Tag Archives: ilai sappadu

Pongal In Cambodia – 2014!

Pongal – The Harvest Festival of the Tamils was celebrated on the 14th of January. The four day festivity- Bhogi Pongal, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal has been discussed in https://dosaikal.com/thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival.

This Year Pongal was a simple affair as usual, but just tried showcasing a few traditional things to my daughter.

Concentrated on a basic menu, not indulging into a feast meal (that tuesday being a working day for the father-daughter duo) with –


vaazhai ilai saappaadu – the banana leaf platter


sarkkarai pongal -sweet jaggery rice (dosaikal.thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival) – the special delicacy of the day
maangai sambaar – lentils and vegetables in tamarind, spice gravy (dosaikal.sambar)
avial – mixed vegetables in coconut, yoghurt curry (dosaikal.pongal-in-cambodia)
beans thuvaran – beans dry vegetable curry (dosaikal.beans-poriyal)
maangai pachadi (raw mango and jaggery chutney)
maangai thokku (grated raw mango pickle)
vadai (dehusked black gram fritters)
yoghurt to end the meal
mor milagai for the yoghurt rice (dosaikal.curd-rice-sun-dried-chillies)

and the Cambodian Brown Rice to go with the curries.



We had our meal on the banana leaf (dosaikal.thamizhar-virundhu-feast-of-the-tamils). The different dishes kept on the disposable leaf bowls are only for display. (Special Thanks to friend ‘R’ for letting us cut banana leaves from their trees.)
Dhonnai – disposable eco-friendly bowls

The leaf bowls are called ‘Dhonnai’ – a typical temple meal server. The prasadhams or the food provided to the worshippers in the temples are served in dhonnais – made of different kinds of leaves stitched to form cups (palm leaf, banana leaf, lotus leaf are a few leaves used to make dhonnais). I’d like to highlight here that these are eco-friendly, bio-degradable bowls.



Any festival comes with a package of preparatory processes. Those vary from family to family. A person not familiar with all, but a keen learner that I would like myself to be – I thought of doing some minimal preparations to showcase the festive spirit.

So now to those few things I could make my daughter know that excites us during festivals – in the preparation of the special day –
1. Maavilai Thoranam



Maa is the short form of maangai/mango and ilai means leaf.  Thoranam is a festoon which would be hanged at entrances of homes. During festivals, the thoranam/festoon made with mango leaves would adorn every house.  Any family occasion, thoranams are an important part of home decoration – to tell the clan, community and the village/town that there is an auspicious occasion at their home. Inauspicious occasions call for different thoranams, differently hanged.

I do not know when the earliest reference of thoranam is found in Tamil Literature. But,  ‘Naachiyaar Thirumozhi’ written by Andal, one of the Alvars (Vaishnavite Saints) of the Bhakti movement has these verses (dosaikal.com/maargazhi-maadhathil-ven-pongalven-pongal-in-the-month-of-maargazhi). Andal, the only female Alvar …in the 8th Century AD, mentions the Thoranams/festoons in her poetry!


vaaraNam aayiram suuzha valam seidhu
naaraNa nambi nadakinraan enredhir
pooraNa porkudam vaithu puramengum
thoraNam naatta kana kanden thozhi naan

Here, Andal talks about her dream of getting married to Lord Vishnu. She elaborates the festive occasion in her dream –

Her beloved Lord walks gloriously amidst thousands of elephants; For his majestic arrival,  golden pots (again a symbol of auspicious occasion) are arranged everywhere and the whole of Srivilliputhur – her town is completely decorated with thoranams/festoons.


Maavilai Thoranams are available in the market in Tamilnadu for Pongal celebrations. With numerous mango trees around, I got a few mango leaves from friend ‘P’ (with mangoes too). Made the thoranam with tooth pick and hanged it in the entrance.
2. Karumbu – Sugarcane

After a long search, we could get the whole sugarcane. Pongal would have been incomplete without the true bite of sugarcane.



3. Kolam – traditional drawings with rice flour.


A Kolam is a geometrical line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes.

Though not as flamboyant as its other Indian contemporary, Rangoli, which is extremely colourful, a South Indian Kolam is all about symmetry, precision, and complexity. Due to their complexity, trying to figure out how, exactly, these designs were drawn can be a challenge that some viewers find enjoyable. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolam)


I am not a good artist – in terms of drawings or paintings. But watching amma and aachi draw kolams everyday in front of the house and special kolams in the poojai arai (worship room), my work was to do some kolams for Pongal and Deepavali. During Maargazhi Maadham, the month of Maargazhi (Dec-Jan), when the women display their drawing skills in front of their houses, mine would be a genuine attempt but not certainly one of the best or wouldn’t even be categorised ‘better’. Still the event wouldn’t stop.

Aachi (grandma) who would draw wonderful elephants and birds when we were small as she was a great artist. With such patience and dedication, her kolams were picture perfect  – no compromise. She had her ‘Kola nottu’ – the note for kolams (now with cousin ‘A’, who is again very good at it – so in right hands), with her precious kolams drawn to perfection.

