Yesterday was Sri Rama Navami, the ninth and final day of the nine-day Vasantha Navarathri festival. One typically makes dishes such as Paanakam, neer mor (thin spiced buttermilk), payasam, vadai, vada paruppu (also known as kosambari/kosamari) etc. Paanakam is a simple juice of jaggery and water infused with the flavour of cardamoms. But it takes on a divine aura because it is normally prepared for occasions.
PS: I was trying to click pictures at night with my dad’s P&S camera and the battery dies after this first click. I know panakam deserves a much better picture. Will try to put up a better one in the next day or two!
In addition to being prepared for Rama Navami prasadams, Paanakam is also said to be Lord Aiyappa’s (the son of Lord Shiva and Vishnu in Mohini form) favourite. He is generally depicted as sitting atop a flight of 18 steps. Sabarimalai in the southern Indian state of Kerala is one the most famous Aiyappa temples. It is open for only a few days every month and attracts huge crowds. The most important part of visiting this temple is the fact that devotees undergo severe ‘vratam’ or fast for 40 days prior to visiting this temple that includes abstinence from many things like alcohol, not eating food that is not prepared the same day, not eating out, no onion or garlic, not wearing shoes even when you step out of the house, not wearing leather, wearing simple black, blue or orange clothes, sleeping on the floor and offering prayers to the Lord before eating each meal.
These days of course people follow a watered down version of the fast to accommodate modern lifestyle. So, restrictions on eating are normally not followed. A lot of people observe the fast for just a week or so before their pilgrimage, instead of the full 40 days.
My husband is a devotee and visits the temple once each year. He follows most rules pretty strictly except wearing shoes and using leather. The pilgrimage itself is a rigorous one, with devotees walking up and down seven hills covering a distance of either 5 km (if you take the mostly motorable route) or 48 kilometers (the traditional full route through forests) barefoot with a bundle of offerings for the Lord over their heads. On the day you set out for the pilgrimage, the devotees perform a puja. A picture of Lord Aiyappa is kept atop a big toy-sized flight of 18 stairs (ours is about 2 ft tall) to recreate the way it is in the Sabarimala temple. Hymns are chanted while lamps are lit on each of the steps. It looks very divinely beautiful at the end of the puja. Here are some pictures taken during the puja at home when my husband and a few other relatives went earlier this year.
Paanakam is a favourite of Lord Aiyappa and is normally prepared during this puja. It is also prepared during Rama Navami. It tastes great and is a good thrist quencher ideal for the summers. Since it uses jaggery instead of sugar, it is much better for our system too.
PS: This was to have been one of my entries during Week 2 (Traditional Dishes) for April’s month-long Blogging Marathon, but I’m ending up posting this for Week 3 (Seasonal Dishes)
There are no exact quantities in this recipe, just approximations and you can play around with the ingredients, adding ore of this or less of that to come up with your own version
Jaggery – 50 gm
Water – ½ litre
Cardamom powder – ¼ tsp
Sukku (dry ginger powder) – ¼ tsp or Fresh ginger – 1 inch piece
Dissolve jaggery in a cup of water and add in the rest plus cardamom and sukku and you’re done!
In case you’re using fresh ginger instead of dry ginger powder, just smash the ginger piece with the back of a cup and add it to the concoction.