Photos by Apurva Nargundkar
One of my earliest memories of frantically searching for something to read is from one of the many times when we stayed with amma our paternal grandmother, when our parents had to go away for some reason. Having recently learnt to read complex words and sentences, I was a precocious bilingual reader. A locust for reading anything from labels, brochures, manuals to articles, stories and comics, I would read on and on whether or not I understood it all.
Finding nothing interesting, I resorted to browsing through the almanac called “Datey panchang”. Flipping through the landscape style, impeccably fine printed book and feeling very important, I picked up bits and pieces, sunrise and sunset, dates of festivals and some zodiac forecasts- much before Linda Goodman came on my scene!
Then my eyes fell on ammas’s religious books and discovered a whole treasure trove of stories there! There were stories from the puranas, the story of Sadhu the merchant, the story of the Sun god Aditya and his wife Ranubai, Seetala Saptami, Sola Somvar and the Shukravar Katha.
Tucked away in the well-thumbed pages of the Shukravar Katha Sangraha, with its thick print and large font text on yellowing pages smelling of the incense from the altar, was a picture of Goddess Jara Jeevantika. It was a pen and ink sketch of a female figure clad in traditional nine yard saree, surrounded by little girls in ikat skirts and blouses, called ‘parkar polka’ and little boys in Victorian style Eaton suits and embroidered silk caps. It was such a heart-warming and comforting sight to my little self who had already begun to miss my mother!
The Jara Jeevantika vrat was a festival of children observed for their well being and safety during every Friday during the Hindu month of Shravan. Mother would fast during the day and break it only in the evening after a pooja and naivedya offering to the Goddess and after celebrating us children with an aarti. She would prepare the most delicious fare, savouries and sweets like sheera, puran poli, kheer and kadbu! Going home from school on a Friday would be most exciting! Our hunger pangs would be intensified with the anticipation of the feast that lay ahead of us. And did we enjoy being the centre of attention on Friday evenings when mother fussed over us and pampered us with goodies.
As I grew up, I understood the significance of this feast, Mother’s way. The month of Shravan saw heavy rains which brought with them illnesses such as dysentery and other waterborne diseases, malaria, coughs and colds, influenza and children were easy prey in the days of high infant mortality. The rains also brought out snakes, scorpions and other insects that could kill people, especially young children with their venomous bites. Jara Jeevantika was considered the mother goddess, the epitome of mother hood. Praying to her was a mother’s way of protecting her kids.
She was not one bit superstitious, but Mother observed this Friday feast very religiously long after these dangers had ceased! She explained she wanted to wish us well and celebrate us as well as pray for our well being. And I believe the strong, positive vibes she sent us reached their mark! Conveying one’s feelings is just as important as having them! ‘Show and tell’ is an absolute must when it comes to expressing our love...
Mother inspired us to follow suit- whether we make puran poli and kadbu or not, we do make it a point to meet and celebrate our kids and even pets with a pooja, aarati and a feast! Cat, Sharad, Ginger, Rajah and Shadow, our family pets, have enjoyed this blessedness along with all family kids!
And I am sure a foodie dog like Rajah actually knew just like the kids that Shravan Shukravar was a veritable FryDay!
This is a dish popular in Maharashtra and Karnataka. It’s like a gujiya, made with whole wheat flour pastry and a chana dal and jaggery/sugar puran. Although fried, it is still served with dollops of ghee!
For the puran stuffing
2 cups chana dal
2 cups soft Kolhapur jaggery
½ cup white sugar
1 cup fresh grated coconut
¾ cup milk powder or khoya
1 ½ tbsp poppy seeds, dry roasted and coarsely ground
1 tsp cardamom powder
¾ tsp ground or grated nutmeg
For the pastry
2 ½ cups wheat flour
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup oil/ghee
Water to knead
Pick, wash and cook the chana dal in a pressure cooker. When done, drain in a colander. Do not discard the water, it can be used in dals, soups or in a clear soup we make called ‘katachi amti’.
Grate the jiggery and grind the chana dal and jaggery in a kitchen food processor or what is called the ‘puran machine’ till all the grain is mashed and the dal and jiggery get mixed. Remove the mixture in a thick bottomed pan. Heat the mixture and add the coconut, sugar, milk powder/ khoya, cardamom and nutmeg powders, and coarsely ground poppy seeds. Mix well and when the sugar melts, remove from heat and cool. It should turn into a soft doughy matter that can hold its shape.
Make smooth and stiff but pliable dough using the wheat and plain flours, salt, sugar, poppy seeds and the shortening (oil/ghee). Keep covered for at least half an hour.
Shaping and frying the kadbu
Divide the dough into equal balls the size of large marble or a gooseberry. Roll them into discs with thicker centres than the sides. Fill a tablespoon full of the puran mixture and fold the disc into half. Now you will have a crescent shape. Press the edges of the disc together and starting from one end, press a portion and fold it over, repeating this till the end, resulting in a decorative edge as seen in the photos.
Make a few and slow fry them in oil till golden brown. Continue to make more while these are getting fried. Keep the folded kadbus covered with a damp cloth till it is time to fry them.