Onam Greetings!

Happy Onam everyone!

Hope you all had a more festive Onam than we did – thanks to my laziness. We did make the Pookalam, and the payasam is in progress – I decided to go for the easier, quicker Semiya Payasam. Daughter loves it and had specially requested for it, and I can’t deny her everything festive about Onam, can I?

Not that she minds – after all she got to do what she most wanted  - to make the pookalam. We made the Pookalam on the first two days of Onam – we were in India then, and I had promised her that we would do it here, if we have enough flowers. One look at my garden told us that we were hoping for too much. So we saved all the flowers for Thiruvonam, and this is what we made. Just a make-shift, simple pookalam, but enough to satisfy daughter.

Deeps’ post on Onam, recounting Namnam’s interest in the background to Onam, reminds me of some Maveli related stories that I keep forgetting to jot down. Daughter got interested in Onam last year. We were in Kerala, and she was fascinated by everything. Most of all by Maveli. All she wanted was for Maveli to come home and meet her. Finally her wish came true(well, partially), when she met Maveli at a shop, when we were out shopping. I actually thought she would be terrified, but she was just delighted.

This year, she has been analyzing the story, and is not too pleased with it. Surely, it was sneaky of Lord Vishnu to do something like this to Mahabali. After all he was a wonderful king. Why did Lord Vishnu do it? If Asuras were bad people, how come Mahabali was good? And other important issues like how did Mahabali get pushed into Patala? Was there a hole in the earth ? And more importantly, how does he come out every year? Does the earth open up?

Can someone please help me with these questions?

So wishing you all a very Happy Onam, and hoping that Maveli visits you, in one form or the other :)

Memories of Durga Puja..

Today is Saptami, the 7th day of Durga Puja, but before I say anything else, I want to thank all of you for your wonderful suggestions and tips! Will try out all these and will definitely let you know how it goes! Our Blog world is awesome! Thank you again!

When I was growing up, Saptami was a much awaited day. I grew up in Jamshedpur, which has a huge Bengali presence and Durga Puja used to be celebrated with a lot of pomp and show. In our colony, there used to be several pooja pandals.  According to my friends, who had been to Kolkatta during Pujas, we had better ones – but I am sure they are biased :) The first indication that the Pujas are not far away would be several pooja committee members coming to our houses for contribution to their puja  fund. If we contribute, we would get a token, to take to the pandal for Bhog.

And then as the days near, there would be frantic activity in the grounds where the pandals were made. There used to be intense competition among the pandals – even with our colony.  Some of them were so artistic!  The festive feeling would be in the air. There would be discounts in stores. Most of my friends were Bengali, and would be discussing the new clothes they got and the ones they bought for gifting.. And then the school holidays would start. Pandals would blare out Bollywood songs – which then used to be fun, now I find loud music very irritating :)

The idols were totally awe-inspiring. Magestic looking Ma Durga poised triumphantly over Mahishasur! What better symbol of the power of a female goddess! It saddened me deeply when I heard that later, some idols were given features of Bollywood stars. Surely, there has to be a limit to commercialization? At that time, everything seemed wonderful – the aarti, the drums in the background, the smell of camphor in the air… And the bhog! Yum! What is it about prasads and bhogs that make them so delicious?

But Saptami day was what I used to wait for. It was on  Saptami day, that we would all start visiting pandals. The main side attraction would be all the gol-gappas , chats,  egg rolls, which even my majorly hygiene conscious mother would not object too much to, during the puja days. My parents could never fathom, how, we would gulp down spicy chaats , which were too spicy by most standards. And we could walk for miles without complaining :) Normally family friends would gather together at a place and go pandal visiting together. It used to be a treat to meet classmates or school mates and compare how many pandals we had done :) Some of the pandals, along with the eating stalls, also had huge Melas with giant wheels and all sorts of rides and exhibitions of arts and crafts.

Saptami and Ashtami, we would go out only in the evenings. Ashtami day, we would keep our books in the temple, for Saraswati Pooja.  So until the Pooja is over on Dashami day, we do not read or write, or do anything that is considered ‘skill based’. So for most Malayalis I knew, it used to be heaven. No studying. For me, it was a torture. I was not too bothered by the ‘no studying’ bit, but I had to read. I could not survive a day without reading and was too scared to cheat.  My mother used to be very strict – not even reading the newspaper was allowed – I used to be like an drug addict, who was denied her fix :)  Navami day, we would go out with friends in the morning to the pandals. I suspect,my mother must have been glad to have me out of her hair too. That used to be the only bright side for me. So we used to hog all the junk we could, get on every possible ride.. it used to be so much fun. Evenings again would be with parents and family friends. Pujas seemed more an excuse to have all the fun in the world than to do with anything religious at that point in time :)

And then came Dashami. We used to go the Temple for the Saraswati puja. All my Bengali friends used to go to the pandals to bid Ma Durga goodbye until next year. The evening would be full of going over to friends place for the traditional sweets and Ghugni and platters of sweets that friends would drop off at our place. I can’t begin to state, how much I enjoyed those days.. And to think that it has been more than 15 years since I last did all this.

