Karthigai Vella Pori is one of the sweet dishes we make for the festival of Karthigai Deepam. In North India, and the rest of the world, Diwali is known as the “Festival of Lights”. In my Palakkad Iyer community however, Karthigai Deepam is the Festival of Lights. Traditionally, we do not light lamps for Diwali. We do it for Karthigai Deepam or Karthigai Vilakku celebrated sometime between mid-November and mid-December. This festival is celebrated mostly by Hindus belonging to the states of Tamilnadu and Kerala.
Karthigai Deepam is celebrated in the month of Vrischikam (corresponding to November-December) when the full moon is in line with a six star constellation called Karthigai. We celebrate Karthigai Deepam, by creating beautiful rice flour designs called Kolam and lighting up our homes with oil lamps (deepam). Lit lamps are considered auspicious as they dispel the darkness and bring light, also symbolic of the the triumph of good over evil. The sweets we make for this occasion include Karthigai Vella Pori and Neiyappam (sweet South Indian style rice ebelskivers).
The legend behind this festival has it’s beginning in an ego clash. Apparently, even the Gods can’t escape it. So once, Brahma and Vishnu, two of the Hindu Trinity, had an argument over which one of them was the greatest. Unable to come to an agreement, they went to Shiva. He turned into a pillar of fire and told the one of them who could find the end or the beginning would be declared the greatest. Brahma took on the form of a dove and flew up to look for the beginning. Vishnu took the form of a boar and went looking for the end of the pillar. Neither one was successful; the reason being that God has no beginning or end.
It is believed that on Karthigai Deepam day, Shiva appeared in that form at a place called Tiruvannamalai. Shiva is worshipped here at the temple in the form of an agni/ fire linga. The lamps we light for this festival are also thought to represent Shiva in this form.
For Karthigai Deepam, some people practice a tradition of first lighting the “Gajalakshmi Vilaku”, a lamp carried by a lady standing on an elephant. The smaller oil lamps are then lit from this lamp. The story goes that there was once a princess who has an elephant. She was very attached to it . When she got married and left home, she missed the elephant very much. So she would start lighting the lamps with an elephant lamp, in his memory, every Karthigai Deepam festival.
Let’s get back to the Karthigai Vella Pori. Pori is what we called puffed rice flakes. There are different kinds of Pori or puffed rice. The more common variety is puffed rice or Motta Pori/ Murmura which is used to make a variety of Chivda and Indian street food like Bhel Puri and Jhalmuri. The other is Aval Pori which made from beaten rice flakes. Karthigai Vella Pori is made with Aval Pori. This is usually available in the stores especially just before the festival. You can also make it home by toasting beaten rice flakes (aval) over a low to medium heat till they’re crisp and puff up.
Karthigai Vella Pori is easy to make. It is critical however, to get the consistency of the jaggery syrup right. If the jaggery syrup is too thin, the Pori will become soggy. This Vella Pori can be left as it is which is usually how we make it. It can also be shaped into laddoo like rounds called Vella Pori Urundai. For this, the jaggery syrup needs to be cooked a little further. This video explains the soft ball stage of syrup very well.