Come Ganeshotsav, and we immediately think of modaks. As we prepare to welcome Lord Ganesh this year, Maharashtrian households are busy making modaks, the elephant-headed God’s favourite sweet.
Though the festivity has been toned down considerably this year due to the pandemic, Ganeshotsav is celebrated grandly every year for three to 11 days in households and in celebrations and puja organised by mandals.
In South India, people celebrate by performing puja of Ganapathy with the existing idols at home or by bringing home clay ones but the number of days is limited to Chaturthi day after which the clay idol is immersed.
In other parts of the country, it is observed by worshipping and offering bhog on Ganesh Chaturthi. Modaks can be the traditional ukadiche modak, fried ones, or the new-age peda and chocolate modaks. Tamilians prepare Koyakattai or steamed modaks with puran of freshly grated coconut, jaggery and cardamom powder.
Huggi and Chitranna are offered on Gowri Habba, which falls a day before Ganesh Chaturthi, in Karnataka. Huggi is kara pongal made of rice and mung dal while chitranna is tempered lemon rice.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated as Hartalika Teej in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh where the prasad is ghewar or pedas.
Satori or sanjori is a favourite bhog in parts of Maharashtra. According to actor, writer and chef Tara Deshpande, atta or maida casing is stuffed with a concoction of semolina (suji) in milk and sugar, either deep fried as puri or shallow fried as flatbread.
“Coconut laddoo and gul poli too are offered but every region of Maharashtra has different bhogs to offer,” says Deshpande, whose all-time favourite is steamed modaks. “We also prepare a dish of mixed vegetables in coconut curry called Gajbaje, which is served after naivedya, for the first meal on Ganesh puja,” she says.
Pune-based culinary expert, Vaisshali Sawant whose food posts on Instagram @vsdelights are very popular, says, “Shrikhand, a treat of sweetened and flavoured yoghurt, garnished with saffron is often offered as prasad during Ganesh festival. We also prepare tandulachi kheer (rice), puranpoli, coconut barfi and banana sheera – an easy preparation of mashed bananas, semolina and sugar with a sprinkling of cardamom powder.”
Patholi, coconut-jaggery puran-based steamed rice flour rolls, is made in the Konkan region as well as in Goa on Gauri Ganesh day. It is like modak but its uniqueness lies in the gentle aroma of being steamed in fresh turmeric leaves.
Karanji and nevris – the Goan avatar of Maharashtra’s karanji – are offered as prasad. Filled with desiccated coconut and dry fruits, it is a deep fried, crusty pastry like gujiya.
Nilima Nitin, a well-known food blogger from Pune who runs ‘Cook with Nilima’, a YouTube channel, says, “On the day of Lord Ganesha’s visarjan (immersion) shevatchi kheer of hand-rolled seviyan (vermicelli) and muradichi karanji of hand-made pleats is offered.”
Chana dal laddu is another bhog among those who observe Ganeshotsav for more than 11 days. “My mother observes 21 days of Ganeshotsav and chana dal laddu ought to be offered on any one day,” says Nitin.
Rava Pongal, apart from koyakattai (steamed modak), from the South prepared with semolina, mung dal, jaggery in coconut milk and ghee is offered as a sheer sweet treat for Pillaiyar Chaturthi.
Neiyappam is another must-neivadhyam for Vinayaka. A sweet dumpling made of rice-jaggery batter with coconut pieces and cardamom is deep fried in moulds, usually using pure ghee.
Usili koyakattai, a savoury prasadam, in the modak casing consists of the rice dough layer filled with steamed coarsely ground urad dal, chillies, with a hint of asafoetida, tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves and red chillies. It is oblong in shape. This along with coconut puran-stuffed modaks are mandatory bhogs in Tamilian households for their Vigneshwara.
Undrallu-flattened sweet rice flour discs, bellam kudumulu - rice balls akin to modaks, guggillu or sundal that are tempered savoury chickpeas, peanuts, mung beans, or chana dal constitute as naivedhyams in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where Vinayaka Chavithi is a 10-day celebration.
Urad dal Vadai with pepper is another savoury neivedhyam offered in the South. Deep fried medhu vadas with a dash of pepper corns make for a piquant taste to balance the many sweet offerings for Lord Ganesh.