Travel Shot: Madurai Malli| The Jasmine Flowers Of Madurai

The minute we entered our hotel in Madurai, we were assailed by the heady scent of jasmine. This was no ordinary scent, mind you, but a haunting, beautiful perfume that I haven’t come across with jasmine flowers anywhere. I looked around and, soon enough, found the source of the scent – a strand of jasmine flowers laid before the idol of Ganesha in the reception area. The famous Madurai malli! That moment, more than anything else, drove home the fact that we had, well and truly, arrived in Madurai.

For the uninitiated, the temple town of Madurai is well known for the special variety of jasmine flowers that it produces – popularly called Madurai malli or Madurai mallige. These flowers, grown abundantly in Madurai and surrounding areas, have thicker petals and longer stems, making it easier for flower vendors to string them. Also, these flowers retain their fragrance and freshness for up to two days, making them a huge hit with tourists and locals alike.

Apparently, it is the topography and climate of Madurai that lends the malli its special qualities and fragrance.

032.JPG
Madurai malli for sale outside the Meenakshi Amman temple

So feted are these flowers, in fact, that they have received their own Geographical Indication (GI) tag! They have found mention in ancient Tamil scriptures as well.

In Madurai, you will come across these flowers for sale everywhere – on pavements, outside big showrooms, in marketplaces and, of course, outside the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. They are commonly sold by quantity here, though – a string of 100 flowers will cost you a certain amount (I forget exactly how much) – as opposed to sale by length (mozham) that I have seen in case of jasmine everywhere else.

How could we resist buying the mallige while in Madurai? I wore strings of them in my hair every day, and basked in the glorious fragrance of them.

*****************

I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our recent trip to Madurai. If you haven’t, here are the links for you!

On a jigarthanda trail in Madurai

Our street food (and drink) journey in Madurai

Madurai Diaries: Of hogging at Nagapattinam Halwa Shop

Thoughts after visiting MS Subbulakshmi’s house in Madurai

Gopu Iyengar’s, Madurai: Serving delicious for 80+ years

Bun sandwiches, 4 ways

Travel shot: Panneer drakshe aka Indian Gulabi grapes

Azhagar kovil dosai| Black urad dosa

The other Azhagar temple in Madurai: Koodal Azhagar kovil

 

 

3-Ingredient Amrakhand| No-Cook Mango Shrikhand 

I first heard the name ‘Amrakhand‘ while we were visiting Pune, en route to Shirdi. The name sounded royal, like something made for a king in the kitchens of his palace. And why not? Amrakhand is, indeed, a regal treat, made with the choicest of mangoes, a fruit often touted as ‘the king of fruits’. Deck it up with slivers of almonds and a dash of saffron, and this beauty can brighten up anyone’s day.

Amrakhand! Now, if that is not a bowl of sunshine, what is?

Considering how beautiful amrakhand tastes, this Maharashtrian delicacy is extremely simple to make. All it needs are a few everyday ingredients. It is, basically, a version of shrikhand – mango shrikhand.

Here‘s my recipe for the amrakhand.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  1. 1 cup fresh, thick hung curd
  2. 2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar, or to taste
  3. 1 medium-sized, ripe mango
  4. A couple of strands of saffron (optional)
  5. 5-6 roasted, unsalted almonds, chopped (optional)

Method:

1. Peel the mango and chop all the flesh into cubes. Puree this in a mixer.

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the hung curd, mango puree and powdered sugar. If you are using saffron and almonds, mix them in too.

3. Let the mango shrikhand chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, covered, by which time it will set.

4. Serve chilled or after letting it thaw for about 15 minutes.

Notes:

1. Use curd made from full-fat milk for best results.

2. To make the hung curd, line a colander with cotton cloth and place it over a wide vessel. Pour the curd into the cloth-lined colander and let it sit for 2-3 hours. All the water from the curd would have flowed into the vessel at the bottom by this time, and you will find thick, creamy curd in the colander. Use this residual thick curd for this recipe.

3. Use fresh curd that isn’t too sour.

4. To make this mango shrikhand, use a variety of mango that isn’t too stringy. I used a Banganapally mango. Also, use a mango that is ripe and sweet, not too sour, but firm and not squishy.

5. Do not let the hung curd sit out for too long before you proceed to make the amrakhand. In that case, there are chances of the hung curd turning sour. You could make the hung curd in advance and refrigerate it, till you are ready to make the amrakhand, but trust me when I say it tastes best when freshly made hung curd is used.

