Today is Rakshabandhan(Rakhi Poornima) and today is also Avniavittam(for the Yajurvedis) celebrated in South India by the Brahmins. On this day, the male members who wear the sacred thread change into a new one. This ritual is known as Upakarma which means Beginning. The sacred thread is known as Poonal, Jahnva, Janeyu, Yagnopaveetam. Offerings of water using a Pancha patra udrani (A special vessel with a special spoon, usually found in all brahmin houses) are made to the ancient Rishis, there are prescribed procedures and mantras to be chanted, this ritual is usually conducted by the family priest or the head of the family who has immense knowledge of the Vedas.
Yagnopaveetam has three threads, each consisting of three strands. These threads represent: Goddess Gayatri (Goddess of mind), Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of word) and Goddess Savitri (Goddess of deed).
One of the important features if this festival is chanting of the “Gayatri Mantras”.
It is said that, chanting Gayatri Mantra can make you feel warm in the coldest of winters.
This mantra contains the spirit and energy of all the mantras.
There is a traditional saying in Sanskrit;
“Gayantam traayate yasmaat Gayatri'tyadhiyate. (This means Whoever sings 'Gayatri' is protected”)
Usually on the Avniavittam day the Gayatri japam is recited 108 times by the Male members of the family.
Below is the Gayatri mantra;
BHARGO DEVASYA DHIMAHI
DHIYO YO NAH PRACHODAYAT “
Which means : (meaning explained below),
We meditate (Dhimahi) on the Spiritual Effulgence (Bhargas) of that Adorable Supreme Divine Reality (Varenyam Devasya), the Source or Projector (Savitur) of the three phenomenal world planes, the gross or physical (Bhuh), the subtle or psychical (Bhuvah), and the potential or causal (Suvah), both macrocosmically (externally) and microcosmically (internally). May that Supreme Divine Being (Tat) stimulate (Prachodayat) our (Nah) intelligence (Dhiyah), so that we may realize the Supreme Truth.
Festival At home.........
The Female members have to wake up early, take bath, sanctify the house and the courtyard, draw Kolam inside and outside the house and start cooking for the lord without tasting the food. The food is offered to the Lord, this procedure is called “Neivedhyam” after which the food is served to the male members after they complete the rituals.
There is a comic line for this festival that goes “Avniavittam Komanam, Pullai Porandhal Shobhanam” which means that this festival has more relevance to the male and the family that has a son (heir to the family), is considered lucky. This festival holds relevance to the males and implicates that a son is a heir to the family.
The food cooked for Avniavittam is special (No onions or garlic are used in the cooking) and it is served on a fresh green banana leaf.
It consists of ;
Rice, Paruppu, Ghee, Sambhar, Rasam, Beans or Cabbage Poriyal(Curry/Podutuval), Kootu, Avial(Mixed vegetables), Pachadi, Chakara Pongal/ Payasam, Paruppu vadai, Pappadams, Banana chips(salted and sweet).Of course no Brahmin meal is complete without the yogurt and there are yet a lot of things that are part of the menu, but these days with single unit families, a lot of things have disappeared but I have tried to retain the staple things onto my menu and strive hard to celebrate every festival as these are the memories that we give our children....so I cooked up a storm......Saddhi chapadu(as they say) and served it all on a Banana Leaf......for that wave of nostalgia....
Here is a recipe of the Chakara Pongal
CHAKARA PONGAL (SWEET PONGAL) There are many ways to make this dish, some use yellow split lentil(moong dal) also in the recipe. But this is a quick and easy recipe, which my mom makes and always a hit at my home.
Raw rice – 1 ½ cup
Jaggery – 1cup
Ghee- 2-3 tbsps
Cashewnuts – 2 tbsps
Raisins - 2 tbsps
Cardamoms – 5
First cook the raw rice as usual. Keep aside. Now in a wok, add 2 tbsps ghee, add in the cashewnuts, raisins and cardamom powder and fry until slightly pink. Now add in the jaggery and about 1 cup water. Wait till the jaggery melts, if there are any lumps crush it with the back of a spatula. When the liquid starts to froth, Add in the cooked rice and stir well with the jaggery syrup. Keep on a low flame. Keep stirring once every 2 mins. As the jaggery starts to thicken, the mixture will become uniform. Add one tbsp of ghee and stir. You will notice that the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pain. This indicates that it is done. If you cook more than this, the rice will become crispy. Mix well, transfer to a silver vessel. Keep a basil leaf (Basil leaf is also known as “Haripriya”(liked by the Lord), read about Tulsi in my blog) on top and offer as Neivedhyam to God. After that serve hot. Enjoy this South Indian delicacy.
We call it Beans podutuval at home and some call it beans curry or beans poriyal.
French Beans – ½ kilo
Mustard seeds- 1 tsp
Udad dal - 1 tsp
Red chillies – 1-2
Grated Coconut - 2 tbsp
Turemric powder – 1 tsp
Asafetida – a pinch
Salt as per taste
Oil – 1 tbsp
Chop the Beans into small pieces, rinse in a colander and keep aside. Heat the oil in a wok and add the mustard seeds, when they start to splutter add the udad dal, when they are slightly pink add in the chillies broken into 2 pieces and fry for a minute. Now add the chopped French beans, turmeric powder, salt to taste and asafetida and mix well, Cook closed with a lid on a low flame and let it cook in its own juices. Open after about 3-4 minutes. Add some water if required. Cook till it is done. Once the beans are dry, add the grated coconut and mix well and cook for another 2 minutes till you get the faint aroma of the coconut. Serve hot with, rice and Sambhar / Rasam (Click on this link for the recipe in my blog)
and Cucumber – Tomato Pachadi for you;
CUCUMBER – TOMATO PACHADI
Cucumber - 1
Ripe red & juicy tomatoes – 2
Curry leaves – A sprig
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp
Asafetida – a pinch
Fresh Thick Yogurt – 5-6 big heaped tbsps
Salt as per taste
Vegetable cooking oil – 1 tbsp
Peel and chop the cucumber into small pieces, Chop the Tomatoes into small pieces also.
Put the chopped vegetables in a bowl, Add thick yogurt and salt as per taste and mix well.
Now in a small pan, take one tablespoon of cooking oil, Add the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds, when the mustard seeds start to splutter, add a pinch of asafetida and the curry leaves, just fry a bit and pour this into the bowl. Mix well and serve with rice and curries.
You can find the recipe for Cabbage Poriyal and Avial here. (Click on the name which is a link to the recipe in my blog)