Patra Bhajia

Indira from Pune, India writes:

Hello Kurma, thanks for your great website. I have a recipe request: do you have a recipe for the Gujrati savoury dish Patra Bhajia, made from Elephant Ear plant?

My reply:

Dear Indira, I do have a recipe, but it is untested.

Here it is. If yourself or any reader of this blog would like to test it for me and give me their comments, I would be appreciative. Best wishes, Kurma.

(note: these leaves are also known as Arbi in Hindi and Colocasia/Taro in English). They look like this:

arbi leaves:

Patra Bhajia

For 20-25 patras.

15-20 large patra leaves (colocasia leaves)




paste ingredients:

1/2 cup tamarind extract (juice)

1 cup gramflour (besan)

3 t chilli powder

1/2 t turmeric powder

3-4 pinches asafoetida

1 t crushed cumin seeds

3 t powdered sugar

1 T oil

salt to taste

For seasoning:

1 T oil

1/2 t each cumin & mustard seeds

1 t sesame seeds

1 T coriander leaves finely chopped

1 T coconut grated fine

patra:

Clean, wash and wipe the leaves. Cut thick veins with a pair of scissors. Roll lightly with a rolling pin. Keep aside.

Mix all paste ingredients (not those for seasoning). The mixture should be a thick paste. Place a leaf backside up on a flat work surface.

Take a little paste and apply thinly all over leaf surface.
Place another leaf over it. Repeat.

Keep stacking until you have 3 or 4 layered leaves, top layer being that of paste. Fold in the edges and roll the leaves, starting with their base towards tip. Make the roll tight and seal sides with some paste. Repeat for all the rolls.

Place the rolls in a double boiler or steam cooker. Steam in the cooker for 30-40 minutes till cooked.

Cool, and remove. Cut into 2-centimetre (1/2-inch) slices. When cooled well, arrange on a serving plate, and season as follows:

Heat oil, add seeds, allow to splutter, remove from heat. Add sesame, coriander, and coconut. Place spoons of seasoning on the patra. Serve.

Note: The patra can also be deep-fried after steaming and slicing (as in above photo) before the seasoning stage.

Good Morning Tennessee!

you have mail:

My weekend was spent teaching – a great class of 20, down South of Perth. My camera was playing up – no pictures – so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I must say that I really enjoy opening my in-box to reveal the swathe of daily mail. Today was no exception. Here’s a couple of letters:

“I just found your web site tonight. I was googling “curry leaf” and
you were the guy who popped up. I am just beginning to learn about Indian
cooking. I spent over two hours today in the local Indian Market. I love
travel as much as you do. I have read much of your web site this evening. I
put you on my toolbar. Please keep writing!

Regards, Karen Bacon Barnett, (wannabe world chef), Johnson City, Tennessee,
USA

……………………………………………………

Dear Kurma, I just wanted to thank you for the very good influence
you were in my early life. I first came across you when I was at university and going to the temple on the weekends. I thought that your
manner of speaking about your faith was so refreshing, having been brought up
in a fairly narrow-minded and joyless Protestant environment.

I remember
learning a lot about Krishna through the temple and was really blown away the
last time I was back in NZ to be approached by a young devotee on the street in
Masterton who offered me a cook book. I was in the middle of telling him about
how I had been very moved and inspired by a Hare Krishna chef, years ago, when I
realised that your photo was on the back of the book he was showing me!

I still
have the book, and it is great to see that you are still giving people such
good, life-changing advice…
A lot of time has gone by and many
things in my life have changed but I will always thank the Lord for the
spiritual and healthful goodness that came into my life through your work and
influence.

L. W., Melbourne, Australia

Buy Nothing Day

buy nothing day:

November 23 (November 24 in UK) is Buy Nothing Day.

Here’s what the campaigners have to say.

“Everything we buy has an impact on our planet. Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population – are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth.

