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Women, men, children – entire villages – dressed in yellow and red undertaking a barefoot journey to Samayapuram Mariamman Kovil. This long trail of pilgrims, we encountered on National Highway 210 started at Pudukottai and continued till we reached Samayapuram. They must have covered about 60-70kms barefoot.

Padyatra/ Nadaipayanam usually refers to the journey one undertakes by foot (mostly barefoot) to a holy shrine or place of spiritual significance and are fairly common in Tamizh Nad.  Besides the famous and visible padyatras undertaken to the Palani Murugan temple, every year in August/September, droves of pilgrims from all over Tamizh Nad make their way by foot to the Basilica at Velankanni for the annual 11 day feast of Our Lady of Health. Pilgrims from Chennai cover more than 300 kms by foot to make this journey.

We encountered these pilgrims on our way back from Karaikudi, a town in Tamil Nadu.

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Kolu for Navarathri

Celebrations spread over nine auspicious nights to mark the victory of good over evil also known as Navarathri begin today.

In Tamil Nadu Navarathri is celebrated by setting up a gallery of handcrafted dolls representing major deities, scenes from everyday life, thematic doll sets representing mythological events or even modern day happenings and so on. Arrangements of dolls are always in odd numbered levels and are accompanied by home grown ragi and other handcrafted themes on the side. A golden glow of sesame oil lit lamps graces the kolu in the evening and a simple puja is performed. Women visit each others homes to see the kolu. It’s a norm to be asked to sing especially if one is young – the knowledge of music was once upon a time considered indispensable for a “nalla ponnu” (good girl). In essence Navarathri is all about creativity and socializing – there is no ritual apart from the ritual of being expected to be creative.

Neiveidyam or Prasaadam is Sundal – each day a dry bean/legume is cooked with mustard seeds and coconut. Guests are seen off with offerings of chandanam (sandalwood paste), Kumkumam and Tambulam (Betel Leaves with Coconut Mustard and Arecanuts).

In another more detailed post we’ll give you glimpse of a real kolu and share recipes we prepare for Navarathri, for now we start our celebrations with a tiny kolu we put together for sharing with our readers.

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Navarathri wishes to all our readers!!

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Lakshmi: The mere utterance of the words “Perumal Theertham” conjures up memories of my Thatha (grandfather) performing the Aradhanai (puja) daily. Each summer holiday as a child I would wake up to a morning filled with the wetness of Madi Thuni (clothes) hanging in the backyard, the smell of freshly ground spices, the waft of sandalwood and the fast rhythmic chanting of my Thatha.

While Paatti and Kollu Paatti were busy cooking the neivedyam, I’d rush to get a fresh bath and stand in line with the other kids for the delicious prasaadam my Thatha would distribute after his prayers – three udhrini (spoon) theertham (water), three udhrini milk, a few pieces of kalkandu (sugar candy) and a couple of tulsi leaves.

My favourite of course to this date is perumal theertham – its heaven conjured up with water and a few flavorings, one of them being Saffron.

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Perumal Theertham (Divine Water)

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Perumal theertham in a Kulla Pathram (silver glass) and Udhrini (spoon)

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Krishnar doing the Kalinga Narthanam, Sangu (Conch shell), Japa Mala (Beads for prayers), Theertham for Abhishekham (holy bath)

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Abhishekham (holy bath) with Perumal Theertham

Ingredients

  • Drinking Water – 1 Glass
  • Cardamom – 3 pods
  • Saffron – 1 tsp
  • Tulsi Leaves – 1 or 2
  • A pinch of pachai karpooram.

Method

Pound the cardamom and dissolve along with saffron into the water in a Silver Pela (Glass). Add Tulsi leaves.

Update: A pinch of Paccha Karpooram or Edible Camphor can also be added to the Theertham for flavouring. Thanks Rajeshwari and Nirmala for reminding us about this. In Kovils (temples) praasadams of the sweet kind are usually flavoured with Edible Camphor. For example Akkaravadesil, the rice pudding served in South Indian Vaishnava temples or Pachamrutham served in Ayyappan temples as Asha has pointed out. We usually skip the Paccha Karpooram.

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Latha: Kalkandu or Sugar Candy lends a heavenly taste to this Rice Pudding. This is prepared for most of the Iyengar festivals and in Perumal Kovils. Saffron lends the Pongal a beautiful peachish tinge to the Pongal.