6. You could add any variety of chopped nuts to the dish. I prefer adding roasted, unsalted almonds.

7. Do not blend the amrakhand after adding the sugar powder and pureed mango, otherwise the dish might get watery.

You like? I hope you will try this out at home too! 

Of Tea And More At Chai Galli, Brookefield

Some people will tell you there is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea,” Ralph Waldo Emerson in his Letters And Social Aims, and I would heartily agree.

Tea, for me, is more than just an everyday thing. It is a ritual. It is a thing that brings comfort and solace. It is me time. It is a rejuvenation of the body and soul. It is time for introspection. It is time spent bonding with near and dear ones. It is time to reflect over things trivial and deep. It is time to ponder over your day or life. It is a break from routine. Oh, I could go on and on and on.

Considering the love that I accord to tea, I was thrilled to discover this place called Chai Galli, in Brookefield, that is dedicated to tea. A swarm of food bloggers descended upon this place recently, on an invite, to check it out. This post is all about our experience at Chai Galli.

Location and ambience

Chai Galli is located in Brookefield, alongside a couple of quirky-sounding eateries. It wasn’t difficult to find at all.

PicMonkey Collage1
The quirky decor at Chai Galli!

Inside, the place is done up beautifully, with simple furniture, but with bits and pieces of colour and quirk thrown in here and there. Indian-style cans of milk deck the ceiling, and the lights are made of glasses of chai. Posters on the walls pay tribute to classy Indian films. A distressed chest of drawers adds oodles of charm to the place. Colourful teapots hold spoons, knives and forks, on each table, at the same time speaking about famous Bollywood movies. One wall is dedicated to that lifeline of India called the Indian Railways. I loved the fun and youthful, yet comfortable vibe that Chai Galli gives off. This is the sort of place where you can sit and have a conversation with friends or family over a cup of tea and some snacks – there’s no rush.

18446823_10212816222505515_6667169540708698265_n
Chai is serious business at Chai Galli – even the sink in the bathroom speaks about it!

The place is decently sized, and seating is comfortable. Natural light is ample.

dsc04625.jpg
The outdoor sitting area at Chai Galli

There is a lovely outdoor sitting area, too, where you can watch the world go by as you sip on your cup of tea. We chose to sit indoors, though.

Cuisine

Chai Galli, of course, serves chai, and a whole lot of it, too. For the tea lover, there’s lots here to choose from – teas from the mountains of South Africa and Darjeeling, saffron-infused tea from Rajasthan, simple ginger tea done in the style of road-side stalls, and so on. For those who aren’t really into tea, there’s coffee, milkshakes and a variety of juices.

The menu also has on offer some quick bites that you can grab with your drink of choice. There are a few varieties of Maggi, the quintessential maska bun and jam bun, sandwiches, poha, pakoras, pasta, lasagne and chaats. There is some quirky stuff in there too – like pizza made with Gujarati khakras. What attracted me most, though, was khamni, a typical Gujarati dish that isn’t so easy to come across in Bangalore.

The food and drinks story

Now, let’s get on to the nitty-gritties, shall we?

First up, I sampled a Pasta In Red Sauce, which was well done. The pasta was cooked just right, there was a generous amount of veggies in there, and the sauce was tasty.

Next, I tried out the Khamni, which, I am told, is one of their best-selling items. It wasn’t exactly the khamni that I have grown up eating in Ahmedabad, but was not bad at all. It was quite tasty, in fact.

PicMonkey Collage
Clock-wise from top left: Pasta In Red Sauce, Khakra Pizza, Desi Tadkewali Maggi and Khamni, at Chai Galli

I also sampled a Khakra Pizza, veggies and cheese and sauce spread out over a khakra and baked. This was decent, but the taste didn’t really stand out. I love the idea of this kind of pizza, though – pizza, definitely, but one that isn’t heavy on the stomach.

Then, I opted for a Desi Tadkewali Maggi, Maggi cooked with Indian spices, which came generously garnished with fried onions. It was simple and mild, yet delish.

From the teas, I chose a Ginger Tea, which came in a little white teapot, along with a couple of glasses and a pack of Parle G biscuits. Ah, nostalgia! I loved the way the tea was done.

dsc04620.jpg
Ginger chai at Chai Galli

For each of the dishes, presentation was simple – I liked how they have kept things natural, instead of going overboard trying to project dishes in a quirky fashion. Portion sizes were decent for one person, as a snack. The teapot of ginger chai was good enough to serve two people, generously.