As consumers we need to question the products we buy and challenge the companies who produce them. What are the true risks to the environment and developing countries? The argument is infinite – while it continues we should be looking for simple solutions – Buy Nothing Day is a good place to start.”

Fair enough. If I could add my two cents (2 pence in UK):

Perhaps even better than buying nothing is buying something of lasting spiritual value. Money is not intrinsically bad; rather it is what the money is spent on that is the real issue.

Kurma and the Bandwidth Thieves

thief:

You may have noticed that my blogs have been slow to appear in full lately, especially the photos. Some photos may not have always appeared at all.

The title of today’s blog could be the name of my new Rock Band (if I had one, which I don’t). But bandwidth ‘theft’ is a reality. I don’t pretend to be very au fait with the subject, but in a nutshell this has been the problem, as explained by my blog technician:

People have been ‘stealing’ bandwidth off my server. They’ve
linked to the images, and added these link to their sites. These sites
are having large traffic thrown at them, since each hit need to serve several
of my images.

Some like Planet ISKCON kindly feed my blog to its readers hourly, and I am grateful for this. Others do so without authorisation, though of course it’s nice that my blog is being read by so many.

This, plus the high resolution of some of my latest India photos, plus their profusion, plus publishing from India in dusty little internet cafes, plus technical difficulties with some serving machinery at home have all compounded to slow things up. With all these factors in place, multiple and simultaneous requests for data clogged up the system.

So thanks for your patience. I am seriously considering thumbnail photos in future. I will let you know if and when this change is made. You’ll be able to click on them to see a larger image if you wish. Hopefully this will streamline things.

Letter of Appreciation

pencil:

It sure was an austerity getting those India blogs up. But I did feel it was my duty to share my realisations, however meagre. My visit was far more than tourism. Comments such as the one below make it all worth the effort.

M of Elizabeth Park, South Australia writes:

“Dear Kurma, I for the first time today browsed through your blog
page. I was quite amazed and astonished at the significance of your
journey to India. I was overwhelmed with gratitude in the unconditional
sharing of such sacredness. Blessings to you, M. ”

My reply:

“Thank you very much for that gracious observation M. Comments like this make the hard work of blogging so much more worthwhile.”

Storing Spices

I’m back in Perth after my wonderful India tour.

Craig S from Melbourne writes:

“Hi Kurma, I love your site. Fantastic!

I was wondering what the best way to store herbs and spices (ground & whole)
are. I have so many indian spices, etc but would appreciate advice on how to
store them and general shelf life of some spices.

Hari Om, Craig.

ps – i just missed your workshops in melbourne but hope that I get the chance
to attend if you return here in the future.”

new spices:

My reply:

Hi Craig,

Shelf life varies a lot between spices. Some can stay in sealed containers for a while, others deteriorate and lose their essential oils.

My rule of thumb: Keep them cool, not near the stove. Keep them well-sealed. I keep them in glass jars. Keep them out of sunlight. Many restaurants keep their spices in the coolroom for maximum longevity.

I also have a steel spice tiffin like the one pictured above. It’s useful for having your most used spices at your fingertips.

Buy only small quantities and replenish your stock when you run low with the freshest available.

I also only focus on whole spices, and grind the powders when I need them. Exceptions: things like turmeric, chili powders, paprika, etc.

Hope to see you at a class when I am next in Melbourne.

A Week in Puri, Part Two

Puri is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in India, and is sometimes described as being “one of the four ‘Dhamas‘ (sacred centres) of the Hindu religion’.

puri main street:

Although worship of Jagannatha was going on a long time before in this spot, the construction of the present temple was started by Ananta Varman Chodaganga during the 12th century A.D. and was completed by Ananga Bhima Dev.

The vast temple complex occupies an area of over 400,000 square feet, and is bounded by a 20 foot high wall. The compound contains about 120 shrines. The top of the Jagannath temple towers to a height of 192 feet. This temple stands on an elevated platform of stone, which measures about 10 acres and is located in the heart of the town.

