The beauty of living in a country like ours, is that many religions, regions, cultures and languages co-exist in perfect harmony. Each diaspora brings with it a myriad of festivals and food. As the festival season is about to begin, the eastern part of India is gearing up for Durga Puja and rest of India shall celebrate the Navratris and Dussehra. Since I belong to Assam, Durga Puja was a grand event, where we would get new clothes and visit relatives and friends. The evenings were meant for pandal hopping, to get a glimpse of the grandest idol of the Goddess. It also meant eating lip smacking food at the various temporary food stalls attached to the pandals. The same festival takes on a different essence in other parts of India.
Navratri, literally means ‘nine nights’. During these nine nights and ten days, nine different avatars of Goddess Durga are worshipped. It is a period of piousness and spirituality. Although there are five ‘navratris’ in a year, the Navratri in the month of Sharad is celebrated with great fervour. But what is the significance of keeping fasts? On religious grounds, fasting is equated to the purification of the soul. This abstinence is supposed to bring us closer to the almighty and also builds willpower and self discipline. The science behind fasting is also explained in Ayurveda. Navratri falls during change of seasons. During this change, our bodies are low on immunity and thus, is more susceptible to falling sick. Abstaining from non-vgetarian food, alcohol, onion and garlic etc is a way of fortifying our immune system.
Since I have been living in Lucknow for the past few years, I can now truly understand the essence of the Navratri. Although this festival is celebrated all over India, the tradition of obeserving fasts is more prevalent in the northern and western part of India and consume only ‘vrat/upwaas’ food.
Listed below are some of the popular Vrat food items, given region-wise:
NORTH INDIA: Since the food items allowed during fasts differ from region to region, the preparation also varies. Here are a few popular items consumed during fasts in the north.
Kuttu ka atta (Buckwheat Flour): Poori, parantha and pakoras can be made from this. The pooris and paranthas can be had with aloo or arbi(colacassia) ki sabji.
Singhade ka atta (water chestnut flour): Poori, parantha, pakoras and halwa can be made from this flour. Personally, I prefer this to kuttu ka atta as this is more pliable.
Roasted Makhana(fox nut): Makhana roasted in ghee alongwith peanuts, makes for a nutritious snack.
Sabudana(tapioca) pearls: Sabudana can be made into khichdi, kheer or vadis.
Rajgira(amaranth): The flour can be used to make pooris, halwa, parantha etc. The whole grains can be made into a porridge.
Sama ke chawal: These can be made into either kheer or pulao.
Shakarkandi (sweet potato): This can be made into sabji, kheer, chaat or halwa.
Condiments that are generally allowed during fasts are cumin, sendha namak(rock salt), ginger, green chillies, coriander and mint. Also, dairy products like ghee, curd, buttermilk and some sweets like rasgulla and kalakand are allowed.
- WESTERN INDIA: The Navratris are a very important festival in Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra. Many people also observe ‘nakoda upwaas’, where only water is allowed to be consumed. For others, here’s a list of ‘Faraali’ or fast items:
For all the health-conscious people, if you want to avoid the deep fried stuff, with a little creativity, you can create many dishes to your liking. Also, since there’s a huge spectrum of vrat food , there cannot be a sacrosanct list. I feel, whether it is the khichudi served at Durga Puja pandals or the various foods prepared during the Navratris, they invariably turn out delicious.
Happy fasting and feasting.