Recipes: Vazhakai Podimas

A very traditional tambram dish, Vazhakai Podimas is a healthy plantain stir fry which barely uses any oil. So this is a very good alternative for those who want to eat green bananas, but don’t want to fry them.

Vazhakai Podimas


  • 4 medium-sized raw bananas
  • 4 tbsp grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp oil or ghee
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp split urad dal
  • 1 tsp green chilli paste or 2 green chillies, chopped
  • 3-4 curry leaves, torn
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt to taste


  • Wash the raw banana and discard the top and bottom. Cut the bananas into 2-3 large pieces.
  • In a large pan heat water and once the water comes to a rolling boil add the raw bananas and cook them for about 5-6 minutes until the bananas are cooked. You can also steam the bananas.  
  • Once the bananas are cooked evenly and the skin darkens, remove them from the water and peel the skin. Because it is fully cooked, the skin should come off easily.
  • Take out the cooked raw bananas from the water and allow them to cool completely. Peel the skin and grate them after peeling.
  • Now add the grated ginger, coconut and salt and gently mix so the grated raw banana does not get mushy.
  • Heat the oil or ghee in a pan. Once the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. At this point, add the urad dal and let the dal slightly brown.
  • Then add the green chilli paste or green chilles and curry leaves and stir well.
  • At this point, add the grated bananas which has been mixed with ginger, coconut and salt and mix gently so the tempering is mixed with the vegetable.
  • Drizzle some lemon juice and serve hot with any south Indian meal like sambar or rasam.

Recipes: Sweet Aval or Poha

During the last Krishna Jayanthi festival, while I was speaking with my mum, she told me that Lord Krishna loves aval or poha which are flattened rice flakes and that I should include this dish when I make my neividhyam to the Lord. I had not made this recipe before so I asked her the recipe and this is what she told me. The result was a sweet dish which was not too rich and once that took me barely 15 minutes to make. All the ingredients are usually pantry staples, so if you are in a hurry and have these ingredients on hand, you can make a quick offering to God in 15 minutes or less. The colour of your dish will depend on your jaggery, so try and get the darkest jaggery you can find.

Sweet Aval or Poha


  • 1 cup aval or poha
  • ½ cup powdered jaggery
  • ¼ tsp cardamom powder
  • 1 tbsp grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 5-10 cashew nuts


  • Wash the poha well, drain and keep it aside
  • In a pan, heat the ghee and when the ghee heats up, fry the cashew nuts to a golden brown colour. Drain into a kitchen towel and keep aside.
  • In the same pan, add the powdered jaggery and 1 tbsp of water and bring the jaggery to a nice rolling boil.
  • When the jaggery has completely melted, add in the washed and drained poha and mix well.
  • Add the cardamom powder and coconut and mix well.
  • Add in the fried cashew nuts, mix well and switch off the gas.
  • Remove to a serving dish and serve hot.

Note: I used organic powdered jaggery, so I didn’t have to strain it. If you are using the lump jaggery, chop enough to make ½ a cup and heat it with a tablespoon of water. Once the jaggery syrup has cooled down, strain it to remove any impurities and continue with the recipe.

Tamil Brahmin or Iyer Wedding Rituals

A wedding is the union of two people, and every culture and religion has different rituals which signify this union. The rituals and ceremonies surrounding marriage in most cultures are associated primarily with fecundity and validate the importance of marriage for the continuation of a clan, people, or society. They also assert a familial or communal sanction of the mutual choice and an understanding of the difficulties and sacrifices involved in making what is considered, in most cases, to be a lifelong commitment to and responsibility for the welfare of spouse and children. Marriage ceremonies include symbolic rites, often sanctified by a religious order, which are thought to confer good fortune on the couple. Because economic considerations play an essential role in the success of child-rearing, the offering of gifts, both real and symbolic, to the married couple is a significant part of the marriage ritual.

In India, the variety of communities and religions ensure that weddings are a glitzy affair with Hindu weddings being highly elaborate affairs, involving several prescribed rituals and in most cases, the date of the ceremony is determined by careful astrological calculations. Indian weddings are known for their grandeur and vibrance. Tamil Brahmin weddings, especially hold a special place because of their meaningful rituals and ceremonies that bring two families together. The community I belong to also has traditions and ceremonies that are unique to us and here is a small attempt to demystify them.

