Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Feast fiesta

When I flip the calendar page to next month, the first thing I look for is the festival dates. While I do that for holidays like others, another important reason is the feast.

Fe(a)stival is all about the feast for me. As a kid, the mind was always on the food than the god. Inquires about the menu would start on the previous night; whilst the body stayed in puja room, nose would be sent onsite to the kitchen to gather prior details on the delicacies, and the eyes switching between the god and the stove. After joining the job and being old enough to proclaim a non-believer, there was no need to sit in puja room. Just wait for Amma (mom) to prepare the lunch and finish the puja, before I (we – dad, me and bro) launch your lunch feast. So, officially the festival is about feasts now. There were instances where I travelled unreserved in buses and trains for 7-9 hours to native, just to relish the festive specials.

Though every festival (and thanks to Hindu gods, we have so many) menu includes a hot item (usually Pulihora – tamarind rice/puliyogare), a sweet item (generally paramannam (rice kheer)/semiya payasam (kheer) and optionally (for major festivals) second hot item (bajjis) and sweet items (gulab jamoon/bobbattu), some festivals have their trademark food items. The recipe will signify the festival. Based on the recipes, I rank those ‘feast’ivities.

1. Varalaxmi vratam (or Gowri puja) :- That falls on Sravan (Shravan) Fridays and Tuesdays with primary festival on second Friday. Though the festival is for women, I (and my Dad) wait for the vayinams, the polythene bags with Bengal gram, sprouts, nut-powder, pan-leaves. On a rainy monsoon evening in August, return from school and eat roasted nuts/sprouts that are delicious and nutritious – beat that! And on the main day, Amma prepares poornalu (poornam burelu) – I can (could) eat 10-20 of them on a day with 3-4 in lunch :-)

2. Vinayaka Chaviti/Ganesha Chaturdhi: Ganesha is a big food lover and we could pray him well only by offering good food (and later consume it). Undrallu (Modak), Kudumulu (fried modak), Burelu (fried jaggery-rice cakes), Garelu (like wada), Bobbatlu (Obbattu/Puran poli), the list goes on. No wonder, he is praised “O bojja ganapayya” – he fills my bojja (belly).

3. Dasara (Dussehera/Navratri) – A festival of 9 nights and 10 days with a variety of prasadam everyday (and every temple) culminating in feasts on last 3 days coupled with Dasara holidays to school after first trimester exams. What else can I ask? No, we don’t do Navratri fasting. In AP, on each Navratri day, the goddess is in decorated in one avatar (E.g.: Kali, Saraswati, Rajarajeswari, Balatripurasundari, etc.) and a variety of prasadam is distributed – pulihora, daddhojanam (curd-rice type), kesari, sprouts, etc. We kids, used to tag along with the moms’ batch to temples to savor different prasadams.

4. Sankranthi (Pongal) coming in January starts with preparation of Ariselu (rice-jaggery cake) with new rice (rice from that year’s harvest). Sankranthi holidays (after second trimester exams) are enjoyed with a tin full of Ariselu and another tin full of Karappusa(chakralu/murukulu/jantikalu – baap of Kurkure). The final two days - Paramannam and chakra pongali (sweet pongal) with new rice on Bhogi is followed with katte-pongali (pongal) and kalagapulagam curry (curry made with vegetables with condition that knife should not be used – so, generally beans and cucumber are used) on Sankranthi.

5. Ugadi (Telugu new year) falls in March/April makes me look for Ugadi Pachadi (chutney/pickle) – which is a mixture of 6 tastes – salt, sour (tamarind), bitter (neem buds), hot (new red chillies), sweet (jaggery) and vagaru, something between bitter-sour (raw mango). Some fear this pickle, but I am a big fan. Everyone at home takes one or two spoons and the rest is left for me to relish throughout the day. I visit temples and friends’ homes to have different kinds of this pickle. Amma used to scare me about possible dysentery but I never faced it.

6. Sri Ram Navami (the day Rama returned from Ayodhya) falls in April – he is offered Panakam (Jaggary-pepper juice) as prasadam in AP. While everyone limits to one glassful, the rest is for me and my Dad. The rest are warned to be aware of dysentery for excess consumption of this.

7. Deepavali (Diwali) is not a big festival food-wise, but for sweets. Special sweets like gulab-jamoon, kajjikayalu are dedicate for Diwali – fire a bomb, come inside, have a sweet and go out – A cycle to be followed for 2-3 days.

8. Kartika vanabhojanalu, the Kartika lunar month starting next day on Diwali involves group outings (colony/college/school/office, etc.) to a nearby garden/beach with everyone bring some food special – enjoy the trip and share the special recipes in the afternoon group lunch. Kartika Pournami (full moon) and Kartika Somavaram (Monday) bring a fasting for the whole day and a feast in the late evening.

Living in a secular country and having friends from other regions and religions brings chances – like semiya through Ramzan, cakes through Christmas and New Year, Onam, Pongal, etc. But, being a vegetarian cuts down the options like haleem, bakreed, etc. Ok, these are the major festivals, though occasions like marriages and funerals bring in extra opportunities along with usual pujas and vratams by moms and wives. 

However, I should not forget to salute my Amma – who, all these years never found it hard to wake up early on the mornings of the festival and go extra mile to bring all these items to the table while doing pujas and visiting, when I (and my bro) treat it as a holiday and look for an extra hour of sleep. Thank God (no I don’t believe, it’s just a usage), I got a wife who knows cooking :-)

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