National Curry WeekThe other day I learned of National Curry Week in the U.K. This year, it runs from October 7 through 13. Its mission is to promote this cuisine and raise money to fight poverty in South Asia as well as worldwide. Restaurants across the U.K. create special menus for diners to try. What I have learned is that this event (or series of events) raises money for many different charities as well as raises awareness of the conditions of the world’s poor.
 

What a wonderfully creative concept to help protect humankind. Check out this link to learn more:  http://www.national-awareness-days.com/national-curry-week.html

 

Cheers!

 

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One occasionally reads about Indian festivals at which people dress in costumes, musicians play traditional elephants and huge decorated elephants march majestically down the street. I was always impressed by these stories and the photos that accompanied them but, never in my wildest dreams, thought I would find myself in the middle of one, or two.

 

The drive to Palakkad from Calicut was supposed to take four hours so I sat back in my seat for a long drive through small towns and farmland. After a pleasant ride I saw the strangest thing – an elephant climbing out of the back of a truck. What? I asked the driver to stop so I could watch for a few minutes. After at least 20 or 30 photos, I got back in the car so we could get to Palakkkad.

 

Unloading an elephant from a truck.

Unloading an elephant from a truck.


 
A few minutes later three of these dramatic tuskers in formal parade regalia walked by our car on their way to the local temple. Apparently the Mannarghat/Karimba Temple was holding its annual Ayeppam “Utsaram” Festival. Many people were accompanying the elephants to the temple while more awaited their arrival in the temple yard. As the elephants entered, they were greeted by a group of men dressed in white dhoti and playing various drums and horns.  I made my way to the back of the musicians and enjoyed the sights and sounds. I was amazed at the wondrous sights and sounds. After the performance ended I walked back to our car in a daze.

 

Elephants near Palghat are ready for the festival to begin.

Elephants near Palghat are ready for the festival to begin.



I thought my day had been made: Kerala temple festival, traditional music, and three caparisoned elephants on parade! I was very happy as we made our way to Palakkad. I have to confess that we were running a bit late but the traffic did back up due to the reasons I listed above; I wasn’t the only spectator.

 

After a delightful visit and delicious luncheon, we headed back to our hotel in Calicut only to have one more unsurpassable elephant encounter…

 

Half way back to Calicut the traffic on the main road (only one lane in each direction) came to a complete stop. Our wonderfully patient driver told me there was another festival ahead and the car would be stuck for a while. My husband and I jumped out of the car and joined all of the people walking toward the action. As we approached, the sides of the road were lined with vendors selling snacks and trinkets. People were dancing in the street wearing colorful headdresses and costumes; percussionists dressed in white kasavu mundu (traditional garb) played and danced. Hundreds of others watched the excitement with their children.
  

Drummers playing traditional music before the festival.

Drummers playing traditional music before the festival.


 
Soon the main attraction arrived. Yes, you guessed it, elephants. All of them were males with huge, magnificent tusks. This time, eight huge caparisoned elephants marched their way down the street toward the temple. Apparently it is a really big deal to have so many elephants at one event. Some of them are owned by temples, others owned privately. Elephant owners are proud to lend their animals and keepers for the day.
  

Caparisoned elephants are ready for their parade near Palghat.

Caparisoned elephants are ready for their parade near Palghat.

 

 

After the elephants passed by on their way to the Temple Utsavam, young men brought out their stereos and loud speakers loaded in the back of their trucks so dancing in the street could begin. One thing I noticed was how friendly the people were and how they wanted to include me in their celebration. Everyone was so excited by the celebration that the police had a challenge to control the crowds and get the traffic moving again. It took a while for our driver to get to us but we finally found him and headed back to the hotel.

 

 

I had a full day, visiting relatives and three pachyderm sightings in different locations along the Palakkad Highway. I wonder if I had seen some of the same elephants in multiple locations or if I had really seen 12 different elephants. I guess I will never know the answer – it is one of the mysteries of life.

 

 

What an amazing day!



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Happy New Year! Don’t forget that there is still time to make your New Year resolutions. Perhaps you might consider something easy like:

 

  • Cook more Indian food. – This is easy to achieve simply by preparing my special monthly recipes.
  • Learn to cook Indian food. – This is easy if you read my previous post.
  • Try eating some Indian food. – Ok, this is really easy to achieve! If you don’t want to cook, go to an Indian restaurant or buy frozen Indian entrees at an Indian grocery store. Please don’t eat the Indian food from the American chain stores because their recipes have been altered to satisfy American palates.

 

Stay tuned for more adventures in all things Indian from Kachi’s Kitchen in 2013!

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Karthigai Deepam is a festival of lights that has been celebrated across Tamil Nadu during the month Karthigai for over 2000 years. It is actually an extension of Deepavali which happened earlier. It occurs during our November or December and is named for the constellation Karthigai and lights, or Deepam, which is an auspicious symbol in India. Lighting the lamps is believed to bring prosperity and happiness as well as to ward off evil spirits.

 

Oil lamps made from brass lit to celebrate Karthika Deepam.

Oil lamps made from brass lit to celebrate Karthika Deepam.

 

To celebrate this festival, people light lamps in their homes and make them visible in the windows and on balconies. People draw kolams (geometric designs drawn in chalk) outside their front door. Often they place one or two lamps on it. Lamps can be seen up and down every street. 

This kolam was drawn with chalk outside our neighbor's door in Chennai.

This kolam was drawn with chalk outside our neighbor’s door in Chennai.

 

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Today is the 143rd anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India due to his work at achieving independence for his country from Britain. It is also the International Day of Non-Violence that was established by the United Nations in his honor. His fundamental values were truth and nonviolence. Important leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela strive to emulate him.

