My heart is the wick; melting myself
I light a lamp to offer thee
This Tamil garland of knowledge.”
The Festival of Lights, Deepavali, is over for this year. This is followed by a lesser-known South Indian festival, Karthigai. Karthigai is named after the star Krittika, which is in ascendance on December 10-11 this year and captures the sheer joy of earthen lamps lit on a bright full-moon night. Unlike Deepavali which falls on a New Moon, the sacred night of Krittika creates tides of joy in the hearts that celebrate life. Not without reason, the moon is compared to the heart in the Indian tradition.
It is an occasion when the lighting of lamps has a special significance for the Thiruvannamalai temple located at the foothills of Arunachal hill in Tamil Nadu. This hill has traditionally been a symbol of wisdom, associated with enlightened sages like Sri Ramana Maharshi. Thousands of devotees throng to this temple on this day every year to witness the Annamalai Deepam, believed to be Lord Shiva’s appearance in the form of an immense column of fire.
Light is a symbol of knowledge, that which dispels darkness of evil and ignorance. Tamasoma jyothirgamaya, say the Upanishads, invoking the source of enlightenment, to lead us from darkness to light.
South Indians buy new clothes and lamps during Karthigai. Folks wake up early in the morning to take an oil bath. After prayers, they seek the blessings of elders, light lamps, and exchange gifts. Fireworks follow and the finale—sweets to sweeten the soul.Karthigai Pori and Appam are among the favorites of the mouth-watering delicacies made on this occasion. They are specially liked because they are light on calories, mild to modern taste buds, and above all, easy to make! Try them out this season.
Karthigai Pori, puffed rice balls, is a delicious sweet made of dark jaggery called Pahu vellam and rice flakes.
4 cups puffed rice flakes (pori)
2 tablespoons grated dry coconut
1½ table spoons roasted peanuts
2 cups dark jaggery* (also known as gur)
1 teaspoon powdered cardamoms
Mix all the dry ingredients in a deep bowl, except jaggery, and set aside.
Pour just enough water in a saucepan to cover the jaggery and heat till it dissolves completely. Strain the solution through a fine sieve to remove any dirt and residue. Rinse the saucepan and pour the syrup solution back in it. Boil briskly until a string consistency is reached when tested in cold water.
Pour the thick syrup, a little at a time, into the bowl containing puffed rice flakes and the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. If there is excess syrup, leave it in the saucepan.
Press the mixture with your hands to make big balls while still hot.
Cool and keep in an airtight container.
A word of caution—when shaping the balls with hot syrup and rice puffs or flakes, keep a bowl of cold milk at hand. This hot mixture has a tendency to stick on the hands, so you may wish to rub on some ghee before making the balls.
Variation: Use puffed rice (Arisi pori) instead of puffed rice flakes. Omit coconut.
1 cup flour (maida)
¼ cup of rice flour
4 cardamoms, powdered
½ cup powdered jaggery
Pour the jaggery powder in cold water and set aside for 10 minutes. Sieve the mixture to remove impurities.
Add the flour, rice flour, and cardamom powder to this mixture. The batter should be thick in consistency like pancake mix.
Heat oil in a frying pan.
With a deep ladle, pour small amounts of batter into the hot oil and deep fry.
Remove from the pan when the appams are dark brown.
Variation: You can add a large mashed banana into the batter for a different flavor. Appams can also be made with rice powder alone.
Celebrating Indian festivals in America may be a challenge, especially if it falls on a working day. But continuing to uphold our tradition is an honor. Best wishes for a knowledge-based Karthigai!