The tradition of Maa Vilakku for Purattasi Sani
Purattasi, the sixth month as per the Tamil calendar, is considered highly sacred. The entire month of Purattasi is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara aka God Vishnu, and is considered highly auspicious. The month of Purattasi more or less coincides with the Navratri celebrations in India every year and, hence, the two are indistinguishable in my mind. This year, Purattasi falls between September 17 and October 17.
Saturdays during this month (known as ‘Purattasi Sani‘ in Tamil) are considered all the more important, a day on which several Tamilians observe a fast. Many Tamilian households have the custom of lighting Maa Vilakku or lamps made from rice flour on the occasion of Purattasi Sani.
The significance of Maa Vilakku in Tamilnadu
‘Maa Vilakku‘ in Tamil literally translates to ‘lamps made from flour’. Lamps or diyas made from rice flour, sweetened with jaggery, are considered hugely auspicious in Tamilnadu. They are prepared on special occasions like Purattasi Sani, Thai Velli (Fridays in the sacred Tamil month of Thai), and Karthigai Deepam (a Tamil festival that is celebrated after Diwali). These Maa Vilakku or rice flour lamps are also believed to be a favourite of Mariamman, the very powerful Goddess. When diseases like chicken pox occur in a family, these lamps are prepared with great sanctity and offered to the Goddess, as a means to appease her.
In the olden days, these lamps were made from freshly hand-pounded rice flour, using a mortar and pestle. If you visit the ancient temples of Tamilnadu, you will still come across women pounding rice in huge mortars with huge pestles, to prepare Maa Vilakku. This is a charming sight, indeed, something from a bygone era. Click here to see an example.
In today’s times, though, many households use a mixer to grind soaked rice and then proceed to use the same in making the lamps. Some even use store-bought rice flour to make these lamps.
Different families have different ways of offering these rice flour lamps to God. Some offer a single lamp, while some make two big ones. Some place the lamps on a banana leaf, some place them on a silver plate or tray. Some place flowers around the lamps, and some deck them up with kumkum (vermilion) and manjal (turmeric). The basic ingredients used in the preparation of these lamps and the method, more or less, remain the same. Traditionally, a cotton wick is placed inside these lamps, which are lit using ghee and not oil.
Since Maa Vilakku or rice flour lamps are typically prepared as an offering to God, they are prepared without tasting. Once the lamps are done burning and are cool enough to handle, the residual rice flour is consumed.
Edible rice flour lamps or Maa Vilakku recipe
Let’s see how to make Maa Vilakku or edible rice flour lamps, the traditional way.
Ingredients (makes 2 big lamps or several small ones):
To make the lamps:
- 1 cup raw rice
- 3/4 cup powdered jaggery
Other ingredients you will need:
- Cotton wicks, as needed
- Ghee, as needed to light the lamps
- Soak the raw rice in just enough water to cover it, for about 30 minutes.
- When the rice is done soaking, transfer to a colander. Drain out all the water from it.
- Spread out the soaked and drained rice well on a cotton towel/napkin, and place it in direct sunlight or under the fan for a while. Pat dry using another cotton towel/napkin. In 15-20 minutes, the rice should be damp but not soaking wet – that is when it is ready to use in making the lamps.
- Now, take the damp rice in a mixer jar. Pulse a couple of times, for a couple of seconds each, stopping in between to scrape down the sides of the mixer jar with a spoon.
- Now, add the jaggery powder to the mixer jar. Again, pulse 3-4 times, for a couple of seconds each, stopping in between to scrape down the sides of the mixer jar with a spoon. At the end of this process, you should get a slightly coarse powder resembling rava, a good mix of the rice and jaggery. Transfer this to a large mixing bowl.
- Knead the rice-jaggery powder gently with your hands. This will make the jaggery melt slightly, and the powder will come together to form a sort of dough. If you think the dough is too dry, you may add a bit of water/milk at this stage.
- Shape the dough into two large lamps (diyas). If you want, you can make several small diyas out of the dough. Place the prepared lamps on a tray/plate/banana leaf.
- Fill each lamp with ghee, as required. Place a cotton wick in each lamp, and light them.
- I use regular Sona Masoori or Wada Kollam rice to make these Maa Vilakku.
- Once the lamps stop burning, the wicks are removed, the residual ghee in the lamps (if any) is mixed into them, and the dough is consumed as prasadam. However, consuming too much of it can lead to a stomach ache, as it is raw rice flour anyway.
- The quantity of jaggery you will need depends upon the type and quality of jaggery you use. I use store-bought jaggery powder and the above measurements work out perfectly for me.
- After lighting, the Maa Vilakku dough can be kept at room temperature and consumed little by little. It stays well at room temperature for 3-4 days. Refrigeration will prolong the life of the dough further, but might make it slightly hard.
- Make sure all the kumkum (vermilion) and flower petals are scraped off the lamps, before you store the residual dough or consume them.
- Edible camphor (pacchai karpooram), dry ginger powder (sukku podi) or cardamom (elaichi) powder can be added to the dough, for extra taste. We usually skip these.
Making adhirasam from leftover Maa Vilakku dough
Don’t want to consume the leftover dough after lighting the Maa Vilakku, as is? You can use the residual dough to prepare Adhirasam, a beautiful, beautiful sweet dish!
Adhirasam or athirasam is an old-time sweet dish from South India. In Tamilnadu, this is commonly made for weddings and poojas and on festive occasions like Navratri and Diwali. Traditionally, to make the adhirasam, a syrup is made with jaggery and water, to which coarse rice flour is mixed to form a dough, which is then formed into discs and deep-fried. Adhirasams are a delicacy, beautiful things that aren’t easy to get right. It is tricky to get the jaggery syrup right, and making discs that don’t disintegrate while frying is a huge task. Using leftover Maa Vilakku dough is an easier, short-cut method to make adhirasam, which more often than not yields great results, even for a beginner to Indian sweets like me.
Here’s how you can make Adhirasam from leftover Maa Vilakku dough.
Ingredients (yields 8-10 small adhirasam for the above Maa Vilakku measurements):
- Leftover sweet maa vilakku dough, wick removed, flower petals and kumkum scraped off
- Oil, as needed for deep-frying
- Ghee, as needed to grease palms
- Heat oil for deep frying in a thick-bottomed pan, till it reaches smoking point.
- In the meanwhile, grease your hands with a little ghee. Use your hands to make small discs of about 1/4-inch thickness from the leftover dough. If you have been refrigerating the leftover dough, bring it to room temperature first before proceeding to make the discs from it. Keep aside.
- When the oil is nice and hot, reduce the flame to medium. Drop in a couple of the discs into the hot oil and fry evenly, till they get brown on the outside. Drain out the oil and transfer to a plate. Take care to ensure that the discs do not get burnt. If the oil is too hot and the discs are rapidly frying up, you might want to reduce the flame further to ensure even frying.
- Deep fry all the discs in the same manner. The adhirasams are ready! They can be consumed straight off the stove or at room temperature. At room temperature, they stay well for 4-5 days.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!
This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is ‘Navratri Special’.