Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I witnessed a dry thunderstorm. I could not believe what I was seeing. Long streaks of jagged lightening, illuminating the sky, yet no sign of rain. No growl of thunder. I knew it. The Gods were partying up there.
It is festival season! What a treat it is to be here in India at this time. The time when the streets are even louder than usual with the commotion of drummer boys, music, humongous Ganesha statues, and crowds of brightly dressed Indians. The air is filled with sounds of bells ringing and prayers being sung in everyone’s homes as they conduct their pujas. The thick sweet smell of incense sweeps into your nostrils. Food. Food. Did I mention food? The Gods really know how to throw a party.
I used to fear the Gods when I was younger. The photo of Lord Krishna with that eerie blue face…Lord Hanuman with the puffy monkey cheeks! My mom had told me that if we didn’t sleep straight in our own beds, someone would come chop of our heads and give us an elephant head instead, like Lord Ganesh. Yikes. And then Lord Shiva, dancing atop of that poor little baby. I was terrified.
As I said before, sometimes the things we fear are just the things we don’t know. Now, the more I learn about these noble Gods, the more I love them…One of my favorite pastimes these days is to pop upstairs to share a cup of chai with my landlady and good friend, Sonali, as she enlightens me with Indian history, Hindu mythology, and cooking advice. She knows everything about Lord Shiva, Ganesha, the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, as well as how to make the perfect biscuits, homemade ghee clarified butter, and more! I have come to the right place indeed!
Lord Krishna kicked off the holiday season with his birthday celebrations, Janmashtami. Krishna, known as the God of Love and Joy, is a charismatic, noble, mischievous fellow. As a child, he used to cleverly steal butter, his favorite food, from anywhere he could find. He protected women and gave Arjuna the courage to fight nobly in the inevitable war against his kin.
We all gathered cozily together to hold a special prayer for him at midnight in Sonali’s mini puja room. Our sleepy eyes and yawns were awakened as we rang the bells loudly. We had to be loud enough so that Krishna could hear us! The next day, Sangeeta, our maid, took us late at night to watch the Dahi Handi celebration. A small pot, filled with butter and yogurt was tied high in the sky. All these boys got together like little Krishna’s to make human pyramids, and try to get that butter! When they broke the pot, butter rained on them, and the whole town erupted into music and dance. Exhilarating.
This week was Ganpati, Lord Ganesha’s ten day birthday celebration. Lord Ganesha, the God of Wealth and Knowledge, is the loveable happy son of Parvati, Shiva’s husband. He didn’t always used to have an elephant head, and if you want to know how he came about that, read here. It’s a rather hilarious misunderstanding.
On the first day, the man of the house, in this case, Avneesh, Sonali’s ten year old son, brought Ganesh home. Then for the next five days, morning and night, Sonali, Mansi, Avneesh, Daisy, the dog, and I huddled into the mini puja room, ringing the bells, singing the songs, lighting the incense, coughing in the ashes, and just celebrating Ganesh. After each puja, we got to enjoy some sweet prasad, blessed food. Lucky for me, Ganesh loves sweets. Yum! On the fifth day, we sent Ganesh back to where he came from, by dunking him into a big water bath. Bye bye baby elephant.
FOOD OF THE GODS
Here are some of the things we made to honor Ganesh and make him smile.
Ganesh’s favorite sweet is called modak. It is the most adorable thing you have ever seen. A rice flour dumpling, filled with sweet coconut and jaggery cane sugar, shaped like a little pouch of gold. The kitchen was full of laughs as we made these cuties.
SONALI’S BESAN LADOOS
These are one of my favorites! Sweet round morsels made with roasted chickpea flour, lots of butter, and sugar. Mmm.
1. First, melt the ghee in a large bowl over a low flame.
2. Then add the besan and roast it with the ghee. Sonali kept stirring the mixture in order to evenly roast all of the besan without letting it burn. You will know it’s ready when it turns a golden brown color and fills the kitchen with the smell of buttery chickpeas.
3. Lastly, add the powered sugar and cardamom mixture. Remove from heat.
4. While still warm, shape the dough into small little balls to make your ladoos. If they start to spread out of shape, pop them in the fridge for 15 minutes and then try again.
5. Offer to the gods and then dig in!
Diwali is up next. Stay tuned, or better yet, come join. The Gods will be happy :).
- Under Pressure
- Five to favorite.