Tirupati Temple Vada
As a child, watching very religious matriarchs in the neighbourhood go all meek and pious while partaking prasad, I squirmed at Aai’s gumption to discreetly avoid eating or not let us eat random kumkum smudged parcels of prasad from some mysterious ‘urs’ festival or ‘jatra’.
These newspaper-wrapped bundles of sakhar-phutana (candied roasted chana) or khadisaakhar (rock candy), bits and bobs like dried flowers, bangles, little photos of idols had ‘play value’ as well as ‘treats’ value. Aai would accept the prasad gracefully, but would dispose of it as ‘nirmalya’ (Marathi for holy offering gone stale), returning it with gratitude to the elements.
It was particularly painful when whole pedhas- waxy, misshapen and sullied by human hands- met the same fate. What a waste…I would think and would even guiltily think of some god-fearing mates who instilled the fear of God in us credulous kids. Another form of peer pressure, this. Dire pronouncements of how if we spilt salt, God would have us sweeping it up with our eyelashes in our next life scared the life out of us. We wouldn’t wonder until much later as to the logistics of such penitence, by which time Aai’s long winded explanation of why such beliefs were encouraged to help prevent wastage in traditional societies when salt wasn’t so easily available, made perfect sense.
Aai had her own stand. God was not punishing. Prasad was a gracious gift, not a punitive price.
It’s not the prasad itself that is tarnished– it’s people who pollute it with their lack of hygiene, civic sense and superstition. The farther people travelled away from home, the more suspect the prasad they would bring back. It’s the length of the journey, the change in temperature, the conditions of storage (have you ever had food stuff smelling like naphthalene balls from people's luggage?), hand hygiene … my first lessons in food safety did not come without sacrifices.
The wetter- the worse, Aai explained, making me ever envious of those who extended their hands reverently and sipped fragrant ‘tirth’ out of cupped palms and then wiped their hands on their heads so as not to treasure the last drop of unction.
My list can go on, but I will stop now for the fear of… God?!
So when anyone brought prasad from Tirupati, our joy would be doubled – not only were the boondi laddu and urad vada extremely delicious, but we also got to eat them without reservation. The temple trust is very well organised, and prasad is prepared under stringent quality controlled conditions… was the reasoning.
The laddu had pukka pak and crystal sugar to preserve it. That’s when I must have first heard of ‘pakka paak and kaccha paak’- and everything in between the surreptitious string quartet of sugar syrups.
The vadas were more of an acquired taste. They would only be tackled when the bits of laddu were gone and we had to munch on ‘the next best’ to stem the rising disappointment in our tummies and hearts. These savoury bites were dry, shrivelled looking - all the better to keep longer, said Aai. The skin on the whole urad helps them retain their crunch and keeps them fresher. It was only a matter of time before we were as hooked on to the vadas too.
In fact, whenever anyone in the family or friends circle went to Tirupati, Aai would send some money for him or her to drop in the ‘hundi’. I did at times have uncharitable thoughts about why she did that. These people brought back the prasad of laddu and vada to distribute. Always small amounts, broken into pieces that left us wanting more. Really, why didn’t anyone ever give one whole BIG laddu – and I have to date not seen how the vada looks as a unit – round…square…. or what!
How can anyone have the heart to part with such delicious treats- I wondered.
The only time we visited the lord of the seven hills, we bought as many laddus and vadas as the temple would allow us, with the same excitement as that of travellers exploiting their full quota of duty-free, tax-free phoren goods.
Upon our return, Aai enlisted my help to make portions of the laddus and vadas to distribute to friends and neighbours and all those who had sent proxy payments, much to my chagrin.
My churlish disproval met with a patient lifelong lesson – The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word “prasadam” is mercy or grace. Prasad also means pleasure, happiness. Happiness shared is happiness multiplied. It blesses those that give and those that take…
Recreating the Tirupati vada after all those years, reviving those memories, I must share it with you all… no?
Tirupati Temple Vada
1 cup whole black gram (sabut urad)
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp fresh coconut
8-10 curry leaves
1 tbsp crushed black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp hing
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
Pick and clean and soak whole black gram in water for 5-6 hours.
Grind the soaked urad, ginger, coconut and curry leaves into a coarse paste by adding little water at a time. Don't add too much water. The batter should be thick.
Add the salt and other seasoning.
Heat oil in a kadhai. When hot, turn the heat to medium.
Moisten your hands with water or oil and on the palm of your hand, shape a small portion of the batter into a round vada. Make a hole in the centre and gently transfer the shaped vada onto your fingers and slide it into the oil.
You can also use squares of butter paper to shape the vadas.
Deep fry on medium heat until the vadas are browned and crisp.
Serve hot or cold. These vadas don’t really need any accompaniment.