 

A bust of Gandhi in his home Mani Bhavan in Bombay, India.

A bust of Gandhi in his home Mani Bhavan in Bombay, India.

 

Gandhi’s birth is celebrated across India as a national holiday known as Gandhi Jayanti. On this day, the President and Prime Minister pay homage at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi where he was cremated. Prayers are read and his favorite song is sung.

 

Read about Gandhi’s life

 

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Originally a Hindu festival, Onam, Kerala’s largest and most important festival, is now celebrated by everyone in the state.  It occurs every year in August or September after the harvest.  In the Malayalam calendar, it starts in the month of Chingam on the 13th day, called Atham, and ends ten days later on the 22nd day, Thiruvonam.  In this calendar each month has 28 days so the dates change each year.  This year Onam is celebrated on August 29th.

 

Every day during the ten day festival, the children spend the evenings walking around the neighborhood with baskets collecting flowers that grow wild or in their yard.  In the mornings, the children clean their courtyards and, with the help of their elders, make beautiful floral patterns on the floor.

 

On the eighth day, people make a small pyramid about 18 inches tall out out of clay, called Thrikakarappam, which represents Vishnu.  It is placed in the middle of the floral carpet with a lit brass lamp called a nilavilaku and a kindi, a special brass pitcher, filled with water. On the morning of Thiruvonam, the oldest person in the home conducts a pooja (prayer service) with flowers and the traditional tulasi leaves (a special herb).  Every member of the house participates in the pooja to welcome King Mahabali (see my blog entry of August 5, 2010, The Story of Onam, Kerala’s Harvest Festival to learn the background).  Everyone is happy and wears new clothes.  A grand Onasadya (Onam feast), which is served on banana leaves in thelargest room in the house, follows.  The family cooks many delicious vegetarian dishes.  Each item is placed in a specific location on the banana leaf when served.

 

Traditional thali served on a banana leaf.

Traditional thali served on a banana leaf.

Items typically on the menu include:

 


Rice with dal and ghee                        Inji Thairu (Ginger Yogurt)*

Sambar                                              Varutha Upperi (Triangle shaped banana chips)*

Kaalan                                                Sharkara Upperi (Jaggery coated banana chips)* 

Olan                                                   Chenna Upperi*
Ericherry                                            Pappadams

Urulakizhangu Ishtu (Potato Stew)      Boiled nendrapazham (banana) pieces*
Koottu Curry                                       Pickle

Cabbage Thoran                                  Yogurt

Mulaga Pachadi

 

The meal is followed by two types of Payasam for dessert:  Semia Payasam (with sugar and vermicelli) and Cherupayaru Payasam (with jaggery and green gram).

 

After the feast, the people of Kerala end the day with boat races, athletic activities, group dancing performed by the ladies (kaikotthi kali) and fireworks.

 

All of the educational institutions in Kerala are closed for the ten days of the festival while the banks and government offices are closed for just two days.


[Items with * are not in Kachi’s Kitchen but may be included in the next cookbook.]

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Today in India is the Hindu festival in honor of the birth of Lord Krishna. It is called Srikrishna Jayanti (meaning long live Sri Krishna) or Krishna Janmashtami. It is a daylong celebration in which an idol of Krishna is decorated. Followers make sweets that are then placed at the base of the idol along with favorite fruits. The day ends with prayers.

 

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Today is the 65th anniversary of the day back in 1947 that Britain, represented by Lord Mountbatten, and the Indian leaders agreed to transfer power and declared India a sovereign independent country. Starting with the freedom struggle that began with the First War of Independence in 1857 and Gandhi’s freedom struggle in the 1920s and 1930s followed by Gandhi’s Quit India movement, Britain realized Indian independence was only a matter of time.

 

 Indian Flag

Happy birthday, India!

 

For more information, please check out my post from last year.

 

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This year, Vishu occurs on April 14th on the western calendar or the first day in the month of Medam in the Malayalam calendar.  Vishu is the New Year festival in Kerala and is the second largest after Onam.

 

Brass lights used during Vishu in Kerala.

Brass lights used during Vishu in Kerala.

On Vishu, everyone in the house wakes up very early and, one by one, they are brought with their eyes closed by the oldest member of the family to the pooja room. They open their eyes in front of Vishukani, a picture of Lord Vishnu that has been decorated with flowers and jewelry. Then oldest member gives a gift of money representing prosperity and happiness to every family member. Lunch is elaborate and consists of many traditional Kerala vegetarian items all served on banana leaves. Every family sets off firecrackers to celebrate the new year. The racket continues all day longa and is the second largest after Onam.

 

Happy New Year (again)!

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Born October 2, 1869 in the Indian state called Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi is considered as the Father of India due to his leadership in earning independence for India from Britain. Five months after Indian independence, he was assassinated on his way to a prayer meeting. At 78, he left a young country to mature on its own.
 

His core values were truth and nonviolence. His legacy to the world is the message that freedom can be achieved through nonviolence; world leaders today strive to emulate him. A quote summarizes his philosophy:

“The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence.
I lay no claim to super human powers: I want none”.

Each year the date of his birth is celebrated all over India as a national holiday with schools and offices closed for the day. It is known as Gandhi Jayanti. On this day, the President and Prime Minister pay homage at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi where he was cremated. Prayers are read and his favorite song is sung. 

 

His autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, is an excellent book and should be in everyone’s personal library.


In 2007, the United Nations declared that October 2nd will be celebrated as the International Day of Non-Violence.
 

A bust of Gandhi in his home Mani Bhavan in Bombay, India.

A bust of Gandhi in his home Mani Bhavan in Bombay, India.

 

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