India is a land of festivals, and festivals, in our country, signify only one thing – food. While most festivals boast of elaborate meals prepared well in advance and cooked through the day, do you know that there is one festival, which celebrates the most humble meal ever? What’s more amazing is that the festival and the food share their name?
Thanks to Bollywood we all know that Sankranti is celebrated with much pomp and gaiety as Lohri with makke ki roti & sarson ka saag in Punjab & Haryana. But do we know that most of North India celebrates Makar Sankranti in a rather quiet manner with a very humble meal?
“Memories of Sankrati of my childhood are still vivid in my mind. In the foggy winter morning of 14th January, we were made to bathe and dress before being marched to the kitchen to bless portions of khichdi. Plates of black lentils and white rice, dotted with small golden laddus of sesame and jaggery, and two muddy brown potatoes dominated the kitchen counter that day. Mother would line us up, make us touch the plate and say a small prayer thanking God for his generosity. This khichdi was later distributed among the poor, and fresh Khichdi was made in the kitchen to celebrate the festival.” Says Mrs. Aradhana Srivastava, a homemaker, reminiscing about the festival of her childhood spent in the state.
The festival has not changed much though. The day still begins similarly in the states of U.P. and Bihar. While the more devout travel all the way to Prayag for a holy dip in the Sangam (the confluence of Ganga-Jamuna- Saraswati rivers), most people make do with a quick bath at home in a river close-by. Prayers are said to the Sun God, gratitude is offered to nature. The day is then celebrated by feasting on freshly made khichdi.
Bihar meanwhile starts its day with dahi-chura, or flat rice mixed with curd. In some parts of the state, the breakfast is accompanied by a preparation of mashed red pumpkin, but Khichdi dominates the Bihari kitchens too. In this case, accompanied by the quintessential Bihari chokha, or a roasted potato and brinjal mash with green chilies, chopped onions and raw mustard oil.
“If you happen to be in the heart of U.P. or Bihar on Sankranti, you cannot escape the strong scent of black lentils wafting through the lanes and by-lanes of its dusty towns. Such is the importance of the dish in this part of the country, that the festival is also called Khichdi here. While for most of the year khichdi is symbolized by a mish-mash of rice and lentils served to the sick, this khichdi is special, and devoured as a feast by itself.” Says Mr. Alok Srivastava, a retired engineer, and a hard-core U.P.ite, who follows the tradition religiously even today in his up-market apartment complex in Gurgaon, far away from the dusty lanes of Uttar Pradesh where he grew up. He also offers us the recipe to his favourite Khichdi and insists we try it this Sankranti.
Recipe: Black Urad Dal Khichdi.
Long Grain Basmati Rice: 1 cup
Black Split Urad Dal: 1/4 cup
Ginger: 1/2 inch piece chopped
Asafoetida: 1 large pinch
Green Chilli: 1 chopped/ split
Salt: to taste
Soak the dal and rice together for 30 minutes
Place a pressure cooker on fire and put in all the ingredients together
Add 2 cups of water.
Close the pressure cooker and wait for two whistles.Turn the fire off and let it sit until all pressure is released.
Note: The khichdi is best eaten off the cooker with spoonfuls of melted ghee and nothing else. But, if you must, you can have some thick, well-set curd.
This post first appeared in The Hindu.