The month of “Karkidakam/ Karkatakam” in the traditional Malayalam calendar followed by the people of Kerala for religious purposes corresponds roughly to the period from the 15thof July to the 15th of August in the English calendar. The monsoon rains are at their heaviest during this time. In the old days this month was also referred to as “panja maasam” or the lean month. The heavy rains meant a scarcity of fresh food whether vegetables, grain or fish. In fact, as a young child, I remember the rains being so heavy that we would get suddenly declared short holidays from school!
Back in those days, the rainy season was generally considered an inauspicious time of the year as the predominantly agrarian society came to a standstill during the monsoons. The pouring rains meant there was very little sunshine and light and also brought sickness with it. So Karkidakam was a time when people in Hindu households spent time in prayer and religious practices that they believed would ward off the bad times.
It was also a month for rest and rejuvenation since Ayurveda believes this time to be a time when the human body’s immunity and digestive capabilities are compromised by the drastic change in weather. The rains meant people stayed indoors and away from work, and this was considered the perfect time to use the traditional Ayurvedic treatments to rejuvenate the body. This is done by various procedures, many of which are individually tailored by prescription after detailed consultation with qualified Ayurveda practitioners.
One such monsoon time tradition is the consumption of the “Karkidaka Marunnu Kanji or Oushadha Kanji which translates from Malayalam as Medicinal Porridge which is believed to not only aid digestion, but boost immunity and prevent fevers. This porridge is basically a gruel-like rice porridge cooked with spices and medicinal herbs to helps balance the three doshas in the body.
The prescribed way to consume the Kanji to benefit from it is to have it once a day either for breakfast or as dinner consecutively for seven days at least or if possible in multiples of seven but within the month of Karkidakam only. Heavy, oily and non-vegetarian food is not to be consumed with the Kanji which is usually eaten after mixing in some ghee (a few sliced shallots can be fried and lightly caramelized in the ghee if preferred), freshly grated coconut or coconut milk and a little jaggery.
Certain changes and substitutions can be made to suit prescribed diet restrictions like leaving out the jaggery for diabetics or the ghee to avoid fat intake, cook the Kanji with whole moong to increase protein requirements, etc.
Ayurvedic practitioners are particular that it is advisable to have the Karkidaka Kanji ingredients tailored to individual requirements after consultation if one suffers medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc.
The Karkidaka Kanji is made with about 20-odd herbs, various spices and a variety of traditional rice grown only in Kerala called Navarra rice. In the old days, one would go to the stores that sell Ayurvedic medicinal ingredients, the herbs and spices necessary and make the Kanji from scratch. Nowadays one can buy “Karkidakam Marunnu Kanji kits” in the stores which come with all the ingredients weighed and packed for one seven day course of Kanji for two people.
I’m not a fan of Kanji or porridge of any sort as in my childhood this dish was always associated with fevers, colds and other illnesses. The elders in the family would always advocate Kanji during such times as being easily digested and immunity boosting, but given that I had no appetite anyway, the bland and tasteless Kanji was the last thing I wanted to eat. That aversion to Kanji is so deep seated in my memory that I still haven’t developed a taste for it.
My husband however enjoys the occasional meal of Kanji (the regular kind made with broken rice) and the Karkidaka Kanji too. We usually use the “kits” because that is most convenient for us and this time I joined him in a two week regimen of the medicinal Kanji for dinner. The Karkidaka Kanji Kit that we got came with pre-weighed amounts of the various ingredients and the Navarra rice which had to be mixed according to given instructions and then divided into seven equal parts with each portion enough for two people for one meal.
My kit contained, Kashaaya chooranam (dried medicinal herbs), Oushadha Chooranam (a herb/ spice powder) Njavara rice which had to be mixed with cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and “aashaali”seeds (garden cress or Lepidium sativum)
There’s no recipe with this post but a general set of instructions because there are many different ways of making the Karkidaka Kanji depending on what ingredients you have on hand, even though there are certain basic ingredients that are essential to this Kanji.
As per instructions provided, a portion of the Kashaaya chooranam (dried medicinal herbs) had to boiled in about half a litre of water till it reduced a little in volume. The solids were to be strained out and the liquid to be added to the water in which the Rice and spices were cooked intill the rice was soft with a little liquid remaining in the pot. A portion of the Oushadha Chooranam (a herb/ spice powder) was to be mixed into the cooked Kanji. Lastly, the Kanji was flavoured with some freshly grated coconut or coconut milk and a little powdered jaggery to taste, then eaten while still warm.