Tambram or Tamil Brahmin is a phrase used to refer to the Brahmins who trace their origin to Tamil Nadu. This is separate from the Palakkad Brahmins who trace their origin to the Palakkad district in Kerala and who were the brahmins who fled Tamil Nadu during Muslim invasions and were given refuge by the then King of Palakkad. While the traditional tambram wedding does not have the typical North Indian ceremonies like Mehendi and Sangeet, today’s wedding traditions have incorporated them and the result is a beautiful fusion of wedding traditions.

Tamil Brahmin wedding rituals are based on the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The spiritual symbolism of each ritual remains the most important and though the wedding may seem simple without much pomp, it is religious and very personal. A traditional Iyer wedding is an amalgamation of Vaidika ceremonies which are rituals as per the Vedic scriptures and various other rituals. While the core marriage rituals are Vedic, these are accompanied by a lot of other rituals that are loukika in nature, or not prescribed in the Vedas or the Puranas but are in practice due to popular acceptance over time. These loukika rituals may not be uniformly followed by all brahmin Iyers with customs and practices followed by individual families different.

Decades back, the wedding used to be a four or five-day affair and I remember my grandmothers telling me about their weddings when the whole village came together for a week to celebrate it. But today’s weddings are usually a day and a half, with many only having two half-day ceremonies and merging the previous evening’s ceremony with the reception to save time and money. The following ceremonies are followed by most of the brahmins, but some families may omit certain rituals and others have something slightly different.

Before the actual wedding date, there are pre-wedding rituals that are done after which the wedding takes place.

Nischyadaartham: In most Iyer weddings, the matching of the horoscopes of the bride and the groom is an important step. Once the marriage is fixed, the nischayadaartham or engagement ceremony is held on an auspicious day. Following a pooja invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesha to remove all obstacles, an exchange of coconut and thamboola or betel leaves and areca nuts is done in the presence of elderly members of both families. This ritual is also known as vaang nischaya or committing by word. The reading of the lagna patrika giving details about the date, day, time or the muhurtham and place of the wedding along with family details of the bride and the groom, is then signed by representatives of both the families, usually the fathers. This makes the engagement a written and signed contract and is a later addition to the nischyadaartham and has now become a part of this ceremony, over time.

Sumangali Prarthanai: Sumangali Prarthanai is a prayer done by the married women invoking the blessings of female ancestors, who would have passed away as sumangalis, aka who died before their husbands. Sumangalis, who are invited, are supposed to represent the ancestral sumangalis and are worshipped and fed as per the customs and practices prevalent in individual families. Along with the sumangalis, a kanya or a young girl who has still not attained meranche is also worshipped and partakes in the feast. Usually, the sumangali prarthanai in the bride’s family is done before the wedding so that the daughter, who will be getting married, can be a part of the ceremony and receive blessings. In the case of the groom, it is done immediately after the wedding so that the new daughter-in-law can participate as a sumangali in this ritual. This ritual is usually done before any auspicious event in the family and I had done this before BB’s thread ceremony. Also, it can only be done once a year by a family as a whole, so for multiple weddings or other such ceremonies, only the first one will be counted.

Pongi Podal: The bride and the groom are invited by their respective aunts, which will be the mother’s brothers’ wives or maamis and the father’s sisters or athais and treated to a traditional feast including Pongal and other favourite dishes. This feast is prepared by elders of the family to celebrate and bless the bride and the groom, who will then go on to form a family of their own.

Yatra Daanam: The groom and his family travel to the bride’s place of residence or the venue of the wedding after praying to Lord Ganesha and giving daana or alms to Brahmins to ward off evils. It is also considered auspicious to break a coconut before commencing the trip.

Other than these pre-wedding functions, other smaller functions also take place in the homes of the bride and groom which include praying to kula-devatas or family deities, erecting a panda kaal or a bamboo pole with plantain-covered decorations outside their homes after special prayers for the smooth conduct of the wedding and the applying of mehendi or henna for the bride and other ladies of both the families with the groom also applying some henna symbolically.

Now let’s go to the main ceremonies, which are included in the two-day event

Receiving the groom’s party: In country-side weddings in the olden times, the groom’s party used to be welcomed at the boundary of the bride’s village with the nadaswaram being played. I remember a wedding we went to when I was about six where the bride was my father’s maternal cousin and the bride was his paternal cousin. We initially stayed in a smaller town before going to the village where the wedding was to be held. Almost at the village, my grandfather wondered about the same thing, about whether there would a welcome committee at the entrance of the village since we were the groom’s party at that point. Today, the groom’s party is ceremonially received at the entrance of the wedding venue by the bride’s parents and relatives with coconuts, flowers and a thamboola with two decorated conical structures called paruppu thengai kutti which is made out of jaggery, lentils and coconut.