Prices

The prices here are mid-range, neither too low nor too exorbitant. Chai for two, along with three or four snacks should set you back by INR 600 or so.

My thoughts

Chai Galli is a lovely place to head to for a cuppa and some simple eats. It is the sort of place I would go to to unwind and recharge my batteries, as well as for some bonding with loved ones.

Do visit this place if you are in the vicinity!

Gopu Iyengar’s, Madurai: Serving Delicious For 80+ Years

While I was researching for our recent trip to Madurai, the name Gopu Iyengar’s popped up often. I read about this all-vegetarian little eatery being touted as one of the best places in Madurai for South Indian snacks, particularly the variety of dosas that they serve and their vellai appam. Of course, we had to include a visit to Gopu Iyengar’s while we were in Madurai!

The history

Long, long ago, a certain Gopala Iyengar was working as a waiter in one of the old restaurants in Madurai. He was a good, hard-working and earnest person, much liked by everyone. When the owner decided to sell the restaurant, he found a willing buyer in Gopala.

In the year 1930, Gopala launched his own restaurant by the name of Gopu Iyengar’s, on West Chitirai Street, near the famed Meenakshi Amman temple. On the menu were traditional South Indian tiffin items like dosas, idlis, vadas, thavalai adai, pongal and halwa. The eatery became hugely popular, with dignitaries like Supreme Court Judge AR Lakshmanan and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K Kamaraj making it a regular haunt. Priests from the Meenakshi Amman temple began eating here too. The fame of the hotel spread far and wide, and locals began referring to the place as ‘Moolai Kadai‘ (‘corner shop’ in Tamil, thanks to its location at a corner of the street).

Over time, Gopu Iyengar’s launched a second outlet on the bustling Bypass Road in Madurai, too. They also began selling some of their signature snacks and pickles online. I was also surprised to see this ancient, traditional hotel having an active and well-maintained Facebook page!

The branches, presently owned by Gopala’s son RG Srinivasan, remain open from 6.30 AM to 10.30 AM in the mornings and from 3 PM to about 7.30 PM in the evenings. It is believed that the menu and style of preparation of dishes here still the way Gopala Iyengar planned them out.

Gopu Iyengar’s, West Chitirai Street

While in Madurai, we decided to visit the old, first outlet of Gopu Iyengar’s, rather than the new one on Bypass Road.

The old outlet of the eatery was not difficult to find at all. It is, indeed, a small, hole-in-the-wall place that we might have missed if we weren’t really looking for it, but I am sure the throng of people getting in and out of it would have drawn us to it eventually. A blackboard by the door told us about the day’s specials, all in Tamil.

Both times we visited, the few tables and chairs inside were full of people who seemed to be relishing their tiffin on plantain leaves, slowly sipping on their filter coffee. Both times, we got a table after a short wait, and were soon relishing our own tiffin and coffee too. I don’t know how this works – it felt like we weren’t rushed at all, we were given time to leisurely enjoy our food, with the people waiting outside being managed efficiently as well.

Inside, the eatery retains its old-world charm – the interior still probably looks very much the same as it did when the place was started in 1930. Peeling paint on the walls, framed pictures of Indian gods, an old-fashioned cashier’s desk by the door, barebones tables and chairs, the lack of fancy cutlery, waiters in T-shirts and veshtis, a little washbasin to clean your hands, a bin where you drop the plantain leaves after you eat, all add to the quaint atmosphere of the place.

The food and drink story

Like I said before, Gopu Iyengar’s is an all-vegetarian outlet that mostly serves traditional South Indian tiffin items, and is particularly famous for its vellai appam and dosas. Every day, there are different specials, announced on the blackboard, while the signature dishes as well as the most-ordered ones are served every single day.

The eatery prides itself on serving fresh, homely food, made without the use of any artificial colours, flavouring agents or preservatives.

Over the course of our two visits to Gopu Iyengar’s, we tried out quite a few items, most of which we absolutely loved. I’m so glad to see that this eatery hasn’t taken its reputation for granted and, even after over 80 years of existence, is serving finger-licking delicious fare to its patrons.

Here is a round-up of all the food we sampled at this eatery.

Vellai Appam: At Gopu Iyengar’s, you are brought a plate of vellai appams first, even before you have decided what you are going to have. That is de rigeur. You could refuse them if you want, but why would you do that? These vellai (white) beauties are things of joy, after all. These appams, a recipe from neighbouring Chettinad, are nothing but deep-fried balls of lentil batter. We found them quite delectable, albeit a tad oily. The two types of chutney we were served alongside these appams made for perfect accompaniments to them.