This is as close as we could get to the temple, and the photo was taken at sunset directly across the road on the roof of a shelter for Manipuri widows.

jagannath temple at dusk:

The temple has four halls, outermost being the Bhogamandir (hall for eating). The second one is the Nata-mandir, a hall for music and dance.

The third is the Jagamohana, a gathering hall for devotees; and the fourth is known as the Deul, enshrining the actual Deities themselves. I was unable to identify which was which from the roof.

Here is a nice close up of the spire of the Jagannatha Temple.

spire:

To get some idea of the size, the golden chakra pictured above is 4 metres tall. The flag is changed (by hand) 3 times a day.

The temple has four gates at the eastern, southern, western and northern midpoints of the Meghanad Prachir (the outer enclosure) and are known as the Lion Gate, Horse Gate, Tiger Gate and the Elephant Gate respectively. Pictured below is the Lion Gate (Simha Dvara).

lion gate:

Each of the gates has quite a long history. Below is the Horse Gate.

horse gate:

The Elephant Gate seemed not to be open the day I visited. Below is the Tiger Gate.

another Puri gate:

The architecture of the temple follows the pattern of many Orissan temples of the classical period. Much of the local architecture embodies the same classical style, like this building, now a shop on the main street.

puri shop and shopkeeper:

The most famous festivals to be held in Puri is the festival of Ratha Yatra. Since time beyond memory, the celebrated Deity of Krsna known as Jagannatha (Lord of the Universe), who resides in this magnificent temple, had been honoured with a great chariot parade.

Every summer, on the second day of the bright fortnight of Ashada (June-July), literally millions of pilgrims gather from all over India to join in the awesome and magnificent celebration in which the Supreme Personality of Godhead graces everyone – highborn or low, pure or impure, rich or poor – with His presence when He leaves His palatial temple and travels in state to His peaceful summer retreat of Gundica.

The Deity of Jagannatha memorialises Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as He manifested Himself in Dvaraka fifty centuries before. There, as part of His personal pastimes on earth, Lord Krsna had reigned as king in dazzling splendour and revealed the unsurpassable opulence and majesty of His Godhood.

Puri temple has the world’s largest kitchen and feeds thousands of devotees every day. The kitchen prepares food for 100,000 people on a festival day and for about 25,000 on a normal day. This is as close as I could get to the kitchen, as non-hindus (anyone with white skin) are strictly forbidden entry through any of the temple gates.

boys in khaki:

These soldiers look quite friendly, but if I was to attempt an entry, they would restrict me at any cost. This is all you can see of the kitchen from outside the walled compound.

puri kitchen:

Everywhere you look downtown you’ll see devotees carrying pots, both large and small, of delicious food that has been sanctified in the temple. These two gentlemen were more than happy to pose in front of the revered maha prasad. For a couple of dollars per head you can order generous pots full of maha prasad, some still piping hot, which can be delivered to wherever you may be staying in Puri. We ate it almost every night and savoured the very wonderful and unique flavours. The recipes have not changed in 2000 years.

jagannath prasad:

No ingredients are ever used in the temple kitchens that are not indiginous to India and specifically the local region. Thus you will never find potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, or even chilies in any Jagannath maha prasadam. All these items were introduced only a few hundred years ago, being native to South America. And, of course, the temple recipes were compiled many, many centuries before.

This building is the Gambhira, the Sacred residence of Sri Caitanya when he resided in Puri.

gundica temple:

Puri does have some gorgeous cows, and some different varieties to what I’ve seen elsewhere in India, including some wonderful miniature breeds. This lovely lady is being nicely looked after in a special goshalla near the Tota Gopinath temple.

contented cow:

In many Indian temples, photography is not allowed. Nevertheless, here is a rare photo of Lord Balarama and wives, on an altar to the left of that of Tota Gopinatha. Ask no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.