Vratham: This is a Vedic ritual that involves the groom taking permission from his father who is his first Guru to end his Brahmacharya Vratha or bachelor life and get married to lead the life of a Grihastha. Both the bride and the groom are made to perform certain samskaras or philosophies and a sacred string of protection called Kaapu or raksha is tied to the wrists of the bride and the groom after the chanting of Vedic mantras to protect them from all evil spirits.

The Sprinkling of Paligai: This ritual originally involved planting a row of trees by the families of the bride and the groom. Over time, the actual planting of trees has given way to germinated seeds of nine kinds of pre-soaked grains being sowed in five clay pots each for the bride and the groom’s side. These seeds are sowed into these clay pots along with the sprinkling of milk mixed with water by married women from both families with prayers for a long and happy married life for the couple and blessings for their progeny.

Janavasam: This is when the groom is brought to the mandapam or the wedding hall in a grand procession accompanied by nadaswaram and sometimes the bursting of crackers. In the days gone by, this was a chance for the entire village to see the groom and his family and if anyone had any objections to the groom or his family, they had a chance to let the bride’s family know before the wedding. The rituals done during the nischyadaartham are repeated here and the bride’s brother presents clothes and jewellery to the groom and the groom’s sister does likewise to the bride. Both are then taken to a nearby temple to obtain blessings.

Kasi Yatrai: A very unique ritual amongst the brahmins, in this ritual, the groom carries a bamboo fan, an umbrella, a walking stick, and a grantha or a book of learning like the Bhagavad Gita, wears new slippers, and sets out to go to Kashi or Varanasi for further learning. He is stopped by the bride’s father who requests him to stop travelling for learning and offers to give his daughter in marriage to him so that he can return to be a Grihastha. The groom agrees and returns to the marriage hall for further rituals.

Maalai Matral and Oonjal: After the groom agrees to get married, the bride arrives and garlands are exchanged between the bride and the groom amid cheering by family members. The bride and groom exchange garlands under the guidance of their respective maternal uncles, an important figure in the hierarchy of a Hindu Family.  In the Indian tradition, a garland worn by an individual is generally not worn by another. By making an exception to the rule, the unification of two souls and oneness of the couple brought together by matrimony are highlighted. The bride and groom are carried by their uncles and brothers and each group tries to move away from the garland. Finally, the garlands are exchanged thrice and then the groom leads the bride by holding her hand to a decorated oonjal or swing. The swing symbolises the vicissitudes of life that the couple is expected to face and cope with, in perfect harmony. While they are seated on the swing, married ladies from both families symbolically wash the couple’s feet with milk by sprinkling some milk on their feet and wiping that with the edge of their sarees. At this point in the wedding, the bride and groom are the epitomes of Lord Vishu and his consort, Goddess Lakshmi. The women then wave coloured rice balls around them and throw these balls in all four directions to ward off evil and propitiate the planets and gods representing the directions. The bride and the groom are given a mixture of milk with pieces of bananas. Women of both families sing songs for this occasion. The Oonjal is followed by the vara poojai wherein the bride’s father welcomes the groom and washes his feet with water and the groom begins the marriage rituals with a prayer to Lord Ganesha. The Gothras of the bride and the groom are announced loudly by the priest along with their lineage up to three generations.

Kanya Daanam: The bride sits on the lap of her father, who holds a thamboola or betel leaves and areca nut in his palms. She then places her palms holding a coconut on her father’s palms. As the groom receives the bride’s hand from her father, the bride’s mother pours water over her daughter’s hand, which is made to fall on the ground like a dhaara or stream. This ceremony is called dhaarai vaarthu kodukkal in Tamil. The mantras chanted by the bride’s father symbolise the groom as a personification of Lord Vishnu and Gothra or the lineage of the bride is changed to that of the groom. This can be the equivalent of the western tradition of the father giving away his daughter in marriage. In some families, they also change the name of the bride to symbolise a new beginning. While for most people, it is just symbolic, in some families, the bride will henceforth only be called by her new name.