Filter Coffee: Filter coffee was good, wherever we sampled it in Madurai. Gopu Iyengar’s was no exception.

Plain Dosa: The dosa here was very well done, just the way I like it – neither overly soggy nor overly crispy. It was quite homely and delish,  a far cry from the thick and greasy dosas that you get in most hotels these days.

Podi Dosa: Again, this dosa was made beautifully, just the right texture, sprinkled with a liberal dose of karuveppalai (curry leaves) podi (powder). The dosa tasted lovely, but we didn’t particularly like the taste of the podi within.

gopu iyengar
On the left: Vellai appam, On the right: Podi dosa, both at Gopu Iyengar’s

Idlis: The idlis we sampled here were lovely, pillowy soft and delicious. They were quite homely too, as against the grainy idlis that you get in most restaurants now.

Ulundhu Vadai: The ulundhu vadais – deep-fried rounds of urad daal batter – were absolutely delectable. They were perfectly fried, neither overly crispy nor underdone. The coconut chips and curry leaves in the batter took the taste to a whole new level.

Godhumai Dosa: The godhumai (wheat) dosa here was another delicious affair.  It was, again, homely and made just right.

On the left: Bun halwa, On the right: Idlis and vadai, both at Gopu Iyengar’s

Bun Halwa: On one of the days we visited Gopu Iyengar’s, we were lucky to find bun halwa in the list of specialties. The halwa, made with bakery buns, came to our table in a little plastic cup. It was absolutely delish, loaded with ghee and dry fruits. It is a distant cousin of the Hyderabadi shahi tukda, if you may.

Prices and service

We found the service to be quite fast. The waiters were courteous, friendly, and attentive.

The prices are highly reasonable, considering the quality of the food here. We don’t remember the exact amounts of the bills we paid, both times we visited, but we do remember that they were quite, quite reasonable.

Though the place is small and cramped, it is neat and well-managed.

Verdict

Don’t miss this place whenever you are in Madurai. Do gorge on the lovely traditional fare here!

I’m not sure if the quality and taste of the food at the (relatively) new Bypass Road outlet matches up to this one. The West Chitirai Street branch is the one we visited and loved, and the outlet that I can’t recommend highly enough.

**************************

I hope you have been reading and enjoying my earlier posts about our Madurai trip! If you haven’t, here are the links for you.

On a jigarthanda trail in Madurai

Our street food (and drink) journey in Madurai

Bun sandwiches, 4 ways

Madurai diaries: Of hogging at Nagapattinam Halwa Shop

Travel shot: Panneer drakshe aka Indian Gulabi grapes

Thoughts after visiting MS Subbulakshmi’s house in Madurai

Azhagar kovil dosai| Black urad dosa

The other Azhagar temple in Madurai: Koodal Azhagar kovil

Travel Shot: Kumbakonam Vettalai (Betel Leaves)

Degree coffee is certainly not the only thing that Kumbakonam is famous for, we realised while researching for our recent trip to this temple town.

Apparently, the town also happens to be one of the leading producers of betel leaves and areca nuts. In fact, the betel leaves produced in Kumbakonam are believed to be among the best in the world, as far as quality is concerned.

Armed with this knowledge, we were well prepared to keep an eye out for local paanwallahs in Kumbakonam, so we could taste a couple of these famed betel leaves.

We had, sort of, expected these betel leaves to be all over Kumbakonam, but they were so not! We came across just a few shops selling them, that too only in the local flower-fruit-vegetable market.

DSC03637.JPG
Kumbakonam vettalai aka betel leaf for sale, in a market stall

When we finally got our hands on a couple of these betel leaves, we were surprised at just how fresh and strong in taste they were. They filled our mouths with a spicy juice that just isn’t present in the betel leaves we get in big cities like, say, Madras or Bangalore. The Kumbakonam vettalai is, definitely, different. Neither the husband nor I are betel leaf connoisseurs, and hence, unable to elaborate more on this.

Do try out some of the famed vettalai whenever you are in Kumbakonam!

*************************

I hope you have been reading and enjoying my other posts about Kumbakonam! If you haven’t, here are the links for you.

