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Celestial palate

PLANTAIN POWER: Bananas by the truckloads being mashed at Palani for the special panchamirtham


The hill temple at Palani, near Dindigul in south Tamil Nadu, is famous for its panchamirtham, a kind of sweet jam made of bananas, honey, black dates, ghee, spices and sugar. Viruppachchi plantains - small bananas with very little water content that grow only in the Palani Hills - form the base for this prasadam. A temple official describes it as "a mixture of bananas, honey, ghee, black dates, kalkandu (candy sugar), cardamom and nattu sakkarai (a type of jaggery )". The panchamirtham is manufactured roundthe-clock in a factory at the foot of the Palani hills, and the demand is higher during festivals. Since September 2008, the mixing of panchamirtham has been automated. With the increase in the prasadam's popularity, the temple board has tried to make the packaging more attractive. The panchamirtham, which used to come in just a white plastic bottle with a red cap, is now available in bottles, containers with openers, and even in gift boxes with holy ash and spoons. "Over the years, the sale of panchamirtham has increased manifold. Says the official, "In 2000-01, sales were Rs 4. 03 crore and in 2009-10 it was Rs 18. 93 crore. The panchamirtham is available in temple administration shops as well. " The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board, which is the custodian of most temples in Tamil Nadu, has applied for Geographic Indication (GI) status for Palani panchamirtham.


At the Parthasarathy temple, named for Arjuna's charioteer, in Triplicane in Chennai, a different prasadam is prepared every day. But the most famous of these is the sakkarai pongal (jaggery rice) and puliyodarai (tamarind rice) that are given free to devotees. The sakkarai pongal is made with jaggery, cardamom, rice, broken moong dal, ghee and cashewnuts. The jaggery is heated till it forms wirelike crystals and then mixed with other ingredients. "What makes it special is the fact that we do the mixing on a stone and not in a vessel, " says R Ramanujam, head of the temple kitchen, which is manned entirely by volunteers. For the puliyodarai, apart from rice and tamarind juice, the temple uses pepper instead of red chilli to give it its unique taste. "We don't use chilli as Lord Parthasarathy's face is covered with injuries from arrows. If we use chilli, it will increase the burning sensation in his face, " says Ramanujam. The sakkarai pongal and puliyodarai are not available over the counter and devotees have to place orders two days in advance.


The famous delicacies at the Udupi Sri Krishna temple are various types of laadus (laddoos) and chakkulis (murukkus). Special varieties are made on occasions like Krishna Janmashtami and other festivals. The temple's cooks have specialised in preparing these treats in huge quantities, ensuring that there is no compromise on taste and flavour. The chakkulis are made of rice and urad dal powder. These main ingredients, with some seasonings, are mixed into loose dough. The dough is then passed through a special equipment and fashioned into a spiral disc. Post this, the discs are deep fried until crunchy. The laadus come in many avatars. Though usually made of gram flour, gingelly, cashew nuts, there are varieties that use aralu (puffed rice) and rave (semolina). But the most famous laadu in this Udupi temple is the boondi laadu. Jaggery/sugar is mixed with gingelly and gram flour with water to form a thick paste, which is then boiled. Once the paste reaches room temperature, the laadus are shaped. Both items are available to all devotees.


Kalighat's most famous fare is its pulao, cooked with 100 kg of rice every Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday. On the other days of the week, the amount cooked is 70 kg. Apart from the pulao, the menu for the deity here includes five kinds of bhaja (fries), daal, vegetables, mutton, fish, chutney and payesh (rice pudding). Other than this spread - called bhog - there is also the khichuri, which is cooked everyday to be distributed among the poor and other devotees. It is made with 18 kg of rice and 10 kg of daal every day of the week, according to Bablu Haldar, the vice-president overseeing the temple kitchen.


The Golden Temple management serves food and tea round-the-clock food at its Langar Hall situated in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) complex. On an average day, except on Gurpurabs, langar is prepared for more than one lakh devotees. On Gurpurabs and other religious occasions like Diwali, the quantity of food cooked for the langar increases almost double fold. Langar in-charge Harpinder Singh says that 550 to 600 kilograms of black or white grams (in rotation), 900 kilograms of ma ki dal, 700 kilograms of rice, and about 1, 200 kilograms of vegetables are cooked every day. Nearly five thousand kilograms of flour are used for making chapattis, both in the chapattimaking machine and by hand. The temple also uses about 700 kilograms of sugar each day for preparing the famous karah parshad, kheer and tea. It is estimated that almost 2, 200 kilogram of karah parshad is prepared daily to be distributed among devotes. The SGPC employs about 480 sewadars (volunteers) to cook, serve, and clean. Singh also says that nearly one-fourth of the required ingredients are received via donations.

With reports from B Sivakumar in Chennai, K Mohanachandran Nambiar in Udupi, Swati Sengupta in Kolkata, and Yudhvir Rana in Amritsar

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