Maanglya Dhaaranam: The groom gives the ‘koorai podavai’ – a traditional nine-yard saree to the bride that she is supposed to wear to begin her life as the missus. The groom’s sister and other ladies of his family take the bride away to help her drape the ‘koorai podavai’ for the ‘maanglya dhaaranam’. The bride’s father then, once again, washes the feet of the groom and gives him a mixture of curd, honey and ghee. The maangalya or the mangalasutra are twin pieces of gold that is one each from the bride and the groom’s side and is placed on a yellow sacred string. Once the bride is ready in the nine-yard saree, she comes back and sits on the lap of her father and is showered with gifts and blessings. This happens before the couple tie the knot where the priest places a yoke denoting harmony and coordination on the head of the bride upon a sacred grass and the gold mangalyam or the wedding chain. Water is poured amidst the chanting of hymns, praying for her happiness and prosperity. The mangalsutra is tied around the bride’s neck in three knots, the first tied by the groom and the other two knots are tied by the groom’s sister. If the groom does not have a sister, a cousin does the honours. This signifies that the bride is welcomed by the groom’s family with the groom’s sister a representative for her family. This ceremony is performed amidst the chanting of mantras and a crescendo of nadaswaram, ketti melam, akshadhai showers of turmeric smeared rice and flower petals by the family members and friends to bless the couple. I was sobbing during this ritual as it finally hit me that I would be leaving my parents and moving out. I remember S trying to wipe my tears and do the rituals at the same time.

Paanigrahanam and Sapta Padhi: The groom holds the hand of the bride amidst chanting of hymns conveying that the Gods have ordained that they live as man and wife without parting and that the groom leads the life of a householder. The Sapta Padhi or seven steps is vital for the completion of the marriage. The groom takes the right foot of the bride and makes her take seven steps with prayers for her happiness, well-being and prosperity. The chants indicate that each step signifies the essentials of a harmonious life including, food, strength, wealth and prosperity, love and affection, progeny, opportune time and lasting friendship. The bride and the groom circle the Agni and on reaching the ammi kal or grinding stone the groom takes the toe of the bride’s right leg and places it on the stone. This signifies that the bride’s mind should be rock-like, unperturbed by the trials and tribulations of life. When they return to sit in front of the fire, the bride’s brother puts two handfuls of puffed rice in her hands, which is then offered to the Agni by the bride and groom with a small quantity of ghee. This entire ritual is repeated thrice.

Arundhati Nakshatra: Another interesting ritual is when the bride and groom are asked to take a look at the two-star constellation of Arundhati and Vasishtha, part of the bigger Saptarishi or Big Dipper constellation. In this special constellation, the two stars, Arundhati and Vasishtha move in tandem while revolving around each other, just like how a married couple should be. Now the funny thing is that brahmin weddings take place in the morning, and this ritual will come around the end of the wedding rituals, so around or before lunchtime. And one cannot see the stars at this time of the day, so all couples just look confusedly when the priest points to where the stars should be and nod their heads when asked if they saw them.

At the time of completion of chanting of mantras, the groom unties the darbha rope tied around the bride. This is followed by blessings showered upon the newly-married couple by all the elders of both families.

The first visit of the bride to the groom’s place and of the groom to the bride’s place is marked with female relatives giving them paalum pazhamum or a mixture of milk with bananas. A nalangu ritual may be held either at the wedding venue or the groom’s residence, wherein the bride and the groom are made to play some fun games that are more of an ice-breaker between the bride and the groom and also between the bride and her new family. This was relevant in the days when the bride used to be very young and was played so she gets used to the groom. It’s a fun ritual, but not relevant in today’s time, which is why I decided not to have it at my wedding.

For some families, this would be the end of the wedding function, while for others, there would be a reception in the evening where friends and colleagues would also be invited.

The bride then leaves for her marital home, where she will be welcomed with an aarti to ward off all evil and asked to kick a small cup of rice before she enters the home. This is to symbolise the prosperity she will bring with her.

I hope through this post, you got a small idea of how a Tamil brahmin or specifically an Iyer wedding takes place. This post will also help me explain to GG & BB their traditions as they grow older and may want to learn more. Writing this also brought back so many memories, and I relived my wedding which was amazing!

Recipes: Sambar without using Sambar Powder

I usually get my stash of Sambar Powder from my mum who makes it at home, either when we go down to India or she comes to Singapore. But because of travel restrictions in the past 18 months and no travel happening, as expected, my stock of Sambar powder finally finished. I then asked my mother for the recipe to make the powder, but because she told me it was a tedious process, I kept putting it off. And then last month, I needed to make Sambar and with no powder available, I decided to use the recipe that mother gave me and tweaked it slightly to make a paste which I used to make the Sambar. It was super tasty and I thought it’s a good alternative to those who don’t have access to a good quality powder.

