‘Mahashivratri’, a festival to honour Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, is a very special occasion celebrated all over India. Devotees observe day and night-long fasts, immersed in prayers, invoking divine blessings for health, peace and prosperity. The fasting period is usually broken with sweet milk and dry fruits. ‘Prasadache Ladu’, a festive sweet made with dry fruits and fresh ghee, is naturally nutrient-rich, healthy and sugar-free. This recipe is easy to make, using just a few ingredients and is a great ‘prasad’ (offering for the Divine) option to celebrate this festival.
“Once upon a time, the beautiful Goddess Parvati and the divine Lord Shiva, decided to play a game of dice. Stakes were set and the dice began to roll. The two divine beings played decisively for many hours, until finally, the end of the game seemed very close. As they concentrated on the final round of their game, the wind ceased to blow, the icy waters of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi slowed down and the leaves of the conifers stood very still. All was silent in the beautiful Himalayas, as Parvati and Shiva rolled the dice a last time.”
“Who won? Who won?!” said Leela, as she leaned closer to Aai (grandmother) to hear the end of the tale. “Well,” said Aai, looking upon the eager faces of the little Nayak children, “Lord Shiva rolled the heavenly dice and thunder rumbled through the dark sky. Lightning flashed as the dice came to a stop. And all of a sudden, the sky began to clear. The Sun shone brightly and the birds sang sweetly, swooping happily through the crisp mountain air. Goddess Parvati had won the game! And as her prize, she’d even won the majestic Mount Kailasa– Lord Shiva’s abode.”
“What did Lord Shiva do Aai?” asked Prakash, worry lining his face. “Lord Shiva had to leave Mount Kailasa. He was deeply upset and travelled a long way to the southern part of India. He took up abode deep in the dense, green jungles and sat quietly, immersed in his meditation. But after a while, Goddess Parvati began to miss Him dearly and decided to look for Him. Her search for Lord Shiva took her to the deepest parts of the southern jungles. As she searched, she came upon a small stream in the forest and waited to catch Her breath. All of a sudden, leaves began to rustle by the side of the steam and She stood very still.”
“A large tiger prowled out of the dense foliage, striding towards Goddess Parvati. It was the largest tiger She’d ever seen, with menacing yellow eyes and immense strength within its striped body. It bared its sharp teeth, roaring in anger at the prospect of having been disturbed! Goddess Parvati, startled and frightened, closed her beautiful eyes and said, “ Trahi Mam Girisha! (Lord of the Mountains, protect me!)”
“All of a sudden, the Tiger turned into Lord Shiva, who smiling, greeted his beautiful wife. He’d transformed Himself into a tiger merely to scare Her. But, delighted that She’d prayed when She was most scared, He decided to take the name ‘Mam Girish’ and was reunited with the lovely Goddess Parvati. And that’s how our famous temple gets it name- Shri Mangueshi,” said Aai, watching the faces of her grandchildren break into smiles. “Now then children, it’s time for bed. We’ve all to wake up very early tomorrow morning so we’ll be in time for the abhishek (special prayers) at the temple,” she said, urging the little ones out the varaand (verandah).
All members of the Nayak family awoke before dawn on the Mahashivratri morning. Having ensured that the children bathed early as well, the family dressed in their best clothes. Dada (grandfather) looked over the final preparations for the special prayers in the Devachikud (prayer room). The Shivlinga was decorated with white jaswanti (hibiscus) blooms while the figurines of the other beloved Gods were decorated with brightly coloured fula (flowers), sparkling with dew drops and gathered from the family’s garden. The children helped the menfolk to put up toran (garlands) of rozachi fula (marigold) and ambyachi paana (mango leaves) across the top of doorways. The women of the family bustled around the ranchikood (kitchen), preparing special Prasadache Ladu, filled with fragrant dry fruits and drenched with the flavours of elaichi (cardamom) and ghee (clarified butter). The festive sweets, to be offered to Lord Mangueshi and then distributed to all the devotees at the temple, were carefully wrapped in keliche paana (banana leaves) and placed into large patlo (straw baskets).
All the preparations done, the family members joined Dada in the Devachikud where special prayers were recited, marking the occasion of Mahashivratri. The family then made their way to the Shri Mangueshi temple, greeting their relatives and friends along the way. The temple looked beautiful with its dome gleaming in the early morning sunlight. The Nayak family proceeded into the temple to offer their prayers and prasad to the Lord. The children watched with great interest as the Bhatji (priest) recited special prayers, anointing the Shivlinga with milk, honey and ghee. Sparkling water trickled down the beautiful Shivlinga, which was then decorated with chandan (sandalwood paste), belachi paana (wood apple leaves) and brightly coloured fula. The temple, blessed with the Divine presence, resounded with the heartfelt prayers of hundreds of devotees, all invoking the blessings of Lord Mangueshi. The Bhatjis would take turns to recite special prayers through the night, until early the next morning, when the devotees would finally break their fast with sweet milk.
Having prayed before the Shivlinga, the women of the family were given Oti, comprising fresh coconut halves, prasadache ladu, kele (bananas) and fula. The children of the family were then tasked with handing out prasadache ladu to all the devotees at the temple. They ran up and down the lines of devotees, excitedly handing out the festive sweets and receiving blessings of ‘Dev Barem Korem’ (May God bless you) from one and all.
Colourful stalls were put up all over the grounds of the beautiful Shri Mangueshi temple to celebrate the occasion of Mahashivratri. A variety of goodies were sold, ranging from small toys to household ware to piles of freshly prepared sweets like ale kaap (ginger burfi) and khaje (sweets made of gram flour and jaggery). The children delighted in stopping by every stall, asking their mothers for just a few more annas (coins) to spend. Having spent a wonderful morning at the temple, the Nayak family and their relatives made their way home, feeling blessed and contented.
(Makes 18 ladus)
- 25-30 large Dates
- 1 cup Cashew Nuts
- 3/4 cup Shelled Pistachios
- 1 teaspoon Cardamom (Elaichi) powder
- 2 tablespoons Ghee (Clarified Butter)
Chop the dates, cashew nuts and pistachios into small pieces. In a large pan, melt the ghee and saute the cashew nut and pistachio pieces in it until they are fragrant. Add in the chopped dates and cook, pressing down on the date pieces to crush them. Stir in the cardamom powder and cook on low flame the mixture until the dates soften (about five minutes), then take the pan off the heat.
Apply a little ghee to your palms and scoop about a tablespoon of the dry fruit mixture, while bearably warm, pressing it together into a round ladu. Shape all the ladus in this way, gently re-heating the mixture on low flame if it becomes difficult to bind the mixture. The mixture should make about 18 small ladus, which can be stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.
Recipe Note: The Dates, before being added to the toasted cashew nuts and pistachios, may be ground to a smooth, sticky paste (with a few tablespoons of water, as needed) so as to make it easier to bind the ladus. We prefer chunks of the dry fruit to be interspersed in the ladu and have chosen to finely chop the Dates instead.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.