This year, we plan to go to some Durga Pujas near here. The other half of the couple, we celebrated Onam with, is a Bengali, so we plan to celebrate Durga Puja with them this year. Happy Pujas to all of you! And do let me know how you plan to celebrate too.

Vidyaarambham in Mookambika

Solilo has written about the custom of Vidyaarambham amongst Malayalis. It refreshed memories for me, of my daughter’s Vidyaarambham in the Sri Kollur Mookambika Temple in Mangalore, during our last vacation to India.

Normally, as Solilo has mentioned,the parents or other elders present , perform the initiation by writing ‘Om hari sree ganapataye namah’ on Vijayadashami day. In some cases like ours, where my husband was travelling at that time, one of the places that people go to do the Vidyaarambham done, is the Sri Kollur Mookambika Temple in Mangalore. Here, in this temple, Vidyaarambham can be done at anytime of the year. The temple is in the middle of a forest, and for miles before we reach it, it is quite a thick forest land. It is at the foot of the Western Ghats and on the banks of the River Sauparnika. People generally wash their feet at the River and then proceed to the temple.

The temple has an interesting history. Apparently Adi Shankaracharya, meditated in the Himalayas to Vaishno Devi. When she appeared, he begged of her, to come down to Kerala where he wanted to set up a place of worship for her. She agreed, on the condition, that he would have to lead the way, and not look back to see if she were following.  She said, that if he did look back, then she would stay where she was and not go any further.

So all through the journey, Adi Shankaracharya, kept leading the way, and he could hear the Devi’s anklets , so he knew that she was following. Then when they reached Kollur, the sound of the anklets stopped. So he turned, and as promised, the Devi stopped where she was. After a lot of beseeching, she agreed to come further and set abode in Chottanikkara, near Ernakulam in Kerala. On the condition that another place of worship would be created for her at Kollur where she stopped. Apparently, the Aarti is first done and completed at Kollur before it can be done at the Chottanikkara Temple.

The Kollur Mookambika temple is apparently completely packed by devotees wanting to get their children’s Vidyaarambham done on Vijayadashami day. We did not go on that day, but our driver was telling us about how when he took his son for his Vidyaarambham, on Vijayadashami day, it was so crowded that not a single hotel or lodge was available, they actually stayed with some priest’s family. Apparently this happens quite a lot.

When we went, it was not ‘peak’ season, so it was a wonderful experience. The priest who did the Vidyaarambham was wonderful, he recited the shlokas and translated it for the benefit of anybody who did not understand and it was done in such a pious way, that I just could not take out my camera to take a pic.  It was one of the few times, that I felt rather spiritual and moved. And it is one of the customs, that have a special place in my heart. Although I don’t have pictures to show my daughter, I do hope to take her there again to show her and let her experience it for herself again.

Fish, Anybody?

Before you guys think that I am cooking/serving fish here.. it is just a few pics from our vacation.

We had been to a seaside place near here and everywhere we looked we could see fish. Be it, fish and chips or people fishing or the fish at the Sea life centre.. Here’s a few from the Sealife Centre. I am assuming that not many of you would be interested in Fish and Chips :)

P1020272A Ray fish – which Poohi insists on calling Raymond!

P1020273These fish were almost transparent – not clear in the photograph, sadly.

P1020281Penguins! I love the way they waddle :)

P1020292Look at that naughty seal peaking out :) They were a treat to watch!

P1020302A spider crab which freaked out Poohi – she is terrified of spiders.

P1020309A snake headed turtle – it’s head did look a lot like a snake.

P1020310A bunch of little turtles – they looked incredibly cute as they swam around.

P1020318And finally a sea horse.

Am sure I would have bored you all thoroughly with these, but I don’t know what it is about aquariums.. There is something incredibly peaceful about them.. Must be the green and blue all around. And the fact that nature has such beautiful and diverse treasures. Some so tiny, some huge, all lovely and beautiful in their own way and doing their bit in maintaining the ecological balance. Surely, mankind must the only species which, by its actions does more harm than good….

On a different note, its festivals everywhere! Happy Eid to every one.  Happy Durga Puja and Navaratri! Hope all of you have a lovely festive season!

Onam wishes and dishes

Onam is here, it’s tomorrow! And a lot of us have been waiting for it..