Balarama at Tota Gopinath:

Traditional arches like the one below are a common sight adjoining the temples of Orissa, and are often used to hang swings for the temple Deities on festival days.

traditional arch:

We took a tour of the beautiful Gundica (pronounced goon-deecha) Temple. Below is its ornate main entrance.

entry to gardens:

The Gundica temple, founded in the 16th century, is another one of the most renowned temples in Puri. It is situated two miles northeast of the Jagannatha temple. At the time of the famous Ratha-yatra festival, Lord Jagannatha goes to the Gundica temple from His original temple and stays there for one week. After one week, He returns to His original temple. It is understood by hearsay that the wife of Indradyumna, the King who established the Jagannatha temple millenia ago, was known as Gundica.

Yet another beautiful entrance to a secluded sacred garden. I’ve forgotten which this is. Any memory joggers out there?

garden gate:

Here’s another garden entrance.

another garden entrance:

Ancient banyan trees like this one abound in India. Some are thousands of years old.

banyan:

The last evening before we left the sacred city of Puri we held a mini-festival in our guesthouse room to commemorate the celebration of Govardhana-Puja. We built a small hill of sweets, some of them local specialties, which were eventually eaten with gusto, (or should I say ‘gutso’)

a feast of sweets:

Pictured above, from bottom:

A tub of mishti doi, a bengali sweet yogurt made from condensed fresh cows milk and natural sugar cane sweetener; khajja, the all-time famous sweet of Puri, which is basically a crispy fried sugar-dipped flakey pastry; a morsel of chocolate sandesh (a type of sweet cheesecake made from panir cheese); a diamond-shaped cashew burfi (cashew milk fudge); another local Puri sweet the name of which evades me – basically a round of sweet sugar-syrup drenched spongy soft fresh cheese; besan laddhu (chickpea flour fudge); boondi laddhu; another variety of besan laddhu (in the paper cup); a morsel of rasagulla (fresh cheese simmered in syrup); silver-coated cham-cham; a chunk of the famous local cheescake called Chenna Podi; a couple of unidentified morsels.

Next morning we set off to the city of Bhubanesvar, where we met our flight to Delhi and the holy land of Sri Vrindavan.

And that’s the subject of another blog, on another day. My present marathon of blogging is over. I leave soon for the material world – Delhi, Singapore, and back to Perth.

Thanks for your support.

A Week in Puri, Part One

If you’ve just tuned in, I’m in India, at the tail-end of my tour. After finally getting some decent internet connection, I’m working through the backlog of travel nectar.

One week ago, on the afternoon of our departure from Sri Mayapur, we all gathered some snacks for the train trip to Puri. At various times of the day one can purchase sacred food, prasadam, that has been offered directly in the temple. Here’s one of the dedicated men surrounded by some of the enormous quantities of cakes and sweets prepared in the vast temple kitchens, packing up some bags of fruit cake and crispy khajja for our train trip picnic.

picnic for the train:

Soon after I took this photo, we bundled our belongings into two jeeps and drove off to Kolkata for our trip to Puri.

Although Howrah station is a little over 100km away, it took us 5 hours to reach. This is not at all unusual, due to to the hellish nature of Bengal roads (with potholes the size of meteorite craters) and the congestion due to too many trucks, too many bikes, poor infrastructure and too many people.

calcutta madness:

The pollution in Calcutta has to be seen to be believed. The evening air resembled blue fog, with the noise of a thousand car horns adding to the lovable chaos.

Our little group made its way to the platform, boarded the Puri Express and settled in for what turned out to be quite a comfy, albeit chilly, all-night journey to Orissa.

