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Overfed on RSS ~ Drawing by Indira Singari, Nov 3,07

Lords of the Gourd: Where Size Really Does Matter

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Zen (Personal) (Saturday November 3, 2007 at 9:32 pm- permalink)
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Of Being and Becoming~ Ragi Idlis

by Janani Srinivasan

Students and Rasikas of Karnatic classical music who fondly (or not :) ) recall their first tentative forays into “Sarali” and “Janta Varisais” might also remember that the credit for a creating a pedagogy of Karnatic classical music goes to Sri. Purandaradasa. And if your mother was a particularly determined woman, you may even have dutifully trotted out works from his corpus to bored admiring relatives come socio-religious occasions like Navarathri and Varamahalakshmi Vratha gatherings.

Whether it is Ratnakara the bandit turned into the Adikavi Sri.Valmiki Muni, or Angulimala the grisly finger-slicing highway terrorist turned Buddhist monk, tales of what can fairly be called instantaneous and extreme spiritual makeovers have captured the imaginations of generations of Indian story tellers and their listeners for centuries. The narrative arc usually progresses along the lines of hopelessly-and-diabolically-evil-person reaches the apogee of his (supported usually by a silently long-suffering her) evilness when a chance encounter; usually in the form of divine grace; completely awakens and transforms said individual. They then attain a sort of mythic stature and are held up as role models for future generations to emulate. Indeed, the story of the rapaciously greedy miser-turned musician-mystic Sri Purandaradasa is a familiar and inspiring one to many of us who grew up listening to these tales. Wiki weighs in with a more complete history of Sri Purandaradasa.

Stamp Commemorating Sri Purandaradasa
Stamp Commemorating Sri Purandaradasa

In our family, one of our all-time personal favourites from his oeuvre remains the haunting “Ragi Tandira”. Kannada speakers will identify with the clever punning on the word “Ragi”. Much like a Zen koan, the lyrics here have layers of meaning couched in seemingly quotidian references.

Indeed it is not hard to surmise that Purandhara dasa, once he became a wandering minstrel after giving up his former materialistic life, must have still been intimately familiar with the kind of people that once made up his close family and friends circle. Hence, his desire to show them the path to a more richer inner life must have been tempered with the practical consideration that they might reject his message if he was too heavy handed or preachy.

This composition opens with the poet singing, “Have you brought Ragi for alms?” He then goes on to describe Ragi in glowing adjectives “Yogyaragi , Bhogyaragi” and so on… While in one sense, it can be read as an extolling of Ragi, the staple local grain, the sustainer of life itself with various adjectives: Yogya (worthy) + Ragi, Bhogya (enjoyable) + Ragi ; on another level, it is a veiled injunction to the householders themselves to become “worthy”, “Yogyaragi” as one word.

Here the notion of “Yogyatha” like many words in the vernacular, defies simplistic translation. It is a conflation of many shades of meaning conveying a sense of worthiness, deservingness, etc. The rest of the song progress in the same vein exhorting us to various acts of goodness like offering food to the needy (anna chatrava nittavarAgi), attaining fame for the right reasons (kyathiyali migilAdavarAgi) and cautioning us to stay away from inethical practices (anya varthegaLa bittavarAgi) and so on.

So as homage to Sri Purandharadasa, his beloved Vittala and the ancient grain sustaining generations of his people; here is my mother’s recipe for Ragi Idlis. What a song and dance over a simple grain you say? Well, just try these. Like a mother’s love, these are earthy and wholesome. In a word, Perfect!

Ragi Grains Ragi Batter for Idlies
Ragi Grains ……………………. Sprouted Ragi and Rice Batter for Idlies

Recipe:
(Makes atleast 2 dozen of the standard sized Idlis- but quantity yielded depends on the Idli mould size.)

Whole Ragi Grain- 1 cup
(I sprouted these for added nutritional benefits. But it’s not strictly necessary)
Idli rice (parboiled) – 1 cup
Whole skinned Urad dal – ¾ cup
Methi seeds -1 tablespoon
Salt to taste
Sesame oil- to grease idli moulds (I used “Idhayam” brand)

After multiple washes, soak the Ragi for a day. Drain and let it rest for another day till you see tiny white sprouts. Alternatively, you can skip the sprouting and just soak the ragi for 3-4 hours longer than you soak the rice. Soak rice, whole urad and methi seeds in separate containers for 4-6 hours or overnight.

In a wet grinder or a mixie /blender, grind the urad dal till light and fluffy. A test for fluffiness is to keep a bowl of water and drop a tiny pinch of batter. If it floats, it is light enough. Then add and grind the Ragi grains and Methi and finally the rice. Take care that the rice should not be ground too smooth. It should be of rice Rava consistency. Alternatively, you can use rice Rava instead. Take the batter in a vessel, fold in some salt to taste and leave it overnight to ferment. I found that the dough fermented really well, doubling up and overflowing the vessel. So take adequate precautions.

Next morning, lightly stir the well fermented batter. Grease Idli moulds and steam in a pressure cooker for 12-15 minutes till done. Ragi idlis can be served with a dollop of butter or ghee on top, along with the usual fixings on the side: sambar, coconut chutney and/or Milagai Podi.

~ Article by Janani Srinivasan


Light and Soft Ragi Idlies

Notes:
Audio of Ragi Tandira sung by the late Sri. Maharajapuram Santhanam in Raga Kalyanavasantham - Link.
Ragi pronounced with “Ra” as “raa”, “G” as in God not as in gentle, “i” pronounced “ee”.
Tandira pronounced Thundheera with the “h” NOT aspirated. “T” and “d” sounds softened not sharp as in the common American/English usage and the “an” is pronounced “un”.
Janani Srinivasan’s articles on Mahanandi: It’s Chakalaka, Baby!, The Arisiupma Trilogy.

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Biyyamu (Rice), Ragi, Millet, Sprouts (Molakalu), Janani Srinivasan (Thursday November 1, 2007 at 4:44 pm- permalink)
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