Acquainted, finally: Degree coffee in Kumbakonam

What dining at a 100-plus-year-old eatery feels like: Sri Mangalambiga Vilas, Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam, in the midst of Masimagam

Kalyana Sundareswar Kovil, Thirumanancheri: The temple of marriages

Travel shot: The man and his friend, the beast

Garbharakshambigai temple, Tanjore: Abode of the mother who protects the womb

Garbharakshambigai Temple, Tanjore: Abode Of The Mother Who Protects The Womb

The Garbharakshambigai temple, about 20 km away from Kumbakonam, was one of our destinations on the recent trip we undertook. Thousands flock to this temple, located on the banks of the river Vettar, in the village of Thirukkarugavur, in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu. Most of these devotees seek the blessings of Garbharakshambigai (‘the Mother who protects wombs’ in Tamil) one of the presiding deities here.

Walking around inside the Garbharakshambigai Temple..

It is believed that Garbharakshambigai, one of the incarnations of Goddess Parvati, holds the power to grant pregnancy to those of her devotees who seek it. She is also believed to have the ability to guard the foetuses of her devotees, and protect them from anomalies, ill health, miscarriage, and other woes. There are literally thousands of women who can prove this point – they will tell you of how they begot children because of their prayers to Goddess Garbharakshambigai, reciting the mantra meant for her, and partaking of the ghee distributed for the benefit of pregnant women at this temple. The Goddess is also believed to aid her devotees with a relatively easier delivery.

The other presiding deity at this temple, Mullaivananthar (Lord of the jasmine garden), is an avatar of Lord Shiva, husband of Goddess Parvati. Offering one’s prayers to the Lord is believed to cure one of any chronic disease.

History of the Garbharakshambigai temple

As per legend, the origin of the temple has to do with a couple – the husband was called Nidhruva and the wife, Vedikai. The couple, whose job was to serve two revered sages in a place called Mullai Vanam (jasmine garden), was childless. At the advice of the sages, the couple prayed to Goddess Parvati, and Vedikai was soon blessed with pregnancy. One day, during the course of her pregnancy, Vedikai was extremely tired and was resting, when another revered sage called Urdhvapada visited their abode. Vedikai was alone then and, in her state of tiredness, failed to hear the sage call out to her. Urdhvapada felt terribly insulted by this and, without knowing about Vedikai’s pregnancy, cursed her to suffer with a dreadful disease. The disease soon inflicted Vedikai, and began to eat away at the foetus in her womb, too, devastating her.

Vedikai once again prayed to Goddess Parvati, who appeared before her and promised to protect her foetus. The Goddess then placed the foetus in a pot and safeguarded it till the term of Vedikai’s pregnancy ended, and the couple received a male child, whom they went on to name Naidhuruvan. Goddess Parvati continued to extend her grace towards Vedikai by sending Kamadhenu, the divine cow, to provide milk to Naidhuruvan.

Extremely pleased by these benevolent acts of the Goddess, Vedikai and the other sages prayed to her, requesting her to stay back with them. And so she did. Later, a temple was built to commemorate the Goddess, and the place (that was earlier called Mullai Vanam) came to be known as Thirukarukavur (‘village of the temple deity who saves wombs’, in Tamil). Since then, it is believed, the Goddess, in the form of Garbharakshambigai, has been safeguarding the interests of pregnant women.

When Kamadhenu descended on earth to offer her milk to the child, a spring of water arose where her hooves were planted, right in front of the temple. A tank was later built to enclose the spring, which came to be called Kshreeakundam. This tank exists at the very same spot even today.

The tank in front of the temple, apparently the spot where Kamadhenu’s hooves dug into the earth

No one is sure about exactly how old this temple is, but it does find mention in a 7th Century Tamil work of literature called Tevaram.

The story of our visit

Conception and pregnancy was a tough game for the husband and me, for a variety of reasons. Every moment of my trying for conception and then, during my pregnancy with Bubboo, had tension and worry underlying it. My mother, having heard of the many miracles of Garbharakshambigai, would pray every day for the baby in my womb. I was too scared then to not religiously consume the ghee that my mother managed to get for me from the temple, via some relatives. Coincidence or not, our darling Bubboo came into this world hale and hearty. So, on our recent trip to Kumbakonam, we absolutely had to visit this temple with Bubboo, and pay our respects to the Mother.

We hired a cab to take us from Kumbakonam (where we were staying) to the temple, and back. This turned out to be a good decision, because there are no great places to stay or eat around the temple. Roads en route were good, and we had a comfortable and safe ride.

