Janmashtami celebrates the birth of the world famous Hindu God, Krishna. The festival is different in that it is the child-God – Balkrishna- (bal– Sanskrit for child) that is worshipped. It is huge in this part of the country as well as in Maharashtra. Most Hindus fast till midnight, the legendary hour when Krishna was born. Kashmiris are more of the feasting kind of people. Not that fasting is any different!
We have been missing out on the fasting since my MIL passed on. Everyone was missing the ‘fast’ food and the lime pickle brought out only at such times was getting darker and darker. So, we decided to fast this Janmashtami.
There are dos and don’ts regarding foods that are permitted. I personally think that smart housewives invented the rules so that they could eat their favourite foods – pumpkins and brinjals are not allowed (no prizes for guessing why these got dropped!), rai/mustard is not be be used, ghee instead of oil, all kinds of fruits and dairy, and it has to be all cooked fresh – no leftovers. See what I mean?
While the more customary fasts are broken with a regular meal in the evening, Janmashtami is an all-day f(e)ast! I kid you not. You have to survive all day on potatoes and sabudana, or waterchestnut (available as singara flour or bits), or fruits, or dry-fruits, or sundry dairy stuff. No rice, no roti.
Here are pictures of our lunch – the Maharashtrians got ‘their’ potatoes (boiled, peeled, and crushed and cooked in ghee with a bit of cumin, cayenne, and peanuts – roasted and crushed), accompanied by the sweet lime pickle (which uses neither rai/mustard nor oil) and at long last, I got my potatoes – peeled, cubed, and fried in mustard oil (yeh!) and sprinkled with cayenne and salt. That is the whole point of the fast for me, right there.
While Kashmiris use only mustard oil, my MIL did not count mustard oil in the foods permitted for eating. Well, during religious fasting anyway. My argument that Maharashtrians never used it so there could possibly be no rule proscribing it, never cut mustard with her; her “mustard is not permitted, so neither can be mustard oil”, to my – “peanut oil is out while the peanut is in; therefore, it should follow that mustard is out, mustard oil is in, surely?” was never settled. But it is common knowledge that MIL rules in India…and in Italy too, I believe. For the record, she was a formidable cook with an appetite for new dishes…as long as mustard oil was out.
In the evening, Baba (FIL) gathered flowers and leaves for decorating baby Krishna’s jhoola (swing) and I knew I had to make the sweet that has become synonymous with this festival in our house – nariyal barfi (Coconut barfi). MIL always made it, and so do I. It wouldn’t be the same without. In these small ways my MIL’s traditions live on.
And sabudana (tapioca pearls) khichdi is what was for the other repast. And people had waited long for this dish to materialise. Do not be misled by the term khichdi here, as I was when in my teens. I must have half-read a recipe in the Femina and cooked it on the lines of the regular khichdi, pressure cooker and all. Never did figure out what the hullabaloo was all about till after I got married. No kin of the dal-chawal khichdi. Trust me. See the picture, if you don’t. Served with home-made aloo papad and the same lime pickle and the aforementioned barfi. Yeh, papad bhi belne pade, shaadi ke baad!
And that is what festivals are about. Not so much about making believers out of us, not about reinforcing dogma long since irrelevant, but about intricately entwining the mundane with the make-believe, the ordinary with the wonderful. But for the fussy rituals and the rules, we would lose an intergral part of what makes us who we are – the animal we can culture-vulture.
If you have/can get khoya, this barfi is a piece of cake! Or you could make some yourself by cooking down whole milk till it gets there. Or not. Don’t tell me I didn’t tell you how to make your own khoya. 🙂
Nariyal Barfi (Fresh Coconut Barfi)
1 1/2 C khoya
2 C fresh grated coconut (not the dried dessicated stuff, you might as well get the barfi from the market)
1 C sugar
1/2 t freshly powdered cardamom (see that shiny brass pestle mortar, that’s what I use, love it)
Grate/crumble khoya and heat in a pan till the ghee separates. Add the coconut and sugar. Stir till the mix begins to come together and leave the sides. Essentially, the coconut juices should be reduced. Mix in the cardamom. You can also add in some almonds at this point, if you like. Pour into a greased thali or plate and smoothen. Let cool, refrigerate if needed, till set. Cut with a sharp knife into diamonds or squares. Offer as prasad to the lord before partaking. Blessed bliss.
After all that, I am on a real fast today.
With the festive season in full swing, this is just the recipe for JFI with ‘milk and milk products’ being the theme; hosted this month by Vineela.