So much of our traditions and festivals are food centric – specific dishes for specific festivals and very firm ideas regarding which was the favorite food of which God. And then the regional variations – each Gog getting a different favorite in different parts of the country!!! My mother, is steeped in these traditions and finds my often casual attitude, a little bewildering. Thiruvathira is one of the important festivals in Kerala which she has always observed. It falls on the full moon day of the Malayalam month of Dhanu (mid-December to mid-January. She had gone through her calender and let me know in advance that it falls on December, 18th and the Gods (in this case Shiva) would expect ‘kali’ and ‘puzhukku’ as prasadam.
The day is the birth nakshatra of Lord Shiva and celebrated as his birthday. Women fast for their husbands (or for getting one!) – a kind of southern “Karva Chauth”. It is celebrated with great gusto by the Namboodiri, Kshatriya and Nair communities. There are specific songs and dances for the occasion, with the folk lyrics telling tales of lovesick Parvati, her longing and penance for Lord Shiva’s affection and Shiva’s might and power. It is also celebrated in all Shiva temples and is one of the high points in the calender at Chidambaram – the temple where the deity is Shiva as Nataraja. My mother relates strongly to her Kerala roots and though I doubt if the Pattars ever joined in the dance and singing, the festival is an important one for them.
Kali is a traditional sweet made from rice and gud – gud is preferred over sugar in many sweets of this region. Raw rice is roasted till reddish brown, ground to a daliya consistency and cooked in the pressure cooker. Gud is melted in water and the cooked rice is stirred in along with some grated coconut, cardamom and ghee, till it is a halwa consistency.
For the puzhukku, whole green gram is cooked along with 8 vegetables which should have the seasonal tubers – colocasia (chembu), yam (chena), Chinese potato (koorka), sweet potato (madhurakizhangu), greater yam (kachil) along with long beans (vanpayar) and raw plantain fruit (ethakaya). These are cooked with a thick paste of freshly ground coconut and red chillis.
The Malayalee stores are efficient in getting the requisite ingredients on their shelves in time for every festival. But between a delayed flight coming into Delhi on 16th and the foggy trip to NOIDA on 17th, I could not reach the shop. So it was improvisation all the way – the puzzukku got made with 8 vegetables (red and black carrots, potatoes, yam, sweet potatoes, colocasia, banana and long beans) and the kali ( a first fro me) came out perfect. Amma was, of course, thrilled to offer the appropriate prasadam for the day. I, too, felt the power of keeping these traditions alive.