The temple is not too big, but not too small either. It is beautiful and serene, filling you up with a sense of peace the moment you enter. We had a nice and relaxed darshanam, albeit a tad emotional one, recalling the huge turmoil we went through before Bubboo was born. It was good to find the temple retaining a rustic, old-world charm and a total lack of commercialisation, in spite of it being so popular.

Tips for travellers

  1. The nearest railway station to Thirukkarugavur is Papanasam, while Trichy is the nearest airport.
  2. Before you visit, do check on the pooja timings and proceedure.
  3. Kumbakonam and Thanjavur are relatively big towns, from which travel to this temple by road is easier. Accomodation and good food is easily available at both places, as are cabs for hire.
  4. ATM facilities might not be available at Thirukkarugavur, near the temple, so make sure you are carrying enough cash with you when you travel.
  5. If you do pray at the temple for a child, it is advisable to return here with child, to thank the Goddess.

******************

I hope you have been reading my other posts about our visit to Kumbakonam, and enjoying them too. In case you haven’t, here you go!

Acquainted, finally: Degree coffee in Kumbakonam

What dining at a 100-plus-year-old eatery feels like: Sri Mangalambiga Vilas, Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam, in the midst of Masimagam

Travel Shot: The man and his friend, the beast

Kalyana Sundareswarar temple, Thirumanancheri: The temple of marriages

Kalyana Sundareswarar Kovil, Thirumancheri: The Temple Of Marriages

Just a short drive away from Kumbakonam, 25 km to be precise, lies the quiet little village of Thirumanancheri in the Nagapattinam district of Tamilnadu. The village has thousands of people flocking to it every day, all thanks to the Kalyana Sundareswarar temple that it houses.

It wouldn’t be wrong to call the Kalyana Sundareswarar (‘the beautiful god who facilitates weddings’, in Tamil) temple ‘the temple of marriages’. This temple, where Lord Shiva (along with his wife Goddess Parvati), is the presiding deity, is famed for expediting weddings. A special pooja is performed at the temple for all the visiting male and female devotees who are desirous of marriage – irrespective of whether they are single, divorced or widowed. There are thousands who have entered into matrimony after a visit to this temple, and these couples then visit the temple together to thank God and to light earthen lamps so as to seek His blessings for a happy and long wedded life.

The facade of the Kalyana Sundareswarar temple, Thirumancheri

Legend has it that, thousands of years ago, it was in the village of Thirumanancheri that Lord Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati, thus granting the place sacred status. This legendary wedding is what, in fact, gives the village its name – ‘Thirumanam‘ means ‘marriage’, and ‘Cheri‘ means ‘village’, in Tamil. Over the years, the Kalyana Sundareswarar temple in the village has become famous for conducting poojas that help weddings happen.

Years ago, my husband’s family had prayed at this temple, asking for a suitable wife for him. Coincidentally or not, a year or so later, ‘we’ happened. On our recent visit to Kumbakonam, we drove down to Thirumanancheri, as a married couple, to offer our respects to the deity. Quite late – seven years into our marriage, yes – but we did get to it, finally, with the bub in tow, too. It surely felt good, cute almost, to light lamps together with the husband, at the temple. The bub had a good time of it all, pretty amused to see her Amma and Appa sporting garlands around their necks, as part of the ‘couple pooja‘ at the temple!

Considering how famous this temple is, particularly in the south of India, it was pleasing to see that it wasn’t commercial at all, the way a whole lot of temples in India are going these days. Performing the pooja here was a breeze. This is a small and simple, but beautiful, temple, and I hope it stays that way.

*****************

I hope you have read my other posts about Kumbakonam, and enjoyed them too! If you haven’t, here are the links for you.

Acquainted, finally: Degree coffee in Kumbakonam

Travel shot: The man and his friend, the beast

What dining at a 100-plus-year-old eatery feels like: Sri Mangalambiga Vilas, Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam, in the midst of Masimagam

Kumbakonam, In The Midst Of Masimagam

The husband and I mostly travel during festivals, when he manages to get considerable time off work. Lately, we seem to be walking into places only to find ourselves in the midst of big celebrations, surrounded by throngs of people wherever we go. While we are planning our trip, we never know that our destination is a hot-spot for such a major event, and are always taken by surprise. Not good in some ways, but great in some other ways.

For instance, we landed in Calcutta in the thick of Kali Pujo, without ever expecting it. Now, recently, we ended up in Kumbakonam in the midst of Masimagam, quite by chance. We planned the Kumbakonam trip around the Hindu festival of Shivratri, and happened to be there right on the auspicious day of Masimagam, when thousands of devotees from across India visit the place, too.