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Kalkandu Pongal (Sugar Candy Rice Pudding)

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Kalkandu Pongal – Sugar Candy Rice Pudding

Ingredients

  • Rice – 1 cup
  • Moong Dal – ¼ cup
  • Milk – ½ litre
  • Kalkandu (Sugar Candy/ Rock Sugar) – 1 ½ cups
  • Cardamom – 6 nos
  • Saffron – 10 to 12 leaves
  • Ghee – 1/3 cup
  • Cashew – 4 tbsp (or more)
  • Dry Grapes – 4tbsp (or more)

*cup = 225ml measures approximately 8oz. Arakapadi is one of the many traditional measures used in Tamil Nadu. Most cup measures translate into Arakapadi measures.

Method

  1. Wash Rice and Dal and pressure cook together with 3 cups of water.
  2. Take out the Rice and Dal and mash using 2 tbsp Ghee. Transfer to a heavy bottomed pan.
  3. Add ½ litre milk and cook on low fire. Add the Sugar Candy and keep cooking on a low to medium fire stirring occassionally for approximately 5 minutes. The Pongal will now be in a semi solid state – it will become thicker as it cools.
  4. Crush the Cardamom and add to Pongal. Mix well and transfer to a serving dish.
  5. Dissolve the Saffron with 1 tbsp lukewarm milk.
  6. Toast the Cashew and Dry Grapes separately with the remaining ghee in a Kadai.
  7. Decorate the Pongal with Cashew and Dry Grapes and Saffron Milk.

Serve Hot or Chilled.

Perumal thirtam and Kalkandu Pongal are our entries for Sunita’s Think Spice, Think Saffron event and RCI Tamizh Festivals hosted by Viji of Vcuisine.

– Latha and Lakshmi

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Nagapattinam is a small port town in the east coast of Tamil Nadu. It hit the headlines three years back as one of the places most affected by Tsunami. My story also has some connection with the destruction caused by the sea waters.

Soundaraja Perumal Kovil in Nagapattinam is one of the 108 divya desams of the Vaishnavites. Almost all temple towns have the temple at the center and the houses built in rows around the temple to form Veedhi or streets. Our ancestors lived in the street which is on the right hand side of the Soundaraja perumal koil. Adjacent to their home is the Krishnar koil. They owned almost an entire village by name Perungkadamanoor, a few kilometers away from Nagapattinam.Very affluent, some of them also took up employment as officers in the port as a hobby. They had taken interest in a small temple built for Lord Krishna by some Raja in 14 th century. They spent all their time and energy to revive the glory of this temple. Nithya pujas (Daily pujas) were performed elaborately by the men of the household as all of them were highly qualified in vedas to be priests.

But then this peaceful life came to an abrupt end when all their property was destroyed by the sea ingress in 1875. They shifted to Srirangam town to built a new life leaving behind the large house for the temple trust. They literally stuggled to build back their fortune. This large family always stayed together, but unfortunately very few descendants are left! What surprises me most is why none of the later generations ever feel like visiting the temple so lovingly taken care of by their fathers and grandfathers!! We either visited Tirupathi or Uppali appan koil in Kumbakonam during special occasions. Srirangam being the 1st of the 108 divya desams and also called Boolooga Vaigundam (manifestation of LordVishnu’s abode on earth) , may be there was no urge to visit other places. I grew up hearing stories of our ancestors from my parents and grandma. For long, I too did not develop any interest to visit the Krishnar koil in Nagapattinam. Some of my uncles and aunts who visited Nagai Soundaraja Perumal Kovil as a part of their piligrimage, could never get a darshan of Lord Krishna as the temple was closed everyday around 10 am after a simple puja! The temple did not have enough funds for elaborate pujas and maintenance after our ancestors left the place.

Around 6 years back I started practicing meditations. One day while I was meditating I got a glimpse of an image of Lord Krishna holding a cup of butter in one hand dancing on Kalinga Nagar, which I had never seen any where! By some strange intution I knew that it was of the image of Lord Krishna in the Temple at Nagapattinam. My husband says may be the image was stored in a gene I inherited from my ancestors! I tried convincing my father to visit the temple but did not succeed as he felt he was very weak to travel. My urge to visit the temple grew but I definitely wanted to take along some of our family members. When I spoke to my sister in law Padma, she decided that we should visit the temple. We decided to take along my nephew on his birthday to the temple. Suddenly it seemed like the lord was pleased by our devotion, with the help of my aunt Komala, we could organize everything for the visit coordinating with the people taking care of the temple and arranging for special pujas! It so happened that we visited on the first purattasi sanikizhamai, an auspicious day to have a darshan of the Lord! I found the same image of Lord Krishna doing the Kalinga Narthanam in this temple! Now a few members of our family have decided to do their best to bring back the temple to its original glory.

