lakshmi and the final three days to Saraswathi. Pujas are offered three times a day . This is an important festival for women and girls as the Goddess worshipped is Mother Durga. When the demons, Madhu Kaitabas, Mahishasura, Shumbha and Nishumbha were attacking the Gods in the Heavens and Indra and other Gods had to flee from the Heavens, they prayed to the Divine Mother. She took different forms and killed the demons and installed the Gods back in Heaven. This victory of good over evil is celebrated as Navarathri and the Divine Mother is worshipped. All women (girls included) are treated as Devi and worshipped and offered all that represents goodness and prosperity.
Women and girls adorn themselves in their best and visit each others’ homes and they sing songs in praise of Mother Durga.
On the evening of Durgashtami (the eighth day of Navarathri), books are arranged in front of the kolu where Durga is worshipped and on the 9th day the books are worshipped as Devi Saraswathi. Devi Saraswathi is considered to be the Goddess who imparts knowledge. This day is celebrated as Saraswathi puja. Puja is offered on the next day known as Vijaya Dashami also and then the books are taken from the puja and distributed. This day is also celebrated as “Vidhyarambham” in Kerala, as a new beginning is made after the worship of Devi Saraswathi. Children are initiated to learning on this day. Vijaya Dashami is the last day of Navarathri. After the puja and Arati, the dolls are taken down and kept away for the next Navarathri.
Happy Navarathri to all. May Devi Bhagavathi bless us all with peace, happiness and prosperity!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Ulundu kozhukkattai

Hope everyone celebrated Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi in a grand way. I was travelling on both occasions and hence could not celebrate the functions as usual at home. But my recently married son and daughter-in-love who are now in living US celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi by making kozhukkattais and they turned out very well, they said! I was so very happy hearing this (My mother was a bit unhappy that I could not celebrate either festival).

We were on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram on Janmashtami and we were travelling to Jalandhar on Ganesh Chaturthi. We are now in Jalandhar, where our elder son is currently posted. Jalandhar Cantt. is a beautiful place with long stretches of roads without much traffic or pollution and greenery all around. The weather is still warm though. It took me almost a week to unpack and get the kitchen in full swing. Each time I visit our son at his new place of posting, I feel, I may not after all get through this unpacking and get the kitchen going and each time my husband assures me that you will come around in a few days time. I am through this time also.

I have been wanting to post the recipe for savoury kozhukkattai for a long time now and since I could not post it during Ganesh Chaturthi, I am posting the recipe now. I have been making varieties of savoury kozhukkattais. Here I am sharing with you the traditional savoury kozhukkattai, also known as Ulundu kozhukkattai or Urad dal kozhukkattai.


For the outer covering:
Rice flour: 1½ cups
Coconut oil or any other cooking oil: 2tsp.
Salt: a pinch
Water 3 cups

For the stuffing;

Urad dal : 1/4 cup
Grated coconut : 2 tbsp.
Green chillies: 1 or 2
Salt to taste
Oil: 1 tbsp.
Mustard seeds: 1tsp.
Urad dal: 1tsp.
Hing: 1tsp
Curry leaves : a few

Soak the urad dal for 1/2 hr. Drain the water completely and grind with green chilles, coconut and salt coarsely. Spread the mixture on a clean cloth and steam for 10mnts. Cool and crumble with hands. Heat oil in a pan. Add hing and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds splutter, add the urad dal. When the urad dal turns pink in color, add the curry leaves and crumbled urad dal and coconut mixture. Shallow fry for five minutes. The stuffing is ready.

The rice flour coating:

Heat a pan and add 2 tsp of oil. Add 1½ cups of water and pinch of salt and boil. Meanwhile mix the rice flour in 1½cups of water into a smooth batter without lumps. When the water starts boiling add this batter and keep stirring until the rice flour becomes a smooth shiny ball. Remove from fire and cool.

To prepare kozhukkattais:

Knead the rice flour dough well. Take a lemon sized portion and form into a cup. Smear little oil on your finger tips to make it easier to handle the dough. Put a smaller size ball of the stuffing inside and close from all sides and pinch the ends together. Repeat till all the dough and stuffing is used up. Steam the kozhukkattais in a steamer or a idli steamer for 15 minutes.