Wondering what on earth is Masimagam? Here you go!

Masimagam is considered to be a highly auspicious day, particularly in South India. This day is when the planets align a certain way, an incidence that occurs only once annually, generally during February-March, when the Magam star is prevalent during the Tamil month of Masi. On this day, it is believed that all the rivers of India meet at the Mahamagam tank in Kumbakonam, and a dip in the waters of the tank is supposed to cleanse one of all sins. Grand poojas are conducted in all the major temples of Kumbakonam on Masimagam, with processions being carried out on the streets throughout the day. Devotees and holy men from everywhere, as well as tourists, visit Kumbakonam on this day, either to be a part of the bathing ritual or witness and record all of it.

Once every 12 years, this day becomes even more special, because of certain planetary alignments. This day is then called Mahamagam, or ‘the great Magam‘ in Tamil, when there are literally millions of people thronging Kumbakonam and clamouring for a dip in the waters of the tank. A few incidences of stampede have been recorded, in Kumbakonam during Mahamagam. The last Mahamagam was in the year 2016.

(Check out this Wikipedia link for more details)

Soaking in the spirit of Masimagam in Kumbakonam

The husband and I had booked a hotel in Kumbakonam very near the Mahamagam tank, quite by chance again. We were in for a big, big, big surprise the minute our auto guy turned towards the tank. There were hundreds of people on the street, many dripping wet from their bath in the tank, with pooja paraphernalia in their hands.

DSC03556
Processions from temples across Kumbakonam, making the rounds of the streets on Masimagam day

Our auto neared the tank, and we were in for an even bigger surprise – the atmosphere there was not unlike a fair!

DSC03541.JPG
The Kasi Viswanath temple, adjacent to the Mahamagam tank in Kumbakonam. A visit to this temple, especially on the day of Masimagam or Mahamagam, is believed to open the gates of heaven to one.

Fruit and vegetable vendors, loudspeakers, police patrolling, flower sellers, people distributing free water and buttermilk, beggars asking for alms, balloon and toy sellers, processions from various temples around town, tourists wanting to photograph every bit of it, devotees vying to get a dip in the tank.. it was BUSY, for sure. And, it was super-duper hot!

A rangoli on the street, near the Mahamaham Tank

DSC03542 Devotees taking a dip in the holy waters of the Mahamagam tank. Can you see how dense the crowd is?
We walked around with the bub, slowly, soaking in the atmosphere around us, taking pictures, committing things to memory.

DSC03558.JPG
Selfie with the Gods?

We didn’t dip ourselves in the holy water, but enjoyed every bit of the looking around we did, getting to know more about this important cultural event in South India.

PicMonkey Collage
On the left: Prasadam being distributed from one of the many chariots making the rounds of the Mahamagam tank; On the right: A close-up of one such chariot

What saddened us a whole lot, though, was the piles and piles and piles of garbage left around the Mahamagam tank, by evening, when the rituals had slowed down and the streets had started emptying. I heartily wish this could be changed, for the better, about ceremonies like this.

*******************

Have you read my other posts about our visit to Kumbakonam? I hope you have! If you haven’t, though, here you go!

Acquainted finally: Degree coffee in Kumbakonam

What dining at a 100-plus-year-old eatery feels like: Sri Mangalambiga Vilas, Kumbakonam

Travel shot: The man and his friend, the beast

The Other Azhagar Temple In Madurai: Koodal Azhagar Kovil 

On our trip to Madurai, we aren’t able to fit in a visit to the Azhagar Kovil, about 20 km away from the main city. We do, however, visit the other Azhagar Kovil – the Koodal Azhagar Kovil – which is just a short distance away from the famed Meenakshi Amman temple.

Legend has it that all the Gods and Goddesses got together at the Koodal Azhagar temple, for Meenakshi Amman’s wedding to Lord Sundareswarar. That is how the temple got its name, I understand – ‘koodal‘ refers to ‘gathering’ in Tamil. The ‘Azhagar‘ (‘beautiful lord’ in Tamil) here refers to Lord Vishnu, the presiding deity in the temple. For the locals, though, the Koodal Azhagar temple is ‘Perumal Kovil’ or ‘the lord’s temple’.

