Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Punjab Village style: Sawan festival

How is it that things that we experienced in childhood stay with us forever?
Tucked away in some corner of the brain and popping up suddenly out of the blue to surprise and delight us.
The other day I saw a picture of a beautiful spread of rice dishes that are made in Tamil Nadu on the occasion of the first day of Sawan.

It reminded me of the signature dishes of Punjab that are cooked in the month of Sawan.

In Punjabi language Sawan is pronounced as /saun/ with a hard /n/ at the end.
Kheer and Poorha are the signature dishes.

Each family cooks them or at least used to cook them at least once during this month of rain.

Both of my grandmothers had their unique style of cooking these two dishes.
With their houses full of grandchildren of various ages this was a must do for them.

Kheer is known the world over as the rice milk pudding.

Tell me if you want me to write a recipe for that and I will do it just for you or better still you can see how to make it in this Youtube video.

My nani (maternal grandmother) made the poorha (a kind of pancake) with atta (whole wheat flour), gurh (jaggery) and ghee (clarified butter). Loads of ghee.
The process started with soaking the jaggery in warm water for an hour or so. It was stirred to mix well after the jaggery became soft.
A big paraat (flat tray/basin with raised edges commonly used to knead flour for rotis in India) was taken.
Flour was put into it. A little well was made and the jaggery mixture was added little by little. The mixture was stirred by hand round and round incorporating the liquid slowly to ensure that there were no lumps in the resulting thickish batter.

We were asked to bring leaves from a jamun or peepal tree.
We climbed the stairs to the terrace,  crossed over a few low walls separating the neighbours' terraces from ours' and chose nice clean leaves from the roof top level from the trees growing in someone else's courtyard, and brought them back for nani.

This small chore was an opportunity for adventure in the form of impromptu races and much laughter.

We hung around watching nani  lighting the chullah (wood burning stove), and putting the tawa (iron girdle/ flat pan) on the fire.
She spread some ghee on the tawa to make it ready to make the poorha.

 There were no non stick pans around and no body missed them I am sure.

When  the tawa was nice and hot, she poured a ladle full of the sweet batter on it and swirled it a little to spread the mixture evenly. She used the leaf like a spatula to ensure an even thickness all around.
 I don't know why she used the leaf even though there were spoons available. May be it added some flavour to the end product.

The delicious aroma of frying poorha filled the air and attracted the rest of the family to the open air kitchen in the courtyard.
Some more ghee was drizzled along the sides and the poorha was turned over at the right moment when it was cooked but not burnt at the bottom. A few seconds on the other side and then it was removed to a thali (steel plate).
This delicious poorha was eaten with kheer. We sat around the chullah and did not keep count of how many we ate. Each one that came off the tawa was eagerly awaited by the assorted group seated around making sure there was a fair distribution.
The left over poorhas (if any) were immediately sent to the neighbour's house for their enjoyment.

Nicely fortified with the kheer and poorha we turned our attention the rest of the festivities.

Every Sunday, almost all women of the village dressed in nice clothes and trooped to an open ground in the middle of the fields. The agenda was singing and dancing and generally having fun.
Men were not a part of this gathering and I have no clue why it was so.

Hawkers set up stalls of balloons, baraf malayee (literallly translated as ice cream), gola (a grated ice ball put on a stick and slathered with colored syrups), and chhole (boiled and spiced chick peas).

Those who wanted enjoyed these treats and the others concentrated on dancing and singing.

 There were many small groups who stood around in circles and danced to lilting bolis and claps.
The claps changed rhythm as per the boli and the steps.

The famous 'bhanghra' of Punjab is a men's dance.
The women dance the 'giddha'.

Giddha means clapping in  Punjabi but giddha per se is not just clapping but dancing to the group's clapping. Words are inadequate to describe it.
Here are Youtube links to Giddha and Bhangra so that you can see them for yourself.

Link to an infomal giddha quite like what we experienced in those far off days with the difference that there was no canned music there just what could be produced by singing and clapping.

Link to Bhangra being performed on stage. Men are dressed in their finery here but they do dance it this way no matter how they are dressed.

A dhol (drum) is an essential accompaniment for bhangra. When the dholi (drum player) starts beating it, no one can stay still. Feet tap and shoulders move. It is involuntary, believe me.

When you look at the energetic dancing you can understand why Punjabis use up all that ghee, butter, chicken, saag, makki ki roti, and lassi.

This is how the Sawan festival pronounced/savans/  is/was celebrated in Punjab.

Let me go make some poorhas now. I was inspired by my own blog post to do the Punjabi thing.

P.S: Tamil Nadu and Bengal have culture, Punjab has agriculture. Burraaaah!


  1. I don't know about other places but punjab has surely given me some awesome memories.

  2. Lovely write up Madhu. I am sure your Poorhas turned out yummy. Now I have started Balle Balle!

  3. the liveliness of Punjabis is infectious.. and the food just yummy!! Although i am a Bengali, but i was raised in Shimla and Chandigarh.. so the last point about Bengal having culture and Punjab agriculture.. Hi-five!!

    1. Thanks Aersh. You know what it is like in Punjab then. I do plan to experience the culture of Bengal beyond what is seen in Delhi. :)

  4. Madhu I love marwari we call in puda and it is my fav sweet dish...
    God i miss home this teej...but making puda is something even i can do today evening :D
    Thank you for reminder

    1. Thank you Sugandha. Happy to have reminded you of home and may be started you on the puda making. :)

  5. Beautiful narration of the traditions and the fine cuisine from your family. I enjoyed teh descriptio of kids running around, sitting around the chulha waiting for their turn, seems childhood is not the the same anymore in this generation.There was such fun, camaraderie, laughing mirth which seems to be missing now. I have always been fascinated by Punjabis, their awesome hearty food, their great zest for life and living large attitude, thanks to Bollywood movies, we could see so much of Punjabi lifestyle food etc. Thanks for bringing the traditions alive, through your impressive write up. My best wishes.

    1. Thank you for being my inspiration for this post Radha.
      Much appreciation for your kind words. Do write about your childhood and share the memories with the world. I think this is the only way our children will learn what kept us busy when there were no TVs and internet. :)

  6. Beautiful article, thank you for sharing the memories.

  7. "When you look at the energetic dancing you can understand why Punjabis use up all that ghee, butter, chicken, saag, makki ki roti, and lassi."---> Undoubtedly :-)
    now a days I wonder what outsiders actually mean by Bengali culture... don't know if it really exists [deep sigh]...
    BTW you should embed these youtube videos rather than keeping their links... just for aesthetic purpose though :-)

    1. Thank you @Anunoy.
      Bengal is identified with Rabindra Sangeet, music lessons for children in almost all houses, plays and dances that vie for attention during Durga Pooja time.
      This is what most people mean by culture.
      Isn't this so on the ground?
      I wanted to ensure that everyone knows those videos are not mine but from Youtube. Plus if they want to they can go see them. If not, then it is ok too.
      My logic explained. :)

    2. OK... OK and Okey.... :-)
      JAI HIND...........

  8. wow that was quite a visit for me too :) Giddha word had me thinking for quite a long time as to what it would mean and why is it in almost every Punjabi influenced songs of Bolly :)
    Chulhas still exist was a great news to me .. I had last seen it as kid .. at my father's native place! :) They say the taste differs so much from how rotis taste when made on gas stoves !! :)
    and i also sensed from where the Kitty word would have generated .. :) and has come to fashion in cities . Loved every bit !!

    1. Hi MySay
      This is a scene from times long gone. :)


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