Yet another post of some traditional Palakkad Iyer festive fare! I know, I try to ensure there’s an even distribution of traditional Palakkad Iyer, Indian and western (read non-Indian) food posts every month but somehow it doesn’t ever work that way. Well, all that matters is good food, and I can promise you that these Karadayan Nonbu Adai are good.
On the 14th night/ 15th early morning of this month, all Tamil Brahmin households (including Palakkad Iyers) celebrated Karadaiyan Nonbu (also known as Savithri Nonbu. This particular festival (or tradition) is celebrated when the Tamil month of “Maasi” gives way to the month of “Panguni”. This year this auspicious time of transition was in the wee hours of the morning of the 15th of March, so it was considered more practical and auspicious to do this between 8:00 and 9:00pm on the 14th instead.
Observed by the women folk of the household, married women pray for the longevity of their husbands and a happy married life, whereas the young girls pray for a good husband. Almost every Hindu community in India has its own version of this tradition.
As an unworldly teenager who felt the need to question everything and thought she knew more than everyone gave her credit for, I used to wonder at the wisdom of a tradition where women prayed for the long life of their husbands but men didn’t do the same for their wives.
Now I’m much older with a greater level of understanding and acceptance, I realise these traditions came about at a time when life expectancy was short and women needed the protection of men to have a place in society.
In many Indian communities, it used to be the norm was that there was usually a 10 to 15 year age gap between men and their wives and the average life expectancy for man was somewhere in the 30s or 40s. This meant that women were usually in their 20s or early 30s when they were widowed, and given the social taboos and superstitions that existed then it was better to be dead than be a widow! So it wasn’t surprising that a tradition of praying for one’s husband’s longevity evolved.
Today, I don’t see anything wrong in observing such a tradition even though it may seem odd to many. Praying for the good health and long life of one’s husband can be unconditional (and doesn’t have to merit a return gesture), or even hoping that one does marry a good man isn’t an odd thought. It is also about observing traditions that give us a particular identity and make us what we are, so that it is not lost to our next generations.
The story behind celebrating Karadaiyan Nonbu is a love story. Savithri was the daughter of King Asrapati. When she was old enough to get married, she chose to marry Sathyavan who lived in the forest and looked after his blind parents. The great sage Narada informed the King that Sathyavan was fated to die within a year and Savithri would soon be a widow if she married him. Despite her father’s entreaties, Savithri married Sathyavan and were happy.
Soon it was almost a year after marriage when Savithri realised that her husband did not have very long to live. She started praying for her husband’s life and making offerings to God with whatever was available in the forest.
On the prophesied day of Sathyavan’s death, Savithri followed him into the forest. He was cutting down wood when he fainted and died. Yama, the Lord of Death, promptly arrived to take Sathyavan’s soul to heaven and Savithri followed him. Yama tried reasoning with her that she could not follow him and her husband as she was still alive, but Savithri refused to leave and kept begging for her husband’s life.
Yama, impressed by her love and devotion to her husband, granted her three wishes provided she wouldn’t ask for her husband’s life. So she asked for her blind parents-in-laws sight to be returned, for her father-in-law to be re-instated as King of the kingdom that was rightfully his, and to be the mother of a 100 sons which Yama immediately granted her all her wishes before he realised he would have to bring Sathyavan back to life for her to be a mother! (Yes, I know there are a lot of loopholes in this story, but I’m just telling it to you like it has been told for a long time now.)
So Kaaradaiyan Nonbu is observed to celebrate Savithri’s courage, persistence and intelligence to thwart Yama and bring her husband back to life. We do this by making Nonbu Adais for offering during prayer. The Nonbu “Adais” or flat cakes look somewhat like doughnuts with a hole in the centre, but are nothing like them. They’re made in both sweet and savoury versions from rice flour, steam-cooked and served with fresh home-made unsalted butter.
The word “Nonbu” means fasting and traditionally women used to fast prior to the ritual worship and break their fast with these adais. I have never seen any member of our family fast for this occasion though the pooja (ritual worship) and making this adais is done every year.
Both Adais are made from rice flour and are supposed to give this festival its name, though this is not something I can confirm. Some people say that it comes from Savithri making these “adais” to offer during her prayers in the forest from wild rice which is known as “kaarai arishi (in Tamil)”. Others say it is the black-eyed beans, called “kaaraimani” (in Tamil), used in these adais.
These recipes for the sweet and savoury adais are my mother’s and this is how we make them. You will find many similar recipes for these adais but perhaps with minor ingredient variations. The traditional way of steaming these adais/ flatcakes is by making them on lightly greased plantain leaf pieces and then steam-cooking them on the leaves. If these are not available, you can use greased idli moulds, small plates or even aluminium foil squares to make and steam cook them.
These adais/ flat cakes can be made from rice or store bought rice flour. I made mine with store bought rice flour.
If you are making the adais from rice, wash and soak about 2 cups of raw rice (not par-boiled or basmati, but any other non-fragrant medium grain raw rice) in water for about an hour and a half, for each variation of adai. Drain the water out and spread the rice out on a clean cotton towel for another hour or so (not in the sun), for it to dry out. Then powder the rice as fine as possible and sieve so that you obtain fine rice flour.
Like most of the traditional fare from my Palakkad Iyer community, these “Adais” are gluten-free. They also contain very little fat and are very healthy provided one is judicious with the butter one eats with them!
There is an “auspicious” time that is calculated using the tradiotional Lunar calendar that is used by our community for religious purposes. During this time, the married women and unmarried girls in the family do a small puja, and offer the festive food in prayer. After this, the Adais are eaten first by the women and children and then offered to the men folk in the family.
You might have noticed that I’m giving away 2 cookbooks for my readers with a shipping address in India. If you would like a chance at winning one of these, please leave a comment at the giveaway post. I see any comments without the city in India where the books could be shipped. Please note that if you do not leave the name of the city in your comment, you will be ineligible for the giveaway.
The giveaway is open till the midnight of the 20th of March, 2011.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.