July 19, 2024

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Of fasts, feasts & fiesta- The New Indian Express

15 min read

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: Deepavali, the time when the light illuminates the nooks and crannies of the city, turning even the darkest corners into festive moods, is brewing in full force. Known as the Festival of Lights, this is a season where a flurry of activities, emotions, and delicacies, gets on board, especially in the vibrant metropolis of Chennai, a city where an array of diverse communities thrive.

A few days ahead of Deepavali, kitchens in several households are packed with utensils used to dole out some scrumptious sweets, snacks and a special menu. From the irresistible Mysore pak to the delicate soan papdi and the flavourful kaara paniyaram, tables are adorned with many a delicacy. 

Archita Raghu, Sonu M Kothari, and Sreelakshmi S Nair embark on a Deepavali spree to immerse themselves in the city’s cultural vibrancy, engaging with individuals from various communities, delving into their unique celebrations, capturing the essence of what the festival means to them, and curating their culinary offerings.

RamPrakash, culinary director, CRP Culinary, & traditional food researcher
Across the Kongu Nadu region, Deepavali is synonymous with a breakfast with steaming idli and poori accompanied by a range of spicy mutton dishes. For several Tamil communities in districts like Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Dindigul, this festival day begins with a trip to the meat market and the usual bath after massaging nalla ennai into their hair. At the dinner table, fluffy kaara paniyaram, adhirasam, minced chukka, and fried intestine curry await them. “Especially for this festival, idli and poori are made. While mutton dishes are usually made in this region, kudal kulambu is a favourite. With kudal, they would make kulambu or kootu. It is the best accompaniment for these dishes. With kadala paruppu, it is a signature dish,” explains Ramprakash, a Madurai-based traditional food researcher. The core of festivities and feasts in most villages revolves around connecting with nature, he says. “Every festival is a celebration of food; on that day, there are specific dishes and traditions. This differs across areas based on people’s lifestyles. Every dish has a soul and love,” he adds.

Aattu Kudal Kulambu 
Ingredients

Goat Intestine (chopped): 1 kg
Pearl onions/Shallots (chopped): 2 cups
Tomato, chopped:  2
Ginger garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Garlic, finely chopped: 6 pods
Curry leaves: A sprig
Coriander leaves: A pinch
Mint leaves: A small pinch
Green chilli: 3
Red chilli powder: 2 tsp
Coriander powder: 3 tsp
Pepper powder: 1 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon: 2 small sticks
Bay leaves: 1
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Fried gram dal: 150 g
Oil as required
Salt to taste
For masala
Fennel seeds (Sombu): 1 tsp
Poppy seeds (Kasa Kasa): 1 tsp
Peppercorn: 1 tbsp
Shredded coconut: 1/2 cup
Peanut: 3 tsp

Method
To clean the goat intestine, place the bag inside a pot of boiling water, and keep it closed. After 10 minutes, remove it, and take out the tubular structure. With a brush, rub the surface to peel off the thorn-like layer. Run each tube under water for around 20 minutes, till clean. Cut the bag, and then the tube into small pieces. Add turmeric and wash again.

For the curry
Soak hard-fried gram dal in warm water for two hours. Grind shredded coconut, peppercorn, poppy seeds, fennel seeds, and peanuts into a fine paste. Set aside. In a pressure cooker, heat oil and add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and cumin seeds till they splutter. Add chopped garlic, curry leaves, green chilies. After the raw smell goes, add onion, tomato, and ginger garlic paste and sautè it well. Add the soaked fried gram dal, turmeric powder, and the ground mixture. On medium flame, add chilli powder, coriander powder, and pepper powder. Add kudal pieces and roast the masala. Add a cup of water and the salt needed. Close the cooker, and cook for about nine whistles. Garnish with coriander leaves. 

Varsha Panjabi, food connoisseur
Deepavali in a Sindhi household is a grand affair. The day starts at three in the morning when special sweets are prepared for the festival. “We start the day a little earlier than usual with a small prayer in the morning followed by a Diwali party in the afternoon,” says Varsha Panjabi, a food connoisseur. Right after the sunset, a Lakshmi puja is arranged. “Since most people of the community are businessmen, the day is also considered to be the first day of a financial year,” shares Varsha. Only after lighting the home with diyas does a family step out, because it is also said that “Lakshmi ma visits only the places that are brightly lit.” Towards the end of the day, the family comes together for the fireworks, followed by a game of cards. “Playing cards or gambling on Diwali is considered to be very auspicious,” adds Varsha.

Dry Fruit Varo 
Ingredients

Mixed nuts almonds, cashews, 
pistachio: 3/4 cup 
Sugar: 1/2 cup 
Ghee: 1 tsp
Cardamom powder: a pinch
Poppy seeds: 1 tbsp

Method
Dry roast the nuts in a heavy bottom pan for two minutes. Keep it aside. In a heavy bottom pan, add ghee and poppy seeds, and let it cook. Add sugar to the mix, and let it cook on low flame. Keep stirring on a medium flame till sugar gets caramelised. Add cardamom powder to it along with nuts and turn off the heat. Pour the mixture on a greased plate/baking sheet or a chapati maker and roll with a rolling pin to even it. While it is still warm, cut into desired-size incisions and let it cool. Break into pieces once it cools off or serve it as discs. Store brittle in a tight container.

