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Tamil Nadu abounds in festivals marked by various food items depending on the geographical and cultural features of the regions. The Kongu region comprising Salem, Erode, Dharmapuri, Namakkal and Tirupur celebrates the advent of the Tamil month ‘Aadi’ with a dish made of burnt coconut. This unique festival is not known outside the western province of Tamil Nadu. Of course, the rest of the state too celebrates the birth of Aadi in its own way. But the Kongu fete has something offbeat about it.
There are legends linking this coconut food Kongu Aadi festival with Mahabharata. It is believed that the Kurukshetra battle started on day one of Aadi and lasted for 18 days. The coconut dish festival was believed to be celebrated as a precursor to the mega food preparation for the mammoth war.
This year the festival was celebrated on July 17 in the western districts. Everyone, including elders and children took part in the fete with enthusiasm.
The way the festival is celebrated is uniquely meticulous. In every household, a coconut’s exterior is cleaned of its rough fibre and the shells are scraped with a knife. Out of the three ‘eyes’ on the exterior, one is holed and the sweet water inside is taken out and stored in a vessel. A handful of raw rice, dhal, jaggery, sesame and cardamom powder are sprinkled inside the coconut through the holed eye. And then the coconut water is also poured back into the coconut. Now the coconut has 75% cereals and 25% water.
There are legends linking this coconut food Kongu Aadi festival with Mahabharata tales. It is generally believed that the Kurukshetra battle started on day one of Aadi and lasted for 18 days. The coconut dish festival was believed to be celebrated as a precursor to the mega food preparation for the mammoth war
An ‘alangium’ plant stick, sharpened and smeared with turmeric powder, is stuck into the coconut’s holed eye. Then alangium-fitted coconut is burnt in an open oven at the front yard of the house.
After baking the coconut at the stipulated temperature, the people take it to the temple nearby and make it a part of the offering (nivedhan) to the deity. Later, taking it back home, the people break the coconut and take out the mixed food that they eat and share with kith and kin. Some do the puja at home, conducting the coconut-oriented ritual.
The burnt coconut mixed with sesame, dhals, jaggery and other cereals smells of good aroma and tastes delicious. This coconutfood also has medicinal properties, particularly protein, and has some curative properties for stomach ulcers. The alangium plant used for this food preparation is said to have medicinal properties.
This food festival had probably started in ancient times as a medical initiative exclusively to create awareness of its health benefits. Food researchers and dieticians can examine this unique festival to record its medicinal features and sociological approaches to food.
However, the elders of the Kongu belt are disappointed that the age-old enthusiasm among the people for the culturally unique coconut food festival is waning.
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