Monthly Archives: March 2014

1008 Brass Pots


Post for Fortnight ended 14 March 2014

Church towers or steeples have always been built to make its building be higher than any building in the parish – perhaps to enhance its importance. So when the bells tolled, calling the faithful, its ringing could be heard all over the settlement. That is also perhaps why the muezzin’s minarets are the highest placed in a rather flattish Maghreb oasis town. Here – his prayers called out the faithful, replacing the gong of the bell. And in temples, the designs are different in northern India compared to that in the South. The temple dome is the highest part of a north Indian style temple and the shining brass pot with the customary gold coins, and other precious objects are sealed and placed on the dome adjacent to the flag of the temple deity. In the south, the brass pot is entombed in the design of the temple gate or gopuram. (The temple itself maybe squat or short, but would be a well designed building.) The pots are consecrated with religious fervour and the entire ritual is spread over days. Over 1008 pots of water are ferried from the sacred rivers of India. And samples of these are poured into the main large brass pot. Into this pot go various precious metals and stones and even precious and healing herbs. The pot bearing this is supposed to symbolize all the precious wealth of the city or state that this temple is to grace. And with all of this wealth placed so high on either temple dome or the gopuram is said to radiate that strength to the surroundings – that is what spirituality is all about. It is not about the Gods or Goddesses, but it is about our wealth and how we preserve and nurture it and deify it. And on auspicious days – when the weather is just right, the temple priests have been known to carry these pots, all 1008 and more up to the highest point in the temple and place the main pot or the “Kumbham” but also anoint it with the pots of water, and all other riches from the kingdom or state. And just like it was done in the days of yore, I happened to witness one in our megapolis. The chanting of prayers could be heard form the early hours of dawn and the dome was shrouded from my view, atop an eleventh storey of a not so high skyscraper. As I approached the temple, I could see that the summit was decked with a makeshift stairway and it was lined with colourfully attired priests who were passing on pots up the stairway to the main priest, who after chanting a few prayers would pour its contents on the main kumbham. And the brass pot (Kumbham) was shining in the morning light – it had apparently been adorned with gold leaf sponsored by a local jeweler. I said a silent prayer to the God I had not seen but knew existed.

Summits were what the D Boyz were talking about. D Street was abuzz with tourists. The foreigners were invading the street in droves and pushing the D Boyz and their favourite SENSEX higher and higher their D Street Tower. And that was the week, when the SENSEX reached its pinnacle of over 22000. But like the priests who had used the makeshift stairway to the gopuram the Boyz too had to step down and look at the surroundings – so they stepped down a little to look at the surroundings form the SENSEX heights of 21809.

And talking of 1008 brass pots took my mind wandering to another set of 1008 pots. It was the movie set of a southern produced Hindi film where the heroine danced around the pots arranged in an array of shapes and formations on a Coromandel beach. And for those who were disappointed to read of a temple and its gopuram and kumbham, won’t you look forward to the story of the 1008 pots that bore the weight of a southern heroine and her white trousered hero?

Have a great week ahead and Cheers…

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The Greens We Eat – part 2 *


Update for month ended 28 Feb 2014

Foreign influences to India cuisine have made it that much more varied and rich. Like the introduction of chillies into our food habits was brought in by the European explorers of the late 15th century, also bringing us the much used and taken for granted potatoes. And as a culture we have adopted and adapted these into all types of cuisines. It is unthinkable for Indians form any state to prepare a lunch or dinner without using chillies, unless of course it is for an infant or a sick patient, just as it is unthinkable of not using the ever present kitchen staple, potato to act as either a filler in a curry or a thickener to a gravy or even rustled up in a jiffy as a “dry” curry for unexpected guests. And what seemed like a melting pot of cuisines, India today is taking to other influences, but not to the extent it was perhaps 6 centuries ago! So the green herbs (which are the only flavouring agents outside of the salt and peper routine of European cooks (or would you rather call them chefs because it is more fashionable?), are used by us, but not to integrate into our cuisine but to make “their” food. So herbs that we used as regular food, like dillweed, are used only to pair up with potatoes in a salad, but when used in Indian food, they are in the traditional “saags” (greens) with perhaps some ridge gourd (torai) thrown in. And holy basil is not used in cooking, unless making that concoction to relieve a sneezing relative of that blocked nose; but pasta in pesto is quite a popular dish with the children of this generation and basil makes its appearance not only in supermarket shelves, but also at birthday party “live counters”. And rosemary, that sweet sounding herb that grows as a perennial (and reminds me of the Braganza twin sisters, Rose and Mary, who were very sweet and always found together), is good to pair with the roast chicken, but never with chicken tikka or butter chicken. Indians have always revered their sages or yore, but only recently been introduced to the sage that goes well with butter (so say some Australian chefs on TV). I think Indians still like their butter plain and white with the parathas, though the salted and yellow variety is also widely consumed with white bread or dropped in dollops into the mushy vegetable curry that is eaten with bun paos, pao bhaji. (Interestingly, the paos are Mediterranean in origin and still retain the Portuguese name for it). And although we have been less influenced by the eastern cuisine, the greens of the spring onion are quickly chopped up to garnish any “Chinese” dish. Of course, the slender and tender leaves of the onion bulb shoot have been used in local cuisine to pair up with the omnipresent potato in the cool winter months, to warm us.

Foreign influences on D Street have been making their mark these days, but in very small ways. And sometimes, it is chilli hot that scalds the D Boyz and their SENSEX (like in the beginning of February) or it is the greener herbs like dill, basil, rosemary and sage during the rest of the month. And quite like the appetites of Indians, these have taken in in limited doses to inch the SENSEX up, step by step, during the month from 20460 to 2110 (with the chilli affecting the SENSEX downwards at an intra month low of 20024).

Although much of India is not climatically suited to grow the European herbs, it is still grown on “specialty” farms and priced even more specially. It is, however, rather surprising that the more tropical “herbs” from the east have not easily adapted themselves into Indian food and we see little of the kaffir lime leaves and pandan except at Oriental restaurants or food festivals. I wonder why?

It would be interesting to hear your views on influences to Indian food. I look forward to the interesting interaction with my readers.

Have a great week ahead …… cheers

 

* for those interested in reading The Greens we Eat – Part 1, click here.