Navratri is here again (“Nav” meaning nine and “Ratri” meaning night), the festival that reveres and celebrates the nine forms of the Hindu Godess Durga or Shakti (energy of the universe) over a period of ten days. The festival is celebrated according to the traditional Lunar calendar and starts on the new moon day falling between September 15thand October 15th every year.
There are different legends associated with the celebration of Navratri but they all celebrate the triumph of all that’s good over evil. One is that of the Godess Durga who destroyed the demon Mahishasura after a battle that lasted nine nights. Another is the belief that Navrthri celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana.
Different states and communities in India celebrate the nine days of Navratri and the tenth day of Dussehra differently. I understand that Navratri is traditionally celebrated in Goa as well but it looks like it is something that is celebrated in very few Hindu households if at all and all the festivities happen in the Shanta Durga temples because I’ve only come across public celebration of this festival here by non-Goan communities.
The more popular festivities associated with Navratri is the Garba or Dandiya Raas dance by the Gujrathis, Ram Leela performances in the North, and Durga Puja in the eastern part of India especially West Bengal, Orissa and Assam. In my South Indian community of Palakkad Iyers, Navrathri is an important festivity. Like the rest of the country, it is a festivity that centred around women and is celebrated by them. While there is a lot of religious significance to the celebrations, it is also an important social occasion and a community based festival.
We traditionally celebrate all ten days of Navratri by first of all putting up a “Bomma Kolu/ Golu”. Of course, there’s a lot of food involved and every evening, on all nine days, the women and children mostly visit other houses in the community to “check out the Kolu competition” in all the houses in the neighbourhood, and also partake of the evening’s offering of “neivedhyam” which is a ritual offering of food made to God before it is distributed to family and friends.
Every evening of the nine days, some item of food is cooked in large quantities to be offered to Goddess Durga after which it is shared with family members as well as well-wishers who drop in for a visit. This “neivedhyam” is rarely eaten there but invariably is packed into little packets which are taken back home. While young boys are allowed to make these evening visits to the neighbours and friends’ homes, it is usually the women and young girls who go visiting. The menfolk just sit back at home and look forward to opening being pleasantly surprised by the contents of the little packets of “neivedhyam” brought home.
The “neivedhyam” that we make for the first nine days of Navratri alternate between sweet one day and savoury the next with it invariably being sweet on the one Friday (considered particularly auspicious) during this period. On the ninth day of Navratri, we celebrate “Saraswati Pooja or Ayudha Pooja” and on this day the “neivedhaym” tends to be a little more elaborate. ON the tenth and final day, we offer “Panakam” as part of the neivedhyam and the festivities come to an end.
All the dishes that are traditonally that are made in our community for Navartri “Neivedhyam” are simple and require very little time and effort but that does not dtract from the flavour. The savoury dishes are usually varieties of “Chundal/ Sundal” which are made with lentils or dried beans or lentil fritters. The more commonly made sweet dishes include sweet versions of Sundal but made with jaggery and flavoured with cardamom, Kesari, a pudding made with semolina and saffron and Payasam. Whichever way one looks at it, there is a predominant use of lentils and beans during this period.
One sweet I usually make for “neivedhyam” during Navratri is Pottukadalai Urundai or Laddoos. Pottukadali is the Tamil word for dry roasted chana or whole black gram (dark brown/ blackish coloured smaller chickpeas and not the regular big ones also called Garbanzo beans). They’re known as “Daliya Dal or Chana Dalia” in North India and the dry roasted version of this is a very popular snack in India.
In South India, Pottukadalai is also used to make sweets, added to savoury and spicy snacks like “Mixture/ Chivda” (the Indian version of trail mixes), or in cooking to make chutneys. Pottukadalai is used wither in its split form, or it can be roasted and milled into flour depending on the recipe it is used in.
Here it is used in its split form. This is a simple recipe that uses just 5 ingredients but what is important here is cooking the jaggery syrup to right stage. If the syrup is not thick enough, you cannot shape the mixture into balls, and if the syrup gets cooked too much then the balls will be very hard. The other thing where this recipe can pose a few problems is that it is necessary to shape the mixture into balls when it is still very hot. If it cools down, you can still eat it as a sort of crumble which is also fine.