The word Paanakam always reminds me of Sashti. Sashti is the sixth day of new moon and the sixth day of the full moon. Lord Murugan, the God of the Tamils is worshipped specially on Sashti day. Every month has its Sashti days. Lord Murugan is worshipped with special poojais in temples and people fast on those days. Skandha Sashti is the one of the biggest worship days of Lord Murugan, which falls in the month of Aippasi (October-November). It is Murugan defeating the demon Surapadhman or in simple terms – victory of good over evil. Murugan is also called Skandan, so this is skanda sashti!
The defeat of Suran by Lord Murugan is commonly known as Surasamharam - ofcourse a Sanskrit word. In Tamil, we call it Suran Thalai Vettu - colloquially. It actually means Chopping Suran’s Head.
The war is re-enacted in all six major Murugan temples – arupadai veedu- in tamil. Tiruchendhur, near my home towns Tirunelveli and Thoothukkudi is the shore temple where the battle is believed to have happened in pre-historic times. This temple and sashti are therefore very close to my heart. It is in Tiruchendhur that the fierce battle of the demon in various forms and Lord Murugan is re-enacted in a very big scale. http://murugan.org/temples/tiruchendur2.htm
Skanda Sashti Day falls on 31st October 2011.
Not getting into too many religious notes, Skanda Sashti Viradham or Fast always ends with Paanakam - the Lemon and Jaggery energy drink. The fast lasts for six days, starting from the first day of the new moon in the tamil month of Aippasi - starting mostly on the day after Deepavali. Having just one meal of rice and coconut chutney and fruits as breakfast and banana and milk for dinner, I used to very religiously observe viradham/fast when in school. The elders would have a stricter fasting rule. Paanakam also used to be my thirst quencher at school. The sixth day would go without any meal and just fruits and liquids with jaggery – coffee with jaggery and no sugar allowed. At night, the time when ‘surasamharan – the defeat’ is completed at Tiruchendhur temple, we would do special poojai for Murugan at home in Chennai, and have a cold shower – a compulsory hair wash – then open the fast with Paanakam. The hair wash symbolises getting rid of all evil physically and mentally – with the defeat of the demon. The Paanakam specially at that moment, would taste like real amutham - the nectar of the Gods – running down cool into the starving tummy! This is supposed to be an instant energy drink specially after a fast.
It doesn’t mean we start having our meal after Paanakam. It is only Paanakam and fruits for the night. After defeating the demon, Lord Murugan marries Devayanai the next day – it is called the Thirukkalyanam - or the sacred marriage. After six days of fasting, every family has a feast on Lord Murugan’s marriage – with six kinds of mixed rice delicacies – Kalavai Saadham or Viragina Saatham which literally means mixed rice. Some also call it Chitrannam. Lemon Rice, Tamarind Rice, Coconut Rice, Ven Pongal (salted rice and lentil), Sarkkarai Pongal (sweetened jaggery rice) and seasoned yoghurt rice are the six varieties – some might also substitute with other mixed rice varieties (would be posted shortly). We wait for the morning to come, have a hair wash – the auspicious day being the wedding day – stand in for the poojai - and just get ready to have the special wedding feast meal on Banana leaf! (For more on Banana Leaf Meal read – http://dosaikal.com/2011/10/14/thamizhar-virundhu-feast-of-the-tamils/)
Belief in God or No belief in God – doesn’t matter.. The culture of accepting Gods to be one in the family and feeling oneself part of HIS family just fascinates me!
Now to Paanakam! Not only on special occasions, this drink can be had anytime, anywhere.
the south indian lemonade!
Ingredients (makes 2 glasses)
- vellam- powdered/grated jaggery – 1/2 cup
- elumicham pazham/juice of one lemon
- Elakkai podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
- chukku podi/dry ginger powder – 1/2 tsp
- salt – a pinch
- water – as required
Method of Preparation
- Dissolve jaggery in water
- Strain the liquid for mud in jaggery
- Mix cardamom powder and dry ginger powder
- Add the lemon juice
- Add a pinch of salt
- Check for taste and add water if required
- Add more jaggery or lemon juice as preferred
- Paanakam is ready.
- Jaggery provides glucose and therefore the body gets instant energy
- Cardamom powder re-vitalises the taste buds
- Dry ginger induces hunger; It also helps in digestion, especially after a fast
- I have used palm jaggery instead of sugarcane jaggery
- More on sugarcane jaggery and palm jaggery – read http://dosaikal.com/2011/08/26/aval-sarkkarai-pongal-rice-flakes-jaggery-pongal/.
After so much of sweets and oily savouries for deepavali, there has to be some kind of a repair mechanism or de-stressing of the digestive system. There is need for some destressing technique for minds too! Just think back the number of somasis, murukkus or polis and bowls of payasams or halwas that would have gone in during the celebrations and that alone is sufficient enough to be stressed about the calories and fat that has gone into the system. But, not to worry! There is always a way to come out of it. Though burning those calories is not my arena, de-stressing and cleaning the system by home remedies can fit in here.
After Deepavali and the sweets and snacks along with it, Deepavali Legiyam is something to end the jaw breaking culinary experience and to set right the stomach abuse in these days of celebration. It is a semi-thick paste made of various herbs – mostly simple home medicines. Usually, this legiyam is made along with the sweets and savouries and in the morning of Deepavali, a gooseberry sized ball of legiyam is forcefully given to everyone, to keep the system clean. In north India, Chawanprash is more popular – this is a kind of legiyam.
