Reading Panchangam (an almanac prepared based on Indian calendar system) is an age-old custom followed every year on the day of Tamil New Year celebrated in the middle of April. A few centuries ago royal priests were summoned to read a new Panchangam in the king’s court mentioning important dates of the year and also foretelling the calamities like flood, war, etc. Even today every TV channel telecasts the speech rendered by astrologers predicting the next prime minister, rain fall, gold price, etc. that are of great interest to all walks of life .
Oil bath, almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago, offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. Nowadays people prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there, but they take oil bath at home only on the day of Deepavali festival every year as a religious ritual.
For centuries Indians have been enjoying the luxury of employing a battery of domestic helps like a cook, house maid, driver, gardener, etc. Nowadays people prefer to avail the services of Uber than appointing a cook or driver, but finding it difficult to manage their daily chores without the support of house maids. On the other hand house maids have been increasingly lackadaisical about their works in recent times. Some, especially the urbanites, may identify their maids in some way or the other with the poster shared in social media.
Elders in our families are unable to withstand to watch the children blowing out candles on their birthday as lighting up lamps is considered auspicious here and it symbolizes brightening up the people’s lives. Earlier traditional lamps (kuthu vilakku) were treated as supreme deities at home, but statues & pictures gradually gained the special status rather than those lamps. Nowadays we gift lamps to our friends & relatives for wedding or for house-warming ceremony wishing them happy & prosperous life.
Sweet saffron rice (zarda pulao) is a Persian rice dish, and it was the most sought-after pulao among the royals during the Mughal era dated back to 16th century. Noor Jahan, the multi-talented Mughal empress, devised new techniques to stain rice grains with edible dyes. Zarda pulao was made using such rice grains of various colours and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at the royal weddings & banquets. She brought revolutionary changes in every art form, she designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds, and she also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which is regarded as a draft of Taj Mahal.
Besides candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, and other sugary snacks there were also healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. All the children relished them as much as any other snacks like puffs, samosa, or chips during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
Lord Ganesha is worshiped by Hindus in the same manner God Janus is regarded in Greek mythology. It is interesting to find the striking similarities between the two as they both hold the honor of being the first god worshiped in every ritual. I also like to start my day by listening to the hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written on Him by the 14th century poetess Avvaiyar sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.
I feel sorry for the children today that they are not able to savor our traditional beetroot relish as we did during our childhood days. It was a delightful experience for the kids to relish the beautiful reddish-purple beetroot puree infused with delicious flavors of native fruits served in the wedding feasts. Beetroot sweet pachadi, the most popular fruit dessert, was usually featured in every feast until few years ago. Nowadays vanilla ice cream with fruit salad takes precedence over this traditional fruit dessert.
Turmeric rhizomes are inextricably intertwined with our culture & traditions, all our religious rituals are performed only in the presence of turmeric powder. Even the family ties are religiously acknowledged by tying a turmeric smeared thread around the wrist or neck (for women) before the deities, priests & other elders. Women used to observe fasting until the sacred turmeric thread is tied around the neck when they get married and also on the day of Karadaiyan nonbu usually falls in the middle of March.
Appalam making is a leading cottage industry prevalent in my maternal grandfather’s village. As a kid I was completely awestruck watching women & girls in our neighbourhood kneading mountainous dough, rolling appalam at lightning speed, and stacking dried appalam like a tower. Whenever I was upset with my cousins or siblings I used to run to one of those houses and spend endless hours there watching them making appalam while enjoying their warmth & the food. During my mother’s recent visit there, they fondly remembered my childhood favorite appala-poo and prepared them along with appalam specially for me, even though they are not into this business currently.
Sodhi is an exotic Sri Lankan curry prepared with lentils and vegetables stewed in coconut milk. Although sodhi is not a spicy curry, it has grown popular among the people living in & around Tirunelveli who usually enjoy spicy curries. Meals with sodhi served at the wedding feasts in our family is a lavish spread of creamy sodhi, pungent ginger chutney, spicy potato fries, crunchy appalam, scrumptious coconut milk dessert (payasam), sweet boondhi and fresh yoghurt as below. Wedding in our family is usually hosted by bride’s family. However bride’s family is treated with a sumptuous meal with sodhi the day after marriage, and it is a unique custom prevalent here to signify the confluence of both the families.
Neivilangai has always been featured in our family’s Deepavali menu every year. These melt-in-mouth lentil flour laddu are popular among Indians & Sri Lankans. North Indians use Bengal gram flour or wheat flour, whereas south Indians use green gram flour or black gram flour for making delicious laddu.
Idli milagai podi is an indispensable condiment in every south Indian’s pantry. I find idli podi satisfying only when I could feel the coarse grits inside my mouth, and hence I do not like to use the finely powdered store-bought idli podi. We use roasted rice for its sandy texture, roasted asafoetida & raw garlic for the wonderful aroma that brings everyone to the kitchen while powdering it.
Panakam is a traditional ayurvedic lemonade offered to deities at home on the day of Sashti observed by Saivites and also on the day of Rama Navami celebrated by Vaishnavites. Rama navami is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Rama and Kandha Sashti Viratham is observed for 7 days after Deepavali, apart from the regular Shasti every month.
Ulundham Paruppu Sadham (Black gram rice) is a unique rice prepared by people in Tirunelveli, a southern town of Tamilnadu. Sesame chutney is similar to Mediterranean Tahini sauce and is an essential side served with black gram rice. We usually serve this nutritious meal to young girls during their cycle every month. Although we prepare this meal specially for young girls & pregnant women, it can be served to kids, men & old people alike.