PH Shivaram, master mariner

EXPRESS ILLUSTRATION

Deepavali takes on a unique significance in the Bengali community as it coincides with the worship of Goddess Kali, hence celebrating the goddesses’ win over evil. Shivaram, reflecting on the Bengali celebration of the festival, explains that the day preceding Deepavali is observed as Naraka Chaturdashi or Bhoot Chaturdashi, signifying the belief that 14 generations or ancestral spirits from the past generations visit the earth to meet their dear ones.

This occasion is marked by the lighting of 14 diyas around the household. Subsequently, the following day, on Amavasya, the community partakes in Kali Pujo, an event dedicated to the worship of Goddess Kali. “When I was a kid, the day before Kali Pujo used to be a Halloween kind of day for us kids, where we used to go to our relatives and neighbour houses,” says Shivaram.

The pujo entails the serving of bhog, a sacred food offering to the goddess, featuring delicacies such as khichdi, chanar payesh (a sweet cottage cheese mixture), and various chutneys, symbolising the cultural richness and spiritual significance of the occasion.

Shakeena Banu, home chef
In Kanpur, the night before Deepavali, Shakeena Banu’s household would begin their preparations for traditional dishes like flavourful mutton biryani and creamy sheer khurma. As the festival descends, Shakeena and the other communities — from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu — in their colony would congregate and feast together. “There will be people from all over India. It didn’t matter which caste or religion we belong to. We celebrate as a community,” she says.

This tradition, which she has kept up for 15 years, followed her when she moved to Chennai. A recipe that she whips up for every Deepavali feast is the savoury mutton balls that have roots in the Maratha cuisine of Thanjavur — kayiru katti kola. “It is a family favourite. It has minced mutton, coconut, pottu kadalai, and spices. It is fried and made into a ball, and to hold it in shape, they tie it with rope. My grandmother used to have a banana stem to roll; now we don’t get it anymore,” Shakeena says. Her children’s friends frequent the house to pack boxes of biryani and share their love. “Beyond festivals, it is a great gathering,” she signs off.

Sheer khurma
Ingredients

Fine rumali semiya: 1 cup
Milk: 3/4 L
Khoya: 100 g
Sugar: 1 cup (adjust to taste)
Chopped dates: 15 nos
Assorted nuts, finely chopped
Ghee: 50 ml
Saffron: a few strands
Method
Heat a skillet, add 1/2 cup of ghee, and roast the rumali semiya until golden brown. Keep it aside for it to cool. In another pan, boil the milk until it thickens to 500 ml. Add the roasted semiya and cook until soft. Add sugar and khoya to it and mix well. In the skillet, add the rest of the ghee and roast the assorted nuts until golden brown. Add the chopped dates to the semiya and mix well so that the mixture thickens. Transfer the nuts with ghee to the semiya. Save some for the garnish. The sheer khurma is ready to serve. 

Anitha, homemaker

According to Jainism, it is considered that Mahavira attained salvation on this day. Sweets are distributed, and people visit temples, or sthanaks, a place where prayer meetings are held. “People pray for forgiveness for their wrongdoings. The prayer is 48 minutes long,” says Anitha. She adds that individuals also fast on this day. “Fasting helps in the purification of the body.” They believe that the day after Deepavali is the first day of a new year. Coming to the city, the community adapted a few traditions, like performing Lakshmi and Saraswathi puja. The community follows a tradition of hosting a puja in the evening. “A Lakshmi puja is done to invite the goddess into our homes,” she says.

Papdi

Ingredients
Refined wheat flour: 1 cup
Wheat flour: 1 cup
Gram flour: 1 cup
Oil: 2 tbsp
Carom seeds: 1 tsp
Red chilli powder: 1.5 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/2 tsp 
Salt to taste 
Method
Mix the ingredients and knead well. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rest for 15 minutes. Now, cut the dough into small parts and flatten them with a rolling pin. Deep fry in hot oil. Store in an air-tight container.

Vanisri Deena Bandhu, IT professional
The Festival of Lights brings positivity and hope, as the celebration is said to bring light over darkness. The people of Odisha believe that “by lighting lamps on our doorstep, we invite positivity into the home,” comments Vanisri, who has her roots in Bonsala.

With customs like preparing sweets and distributing them to friends and family and decorating the house with flowers and rangoli in the morning, the people of the Odia community follow a specific tradition of inviting the dead to their homes in the evening.

“We place cow dung on the floor and light jute sticks with earthen lamps lit in front of the house. Four people standing in a circle raise the sticks towards the sky, calling the forefathers,” says Vanisri, adding that this tradition is practiced to pay homage to the dead, and it is believed that by invoking the forefathers, the house and the family are blessed by them. The ritual is called ‘Bada Badua Daka’.

Thollatlo 

Ingredients
Rice flour: 50 g
Jeera water: 150 ml 
Sugar: 5-6 tbsp
Method
Prepare jeera water by boiling cumin seeds (jeera) in water. After boiling the water add sugar to it. Mix until the water boils to the consistency of a sugar syrup. Pour the rice flour into the liquid. Mix well and add water to adjust the consistency. Make round balls of the mixture and serve. 

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