It is amazing and even astonishing to know the knowledge our ancestors possessed on the usage of herbs, to take care of simple as well as major ailments. Especially siddha maruthuvam - Siddha Medicine – where the Siddhars have documented the ailments and remedies in the form of tamil poems on palm leaf. Wikipedia says, ‘The Siddha medicine is one of the oldest medical systems known to mankind . This system of medicine originated from South Indian Tamil traditional medicine’. For more details on Siddha Medicine – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddha_medicine.
Now, ‘Naatu Marundhu’ or the traditional tamil medicine is not Siddha Medicine. It might be a simplified version of home remedies, transferred through generations by the elder members of the household. Hence, it is also called Paatti Vaithiyam or grandma’s home remedies. There are Naattu Marundhu or traditional medicine shops which sell these home remedy herbs – the simplest of them are mostly available at home.. manjal-turmeric, milagu-pepper, chukku-dry ginger, omam-carom seeds and so on. Whenever there is cough or running nose, indigestion or acidity – these handy helpers help in getting relief from such minor problems. Getting relief by taking precautionary home remedies could save a lot of pain and time. These herbs also boost immunity in children.
As I have always respected the wisdom of our siddhars, I adore the warmth and affection of the grand old grannies who have been passing on the traditional tamil home remedies without demanding any appreciation! If our grannies passed their experienced wisdom mostly unknowingly and as part of the day-to-day routine, there is pressure on the present middle ager to compulsorily impart granny’s knowledge to the younger ones. Or else, like other ancient richness, this paatti vaithiyam would also have to be popularised by the west to be aped by our own people. Regarding this, I came across an excellent piece of work, while I was searching for an english word for Legiyam - http://sundar72.blogspot.com/2010/04/thanga-bhaspam-velli-bhaspam-legiyams.html.
Now, Legiyams are time-consuming, kashayams or kada in hindi, are easier. Legiyams are pastes and kashayams are medicinal drinks – magical drinks even. They are concentrated syrups made of a combination of herbs and household spices. Though, I am not used to preparing a deepavali legiyam, I always make different kinds of kashayams to treat minor ailments of the whole family. This trust worthy kashayam is very useful in cleaning the bowel and helps in better digestion. Because of the ingredients, this might also help in treating simple cold and cough. (The kashayam for cough and cold is a little different.)
Kashayam for better digestion
Ingredients (sufficient for one person)
- milagu podi/black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
- chukku podi/dry ginger powder – 1/2 tsp
- manjal podi/turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
- athimadhuram (available in tamil -naatu marundhu kadai) – 1/2 tsp
- omam/carom seeds – 1/2 tsp
- seeragam/cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
- perunjeeragam/fennel seeds – 1/2 tsp
- kothumalli vidhai/coriander seeds – 1/2 tsp
- vellam/jaggery - 1 tsp (or acc. to taste)
- water – one glass
Method of Preparation
- Take one glass of water (nearly 250 ml) in a vessel and turn on the stove
- Add all the powders – pepper, dry ginger, turmeric, athimathuram
- Crush or dry grind all seeds – carom, cumin, fennel and coriander – and add to water
- Dissolve jaggery in 1 tsp water and strain jaggery water into the kashayam vessel
- Boil till the while liquid reduces to half the quantity
- Strain it and it is ready to drink.
- If dry ginger is not available, one can use mashed fresh ginger
- Crushed black pepper is preferrable than the pepper powder from market
- Instead of jaggery, honey can be added after straining hot kashayam
- Some might also add spices like jathikkai/nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. I make it with the above things
- If athimathuram is not available, one can skip it.
- Do not drink kashayam too hot – it might cause hiccups
- Do not drink water for atleast 1/2 an hour after any spicy kashayam – it might lead to loose stools
- I have just followed aachi’s (grandma) instructions on the above two important points!
Simple ailments can be taken care at home. A normal cough, running nose or sore throat in the initial days, a mild stomach upset, headache, vomiting due to intake of unsuited food and some others can be dealt with herbs in the spice rack. These are some of those granny’s home remedies which I have always used for my family.
But, do keep in mind that these are not remedies for unknown ailments or symptoms of diseases. Anyone allergic to any of the ingredients should avoid using them. If suited, these have no side effects, since these ingredients form part of the day-to-day cooking.
Seeraga Thanneer or Cumin Seed Water
The tamil word for Cumin/Jeera is Seeragam. The word can be split into two – Seer+Agam. Seer means good state or condition and agam here is the inner body. The spice that sets the inner body in good condition is called Seeragam. Siddha and Ayurveda systems mention that seeragam reduces stomach aches and indigestion and heaviness of stomach. It also sets appetite right and purifies blood. It has vitamins B, C and E and iron.
Whenever there is a stomach upset, indigestion which might lead to loose motion or vomiting – try this. Even on normal days, not only to avoid the above problems but also to maintain a healthy system, Seeraga Thanneer can be had instead of water.
- water – 1 litre
- seeragam/cumin seeds - 5 tsp
Method of Preparation
- Boil 1 litre of water
- Turn off the stove
- Wash cumin seeds if muddy
- Add cumin seeds to the vessel of water
- Close with lid
- Let it cool
- Each time you drink cumin water, keep draining the seeds
- Let the cumin seeds remain in the left over water
- If one litre seems too much, you can make half the quantity initially
- One tsp cumin seeds to one cup water would also make warm cumin tea