This year, Kolam was there in my agenda of traditions during Pongal. So, I requested my friend ‘L’ in Chennai who was sending me pictures of her beautiful Kolams, to send me some simple ones with procedures too. With improved technology, the step by step procedure reached in seconds and we drew our own kolams with chalk. My little enthusiast colored them!


my version… great artists over there – forgive me please…



and the original by ‘L’



my pongal paanai – pongal pot


Here are a few beautiful kolams done for Maargazhi and Pongal by ‘L’ –



















Thanks ‘L’ for sharing these with me and letting me share with all!

One more important thing in Pongal is the turmeric plant tied to the pot in which Pongal would be cooked. Not available here. Hope to find it for my next Pongal.  There is a saying in Tamil – ‘Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum’ which means  – with the start of the new month of ‘Thai’ – mid January to mid February (after maargazhi), good things would fall in place.


Wish everyone a happy, healthy and success filled Year 2014!


Thamizhar Virundhu/ Feast of the Tamils

Rice being the staple food of the southern part of India, is consumed with various gravies or kuzhambus to go with it. Idlis, dosais, uppumas, idiyappam, aappam, pongal are some of the breakfast and dinner preparations. But, lunch is always rice. Some or many households might have rice for dinner too.

The traditional tamil meal is called ‘Sappadu’. Sappadu means a complete minimim three course meal with rice and curries. ‘Virundhu’ is a feast on special occasions laid for guests, many years ago on the floor but nowadays on tables and chairs but always on Vaazhai Ilai/banana leaf. Vaazhai is Banana. Ilai means leaf in tamil and hence the virundhu sappadu or the feast meal is also called ‘ilai sappadu’. Most of the houses in villages and towns and some in the city would have banana plant in the garden. Before every meal, the suitable leaves are cut, washed and laid for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Steel plates are also commonly used.

Vaazhai Maram/Banana Tree

A lavish feast would have the five main courses below in part I, accompanied by one or more of the part II varieties.

Part I

  1. Rice with Thaalicha Paruppu or Seasoned lentil with ghee
  2. Rice with Sambar with ghee
  3. Rice with Kuzhambu with ghee
  4. Rice with Rasam
  5. Rice with Thayir/yoghurt or an option of more/buttermilk

Part II

  1. Kootu – a stew of vegetables
  2. Poriyal/Thuvaran – dry vegetable curry
  3. Pachadi – combination of yogurt and vegetables or raita in hindi
  4. Fruit Pachadi – generally fruit salad with honey or a fresh fruit jam
  5. Appalam – Pappad
  6. Pickles
  7. More milagai

When the banana leaf is laid, the first item to go on it after wash is salt. Salt symbolises gratitude. ‘uppittavarai ullalavum ninai’ is a very old tamil saying- which means – always remember the person who offered you food.

The order at which each of the vegetable items are placed on the leaf after salt is a ritual in itself – mostly unfamiliar to the younger generation.

After salt and vegetables, Paruppu or Dal is already served on the leaf before rice arrives.

Rice is first had with Thaalicha Paruppu which is seasoned lentil – generally thuvar dal/red gram/pigeon pea seasoned with mustard seeds, urad dal, cumin seeds and green chillies.

Sambar – is a combination of lentil and vegetables prepared with a special curry powder prepared traditionally by evey household.

Kuzhambu – can be any gravy. Even sambar is a kuzhambu. But on a feast platter – generally a spicy, tangy tamarind based curry with specially ground spices called puli kuzhambu, vatral kuzhambu or kara kuzhambu is served.

Rasam is a thin soup not used as an appetiser as popularized outside the south of India and abroad, but is a digestive soup.

After Rasam comes the dessert. There is already a sweet – for example poli, laddu or badushah kept initially on the banana leaf; payasam or the sweet pudding/kheer comes after rasam and before curds/yoghurt. Nowadays, payasams are often kept in a small pudding bowl, so that one can have it anytime inbetween the meal to counter the spices or generally at the end.

Traditionally, payasam is poured on the banana leaf.. In tirunelveli feasts, I have enjoyed payasam with a sprinkle of sweet boondhi and appalam. This is a rare but different combination, stimulating the taste buds with mildly sweet payasam, very sweet boondhi and salted appalam! Rolling your hands in the banana leaf to pick up enough payasam to send inside the mouth is an intricate, complicated task but a very interesting one. One would have already had this practice with rice and rasam – which comes before payasam – trying to hold the edge of the banana leaf so that the liquidy rasam doesn’t flow on the lap!!

Last comes rice and thayir – curds or buttermilk. Curds or yoghurt rice is had with pickle and another exclusive combination for curd rice – more milagai. ‘More’ in tamil means buttermilk. Green chillies soaked in buttermilk, then dried in the sun and stored in bottles. More milagai is prepared by a long process, but available in super markets easily.  To serve more milagai, it is fried in oil and made crisp and these are had with curd rice.

In a normal household, every lunch meal would constitute rice with sambar, rasam and curds with a minimum of one kootu and one poriyal, appalam to go with sambar and rasam, oorukai/pickle mostly a must for curd rice. Appalam and oorukai have become restricted due to health factors. But due to dietary and practical reasons – lesser intake of food, lesser intake of rice products and lesser time to spend in kitchen – the spread varies with each family.

I read an interesting article of a banana leaf meal or ilai sappadu experience in http://agelessbonding.blogspot.com/2010/06/elai-saapadu-experience.html.