One of the best loved tales on Krishna’s childhood involves his defeat of the serpent Kalingan whose poisonous presence on the river Yamuna terrorized villages on the banks. Little Krishna’s dance on the five headed serpent Kalingan hood is a popular piece in almost all classical dance forms. The image of Krishna at the Krishnar Kovil at Nagapattinam is of Krishna doing the Kalinga Narthanam or dance on the serpent Kalingan’s head.

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Krishnar Temple entrance, Nagapattinam

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Vimanam over Sanctum Santorium, right above the place where the idol of Krishnar is placed
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Images of Twelve Azhwars (Vaishnavatite saints) In the sanctum sanctorium of Lord Krishna

There were many photos of Krishna’s childhood tales in the Temple Praharams(premises)

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Kalinga Narthanam

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The uthsava murthy of Lord Krishna at the temple

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Kolam or rangoli drawn by devotees at Soundaraja Perumal Kovil

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Dwarapaalakas at Soundaraja Perumal Kovil

We also visited the Soundaraja Perumal kovil and Desikar Kovil in Nagai. On the same evening we visited Ranganatha Perumal Kovil in Srirangam where my aunt* and uncle* settled down with their family, after retirement.

*Father’s sister and father’s brother.

Raja Gopuram at the entrance of the Srirangam Town built around the temple.

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Gopuram at Srirangam Kovil entrance

On Saturday and Sunday when we visited the temples our breakfast, lunch and dinner was the prasaadams offered at these temples. The venn pongal sarkairai or kalkandu pongal, puliyodarai (tamarind rice) and dhidyoannam(curd rice) tasted heavenly!

A replica of the Image of Lord Krishna in Nagai. We bought this for the puja to be performed at home.

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Maavilakku
Maa Villakku

My ancestors are from the town of Nagapattinam – they were trustees of the Krishnar Kovil at Nagapattinam. About five generations ago, when Nagapattinam was beseiged by sea water ingress, and all land became barren and soaked in salt, my ancestors abandoned all property and the temple for the city of Srirangam to start a new life. In those days losing so much of property and wealth was considered a shame of great volumes and people quietly moved to another place to build a new identity.

Krishnar skipped almost four generations in popularity as “Kula Daivam” (concept similar to patron saint), often referred only in “thatha- paatti” (grandparents) stories of ancestors. For almost 130 years no one from the family visited the temple.

I am very happy to say that last week my sister in law Padma, my athai Komala and I visited Krishnar at Nagapattinam to peep in and say that we are still devoted to him. It was a wonderful journey and we were spell bound by the sculpture of Krishnar at Nagapattinam. I will do a detailed post on our journey soon.

We offered Maa Villakku to Krishnar – we used “Nattu Sakkarai” (a kind of yummy sugar) instead of Jaggery. Click here to see the recipe for Maa Villakku that I posted earlier.

I am linking to Maa Villakku recipe on the request of Gayatri who wanted it for Purattasi Sanikizhamai Balaji Puja (Puja to Lord Balaji on the saturdayof Purattasi month in Tamil Calendar).

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Soak 1/2 cup rice for 1/2 hour. grind to a fine paste , adding water. Take a five inch square cloth, dip into the flour, draw the feet with your ring finger pressing the cloth between your thumb and palm.

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Thattai is another must be item for Srijayanthi! Do use freshly ground flours (Rice and Urad dal) whose recipes have been posted earlier.

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Ingredients

  • Rice flour – 2 cups
  • Urad dal flour – 1/4 cup
  • Grated coconut – 1 tablespoon
  • Channa dal 2 teaspoons
  • Moong dal – 2 teaspoons
  • Curry leaves – 2 twigs
  • Ghee – 1 table spoon
  • Pepper powder – 1teaspoon
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Broken Cashew (Optional)

Method

  1. Soak the channa dal and moong dal for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix the flours , coconut, salt , pepper powder, chopped curry leaves, soaked dals and ghee in a large container.
  3. Add water and knead to a smooth dough. The dough should be soft so that it does not break or crack while flattenning.
  4. Knead well for a while. Take lemon sized balls and flatten the dough to a round of about 4 inch diameter on to a white cloth. If the thattai cracks or breaks, just add some more water to the dough.
  5. To make the thattais you can also grease your fingers with little oil.
  6. Finish making the rounds with all the dough.
  7. Heat oil in a deep pan and Check the oil temperature by dropping a small piece in to the oil.
  8. If it rises up immediately then the oil is ready for frying. Start frying around 6 thattais at a time, Frying the dried ones first.
  9. Always keep the flame between low and medium. Turn the thattais to cook the other side.
  10. Once the sound subsides, drain well and remove on a kitchen napkin.
  11. Your thattais are ready for the neivedyam.

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