For this recipe, I used raw bananas, but you can use any other vegetable you like including potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, bell peppers etc.

Sambar without using Sambar Powder


  • 1 lemon sized ball of tamarind, soaked in hot water for 20-30 minutes
  • 1 cup tuvar dal, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped raw bananas, cut in bite sized pieces which are then soaked in a bowl of water to prevent oxidation
  • ¾ tsp chana dal
  • 1 tsp tuvar dal
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4-5 dried red chillies (reduce this amount if you want it less spicy)
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • ½ tsp peppercorns
  • ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbsp jaggery powder (You can use brown sugar instead, but the taste would not be the same)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida
  • 2 tsp oil
  • Salt to taste


  • Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan and in the following order fry the spices for the sambar paste, making sure you fry each ingredient for about 30 seconds before adding the next ingredient. Fry the tuvar dal, chana dal, coriander seeds, dried red chillies, coconut, peppercorns and fenugreek seeds and let the dal become brown and the coconut become brown and crisp and loses all water. Do not let them burn. Take off from the flame and let it cool.
  • Once cool, blend with some water to a fine paste. You can also powder this and use it as a powder.
  • Cook the tuvar dal in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop and whisk it to a fine paste and keep aside.
  • Mash the tamarind and strain it to get just the water and thin it to get the preferred sourness.
  • In the same pan, heat the balance 1 tsp oil and when the oil warms up, add the mustard seeds and let them pop. Then add the asafoetida and the turmeric powder and stir for a couple of seconds.
  • Now add the peeled, chopped and soaked raw banana pieces and stir for a few minutes.
  • Add half a cup of water, just enough to cover the bananas (or any of the vegetables used) and let it cook covered for about 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are about half cooked.
  • Now add the sambar powder or paste, depending on how you have blended it and the tamarind water as well as the jaggery powder and salt and cook until the vegetables are almost cooked, like about 90%.
  • At this point, add the cooked dal and check for seasoning and add what seems to be missing.
  • Let it boil together in a medium boil for another 5 minutes, garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice and as an accompaniment to a South Indian meal.

Recipes: Raw Mango Pachadi

On the occasion of the Tamil New Year, we usually make the raw mango pachadi. This traditional dish is made on the occasion is packed with 6 flavour of tastes like sweet, salt, spicy, bitter, sour and astringent. It is believed that eating this on the new year will ensure that the year ahead will be perfectly balanced with all flavours infused in your life. The dish signifies that life is a combination of different emotions like good, bad, happy, sorrow, victory and defeat and we have to face them equally. Jaggery is used for sweet, salt for salty, dried red chilli for spicy, neem flower or fenureek seeds for bitter, raw mango for sour and turmeric for astringent.

I made this recipe for the first time earlier this year during the Tamil New Year. Actually what triggered this recipe was my mother moaning that she had not been able to get hold of raw mangoes because of the situation in Mumbai and so since I had some mangoes, I decided to make them. It was a huge hit in my house and since then, I have made it a few more times, and each time, it has been gobbled up soon. It’s a very easy recipe and from start to end, should not take more than 30 minutes.

Raw Mango Pachadi


  • 2 medium sized raw mangoes
  • ½ cup grated jaggery, (more or less depending on the sourness of the mangoes)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds or 1 tbsp fresh or dried neem flowers
  • 2 dried red chillies, broken into half each


  • Peel and chop the mangoes into largish pieces and then in a pan, add a bit of water, just enough to cover the mangoes, and the turmeric and cook till the mangoes are cooked, but still retain some of their shape.
  • While the mangoes are cooking, in a separate pan, add the jaggery and 1-2 tbsps of water and let the jaggery dissolve into a syrup. Let the syrup cool down.
  • When the mangoes are cooked, strain the jaggery syrup into the mangoes using a strainer. This is so that none of the impurities found in the jaggery make their way to the dish.
  • Let the mangoes and jaggery come to a nice rolling boil. Add the salt, stir well and switch off the gas.
  • Using a smaller skillet, heat the oil and when the oil becomes warm, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds or neem flowers, dried red chillies and stir for a few seconds each before you add the next ingredient. Stir for about 10 seconds in total and pour this over the mango pachadi.
  • Serve hot with any south Indian meal and enjoy a beautiful blend of flavours.
  • Served cold, this can also be served as a cold salad or starter or even a dip with your starter.
  • You can also cook the mangoes in a pressure cooker. If using a pressure cooker, cook the mango with a bit of water and turmeric and pressure cook for 2 whistles.