Puran poli – the long story

puran poli spread for Champa Shashthi

Have you heard of Champa Shashthi?  In my Maharashtrian side of the family it is associated with a ceremonial pooja the beginnings of which are somewhat obscure.  This winter I was visiting friends who celebrate this day with special prayers.  In their family, the day of the pooja marks the end of a period of abstaining from certain foods such as eggs and meat, and brinjals (eggplant).  Minor ceremonies are observed on the two days preceding Shashthi as well.

The celebration of this festival in our family has an interesting story.  This festival is not traditional to the Konkanasth Brahmin community to which my husband’s family belongs.  A long time ago, and I mean a really long time ago, traveling was an activity associated with uncertainty, hardship, and unknown risks, undertaken only for essential business or pilgrimage.  At such a time, a family embarking on one such pilgrimage handed over the Champa Shashthi Puja to their neighbour and friend in the village, V’s ancestor, like a precious thing for safekeeping.  They never returned to claim it back, and that is how we have this untraditional ritual as our heritage.  Our family continues to fulfill a promise made a very long time ago.  I remember my mother-in-law asking me if she should perform the udyapan, a special puja to mark the end, but I assured her I wanted it to continue.  How could I not want to be part of this beautiful legend, our very own legend!

We, my husband, son, and I,  are hardly religious people but I do believe that without religion, you may end up distancing yourself from what is your culture.  Food is very strongly tied to culture and religion.  One day, several years back, I realised we had not cooked sabudana khichdi in a very long time (years!). Since my mother-in-law’s passing no one in the family was observing any fasts anymore!  We brought back the Janmashtami fast and now observe it as a family.  The much loved sabudana khichdi is on the menu at least once a year. Continue reading “Puran poli – the long story”

Bhagar ani danyachi amti

bhagar with danyachi amti for Shivratri

Haerath mubarak to my Kashmiri readers, and a very happy Shivratri to the rest of you! There was much feasting at my mom’s last night where we gathered for Mahashivratri puja. Shivratri is the most important festivals for the Kashmiri Pandit community. The festival marks the end of winter in Kashmir. The preparations start weeks in advance and culminate in the final three days ending with doon pooza (walnut puja!) on Phalgun amavasya, which is tomorrow. [Read more about it here and here] For us, today is Salam, the day after Shivratri, the day the youngsters receive Shivratri kharcha (spending money!) from the elders in the family. We got it last night itself from my father!

The rituals are quite elaborate and food and cooking is an integral part. Every family has their traditions and the ceremonies are not complete without the cooking of certain dishes. In the puja last night we had vatuks (vessels for water) that symbolised Lord Shiva and his wife-to-be, Parvati, who were married in the presence of other gods and invitees (represented, in their turn, by smaller vatuks). Only the eldest family member observes a fast while the rest feast. Walnuts are soaked in another vessel, to which are offered tiny bits of fresh food from the meals cooked everyday. Meat and fish are traditional and are part of the puja offerings. In the last 25 years, since their relocation from the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits, on finding themselves amongst Vaishnavites, have started observing vegetarianism during this festival. In deference to tradition, my mother cooked fish the day before Shivratri. Last night’s menu for the Shiv-Parvati wedding: rajma, paneer kaliya, mujj chetin, dum-olu, palak-matar, steamed rice, roti (for the non-Kashmiris!), and modur polav.

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Ver – the opposite of Kheer

veri masala

As I said earlier, there is much Kashmiris make with rice. Besides being the staple on our plate it is also our preferred ingredient when it comes to celebrations of all kinds. All auspicious occasions begin with rice in some avatar or the other. Barring one sweet made with dry fruits all Kashmiri desserts have rice as the main ingredient. [Therein lies a lesson for all of us to look at statistics with a sharp eye – Kashmiri cuisine has 3.5 desserts in all!]

Kheer is the offering of choice for most Goddesses.  When a sweet offering will not fit the bill, taher is cooked to mark the happy occasion. Similarly, cooking and eating ver marks the beginning of important celebrations such as weddings and yagnopavit ceremonies.

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Birthdays and other days

taher

Kashmiri Pandits, just like Bengali Brahmins, are known for their love of mutton and fish.  Just the sight of a goat can make my Bengali professor salivate.  Likewise, a Kashmiri is within her rights to discount a meal that did not include meat.

Food is perhaps amongst the most gossiped topics in the Kashmiri community.  The usual greetings and hugging are always followed by queries regarding the last meal.  How do you do?  What did you have for lunch?  The aunt will barely keep herself from clucking if you omit to mention some meat dish, real or imaginary, in your previous repast.  And you had better include the leftover morsel from yesterday’s meal while you are recounting the feast which is obviously your norm.  You can see the mental balancing underway as the relative from one side (paternal or maternal) weighs the meal in question (enjoyed at the other side) and determines who the winner would be after they are done serving you next. I have been accosted on the street – and after the pleasantries were done with –  “Ah, on your way from your maasi’s eh? So, what did you eat?!”  Now I look back at it with nostalgia; it did make our once-upon-a-time annual summer visits to Srinagar all the more colourful.

Yet, this blog speaks little of my nonvegetarian heritage.

Continue reading “Birthdays and other days”