One of the things I enjoy about not working is the fact that I get to celebrate festivals better.  The first time I made a Onasadya was last year – before that, the day would come and go. The last time I actually celebrated Onam was when I was at home with parents, a long long time ago.. Those days, I was not particularly fond of the sadya. I was more fond of north indian cuisine. When I got married to a non mallu, funnily, he turned out more fond of the sadya that I was. But over the years – probably, thanks to the fact that I hardly get to eat it, I have been craving mallu food.

Last year, I did make the sadya and had a friend over for lunch and we had planned to enjoy Onam – but daughter had other plans. She managed to fall and hurt herself and I managed to spend the afternoon in the accident and emergency in the Hospital and my poor friend did not even get to have lunch :( This year, hopefully, it will be different, good different hopefully. I also plan to make the pookalam, the flower carpet, welcoming Mavelli home, which I hope daughter enjoys too.

Today, some of us planned to have a virtual Ona sadya – to make some of you drool :) So here are my contributions… Avial and Pal Payasam. Please hop over to Deeps’ for more info and more yummy recipes!

Avial

Avial is a sort of mixed vegetables. And it has been a favourite of mine since years.

Ingredients

Mixed vegetables  – 2 cups.

Vegetables like carrots, yam, raw mango, green beans, drumsticks, snake gourd sliced into 1 1/2 inch pieces – something like french fries.

Turmeric – 1/2 tsp

grated coconut – 1/2 cup

Green chillies – 2 (I use 2 as the chillies I get here are super spicy – please use according to taste)

Cumin seeds  – 1 tsp

Curry leaves – 2 sprigs

Oil – 1 tbsp

Curd – 2 tbsp

Method

Heat the oil in a thick bottomed dish.

Add turmeric and cook the washed and chopped vegetables  on a low flame until they are cooked.

While the vegetables are getting cooked, grind coconut, cumin seeds, green chillies and curd into a smooth paste.

Once the vegetables are done, add salt and the coconut paste and coconut paste and the curry leaves. Cook until any excess water is evaporated.

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And now for the dessert.

Pal Payasam

Ingredients
Milk 1 litre. (Full Cream Milk)
Sugar 100 gms
Water 1 cup (120ml)
Rice 4 tablespoon (I use Basmati rice)

Garnishing
1. Elaichi 3 powdered – I am not too fond of the taste of elaichi – so I normally avoid it.
2. Cashewnuts and raisins – as per taste

Method

Use thick bottomed pressure cooker with vent.
1. Boil Milk – adding water .
2. Add the washed and cleaned rice in boiling milk.
3. Keep the pressure on and cook on low flame for 35 to 40 minutes. (no whistle required).
4. After the pressure has cooled down open the cooker.
Mix thoroughly, boil for 5 minutes in medium flame.
5. Now add the Sugar and cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Garnish with the dry fruits

Slurp up!

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Here’s wishing all of you a very happy Onam. Onaashamsakal!


Happy Vishu!

Vishu, the Malayali New Year is here! As far as I remember, Vishu was my favourite festival thanks to the ‘Vishukaineetam’, which is the tradition of the elders giving money to the kids:) Now, that was something to look forward to!

Vishu falls on the 14th or 15th of April and the Bengali New Year, Poila Baisakh falls on the same day too. The Tamil New Year falls one day earlier or later than Vishu and Poila Baisakh. When we were in school, I used to wait for Vishu for 2 reasons – the Vishukaineetam and because Vishu was the only festival that I had in common with other friends:) Most of the other festivals like Holi, or Diwali had no correspodning Malayali version :(

Vishu is traditionally celebrated on the first day of the Medam month of the Malayalam Calendar.  The day is supposed to start off with the ‘Vishu Kani’. We normally arrange it all the previousight n and are supposed to see the Vishu Kani the first thing in the morning! There is something wonderful about this  – I can’t describe the feeling..  My mother used to bring us all to the Kani , blindfolded.. My daughter, unfortunately opened her eyes before I could get to her , but she loved the Kani all the same.

The Vishu Kani consists of  all things auspicious – Rice, fresh linen, a tradional mirror, vilaku(lamp), raw mangoes, fruits,a particular kind of yellow flower.. all arranged in the puja room..I wish I could post a snap of our Kani – but this year, I was exceptionally unprepared – so I have just my version of ‘all things auspicious’ .

Traditionally, crackers are burst on Vishu in Kerala. I remember my Dad, recounting these stories.. Unfortunately, I have never had the fortune of celebrating Vishu in Kerala.. I hope to make a payasam at the very least today :)

Wishing all of you a very Happy Vishu, Poila Baisakh, or Baisakhi or just Happy New Year to all of you who are celebrating it today! Don’t you think ,we are all really lucky that we get to celebrate 2 new years in a single year!

PS : Apologies to all of you, for not responding to your comments on my previous posts. I just got back last night and am now down with fever :( So will respond to your comments and read all your posts over the next 2 days..