The beautiful facade of the Koodal Azhagar temple

The Koodal Azhagar temple is a lovely, ancient place, engulfing us with its aura of peace and reverence the minute we enter. How can we not feel awed, charmed, knowing that we are walking on sacred ground that has existed since the 7th century BCE? I have no pictures of the inside of the temple, though, as photography is not permitted within. I don’t want to snap away inside a place of worship, anyway.

Inside the temple, we find dosais being sold as prasadam, and I get one immediately. ‘So what if I cannot get my hands on the Azhagar Kovil dosai on this visit? I can try out the Koodal Azhagar dosai,’ I tell myself.

The ‘dosai’ prasadam we had at the Koodal Azhagar temple

The ‘dosai’ we are handed, in a square of newspaper, doesn’t look like a dosai at all. It is hard and chewy, beautiful in taste, redolent of black pepper. We munch on it, bit by little bit, sitting in the huge temple courtyard. It’s a tad tough to eat, but tasty nonetheless.

I’m not sure if this dosai is the same as the famous Azhagar Kovil dosai, since I have never seen or tasted the latter. Maybe this is a version of the original? I have no clue. For now, I’ll call this the ‘Koodal Azhagar dosai‘.

Kapoor’s Cafe, Now At HSR Layout!

After a successful innings in Whitefield (one outlet in Thubarahalli and one on ITPL Road), Kapoor’s Cafe launched a third outlet in HSR Layout recently. I was delighted to be given the opportunity to be part of the new outlet’s launch party, considering that I loved the food at the ITPL Road branch.
034
Dhol at the Kapoor’s Cafe launch party!
The HSR Layout outlet opened to much dhol beating, dancing, Punjabi-style fanfare and, of course, food!
Location and ambience
The new Kapoor’s Cafe branch is located on the bustling 27th Main in HSR Layout, and finding it is, really, a no-brainer.
The cafe is spread over two floors, with regular table-and-chair seating on one and khatiya/charpoy seating on the other, a la highway dhabas. I think the dhaba-style seating is the best part of the cafe, a highlight for sure. We chose to dine here and, I must say, it is quite a different, beautiful experience to eat that way!
PicMonkey Collage
Extreme left: The khatiya seating that all of us fell in love with; Centre: One of the posters on the wall; Right: A handmade lantern
The ambience of the khatiya seating area is something else altogether – with handmade lanterns, bamboo haath-pankhas, and framed posters proclaiming things like ‘I am Punjabi, and I cannot keep calm!’.
Cuisine
Kapoor’s Cafe serves typical North Indian fare, all-vegetarian. The place is famous for its various combo thalis and thick, malai maar-ke dryfruit lassi.
The food and drinks story

 

The evening of the launch party, we were served chaach (buttermilk) and their famous dryfruit lassi in huge earthen glasses, which lent a lovely feel to them. As always, I loved the lassi, which I think is a must-try, rich and cool and fragrant and utterly refreshing.

 

Post this, we were served assorted pakoras – cauliflower, paneer, cheese and onion. I loved the onion and cheese ones best, though the latter was a tad spicy for my tastebuds. It was oozing with melted cheese – what’s to not love? The paneer and cauliflower pakoras were just okay.

 

PicMonkey Collage4
Left: The specially-curated-for-us main course thali; Right: Missi roti and phulka, at Kapoor’s Cafe

 

For main course, we were served dal makhani, aloo (potato) raita, matar (green peas) pulao, pindi chole and paneer lababdar, accompanied by missi roti and phulkas. I heartily loved the dal makhani and matar pulao, simple but soul-satisfying. The pindi chole, paneer lababdar and aloo raita had a beautiful taste, but were way too spicy for me to eat comfortably. The menu does contain a warning for people with a low threshold for spices (like me), which I saw only too late. Oh, well, next time!

 

The missi roti was lovely, while the phulkas could have been thinner.

 

PicMonkey Collage3
Left: Assorted pakoras; Right: The inside of the cheese paratha, at Kapoor’s Cafe

 

We also got to sample their cheese paratha, which tasted good, but was not outstanding.

 

PicMonkey Collage2
Left: The jumbo glass of dryfruit lassi at Kapoor’s Cafe; Right: Fruit cream

 

For dessert, we were served their signature fruit cream, which I felt was a few notches lower in taste than the brilliant fruit cream I have tasted at their ITPL Road outlet.

 

Verdict

 

For lovers of North Indian food, this cafe is definitely a must-visit. Kapoor’s Cafe has a lot of combos and more to offer its patrons. I’d love to visit again, especially this particular branch, to try out more of their offerings.