Sunday, August 7, 2011

Akathu vachu kodukkal at chez moi

Karkidaka vaavu fell on 29th July this year. Traditionally, this is the day when we offer prayers to and request the blessing of our ancestors. In Kerala, there even is a holiday given...

This day has over the years been associated for me with good food. On my mother's side of the family, a delicious feast is prepared for the dear departed. In my mother's generation, all the cousins used to gather together at one house, where they used to have a humungous sadya. But those were the days where there were servants aplenty.. There used to be fish and mutton and chicken.. sambar and pachadi and varavu and kootu. 3 different varieties of payasam. Palpayasam, and kadalapayasam and godhamba payasam. Kinnathappam and ada and neiyyappam.(payasams used to be made with actual coconut milk, not the one that comes out of a packet)Lots of achars and pappadam-and-pazham-kuzhachathu which is a delicacy made only in the Malabar area. I think one reason for ALL that food used to be that all of those cousins with their families made up for a mini wedding guest list. Another was that favourites of all the departed ones were prepared...

My earliest memories of karkidaka vaavu are of all of us going for the feast at my grand uncle's house. (Yes, the Ammavan reigned supreme in those days.) Gradually, we stopped going there and started the custom in our own house- my Mom's house, that is. It used to be a joint family, and every year for karkidaka vaavu and for my grandfather's death anniversary, the 5 siblings would gather together and jointly get ready all the items. The uncles would go to the temple and offer bali and then go to the market early to get the best of fish and chicken and vegetables, while the aunts and Mom would have their bath first thing in the morning and start the process. They were not supposed to taste any of the food being offered. HOW it managed to get so tasty is something I have never stopped wondering about.

We kids would of course play and of course occasionally venture into the kitchen to check out all the delicious smells wafting out.... We'd go out into the backyard to collect banana leaves for the ancestors and for us.. And then, finally the long dining table would get filled with all the dishes of food, and it was time to serve the ancestors before feasting ourselves.

I remember that there used to be 5 leaves set out- two of them were obviously for Mom's father and mother. I don't recall exactly who the other 3 were for.. And so we'd serve them rice and curries and vegetables and and fish and meat and pickle and papad and payasam. There used to be sweets and fruits and tender coconut served separately. The lamp would be lit and we would all throw rice and pray for their blessings. And then the door would be closed for 5 minutes for the departed spirits to come and partake of the food lovingly prepared for them. After 5 min, and a respectful knock on the door, we'd enter and throw rice once again thanking them for their blessings. And then, a small leaf was would be torn off and a little of everything served would be taken on that leaf, a wick from the lamp put on it, and it would be taken out solemnly to offer to the crows.

And then - it was time to feast.

After we moved to our own house, we'd still gather at the ancestral house for karkidaka vaavu. But then, the dear old house was sold. And that was when we started the custom in my Mom's house. We'd shuffle times- lunch or dinner- so that my sister could keep do the akathu-vachu-kodukkal (literally translated- keep the feast in an inside room) in her marital home and attend it at our place as well.

This year, for the first time, I kept it in MY house, in Bangalore. But for the first time I did not offer non-veg items. Because it happened to fall on a Saturday when I have recently started a no non-veg fast. And I kept it simple, cos after all, there were only 3 of us to finish it all. Since it was a Saturday, we woke up late. The Acha had to go pick a cousin of his, so I had my bath and entered the kitchen only at about 10. And then I bustled around till about 1 pm.

Here you go.