Our first early-morning stop in Orissa state was at Cuttack, the ancient capital.

cuttack:

Here I am, ‘bushy-eyed and bright-tailed’, defrosting in the fresh morning air after a night of arctic air-conditioned Indian train travel in the famous 2-tier AC style.

ac 2 tier:

A few hours later we arrived in Puri station, our Orissa destination for the next week.

puri station:

This was our accomodation in Puri, the simple but peaceful Birla Guesthouse.

the birla guesthouse:

We were fortunate to be literally just across the road from many miles of magnificent beach. The roaring tides of my last visit to Puri were nowhere to be seen. The sea was calm and contented.

sunrise puri beach:

The waters that grace Puri are officially known as the Bay of Bengal, which is actually the Indian Ocean.

puri beach sunrise:

The sunrise over the Bay is magnificent, and I spent many an early morning dip splashing in the inviting 20 degree waters.

puri:

The sacred town of Puri is rich in cultural and spiritual heritage. Our little team spent many a day touring the various temples of this ancient pilgrimage spot. In each venue, we shared discussion of the significance and history of the place.

hearing:

This is one of many sacred bathing places of Orissa. Immersion in the cool waters gives one an immediate, tangible peace.

another sacred lake:

One of my favourite places in Puri was the famous Bhajan Kutir (place of devotional residence) of my spiritual grandfather, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.

bss bhajan kutir:

In the early 1920’s (when the whole area was just jungle) Srila Bhaktisiddhanta (the guru and preceptor of my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada) imbibed centuries of Bhakti tradition to perform many years of intense chanting, devotional prayer and study in this sacred, attractive and tropical place.

This gathering of spiritual strength and grace empowered Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to establish a network of temples and spiritual publishing houses around India, the modern forerunner of what has become known as the Hare Krishna Movement in the modern world, under the expert guidance of his dear disciple (my guru) Srila Prabhupada.

Just outside the kutir was a wonderful goshalla where gorgeous cows and calves live in peace and contentment.

kurma and calf:

We attended ceremonies in the famous Tota Gopinatha Temple, another wonderful and spiritually potent treasurehouse dating back to the 15th century. This temple featured significantly in the life of the medieval father of the modern day Krishna Consciousness Movement, Sri Caitanya. He spent the last 18 years of his life here in Puri, enraptured in Divine Love.

We heard more wonderful narrations of these pastimes in the cool inner sanctum of this temple, where Sri Caitanya disappeared in the early 16th century at the age of 48.

more hearing:

All over Puri we found saintly devotees, especially widows, who had committed the final years of their lives to blissful spiritual discipline.

vaisnava lady:

Puri is filled with various places of great significance to bhaktas, or devotees. Here’s a shrine dedicated to Sri Hanuman, the famous divine monkey devotee of Lord Rama.

hanuman:

And here on a local rooftop are some modern day, less-than-divine Hanuman monkeys. Their black faces, long tails and more peaceful demeanour set them aside from their naughty shorter-tailed counterparts in Navadvip and Vrindavan.

hanuman monkeys:

In fact, as I write these words in an internet cafe in Sri Vrindavan, two monkeys decided to have sex on top of an electricity pole opposite, and shorted-out the whole street in a blaze of high-wire coital self-immolation.

Anyway – where was I? Oh yes…

Despite the inevitable modernisation, some aspects of life go on in India just as they have for centuries. Here’s a lady cleaning and winnowing rice in a temple courtyard of Puri. The sepia tones add to the mood, yes?

winnowing rice:

Ok, well there’s much more to see of Puri, so I’ll publish that another day. Stay tuned!

Here's Some I Prepared Earlier

I wrote this last Saturday morning (November 10th) whilst sitting in my room at the Birla Guest House on the beach road in Jagannath Puri, Orissa, under a ceiling fan turned on to maximum. The mosquitos were being blown hither and thither by the strong currents of air, yet some seemed to get through the strong defence system, doing what mosquitos do best.

The rest of the team were out on parikrama, or visiting the various sacred sites of Puri. I took the morning off to bring you all up to date with my tour.
But first things first. Before I narrate our journey from West Bengal to Orissa, I’d like to share my last photos of Mayapur, lest we lose our sense of time sequence. Here they are, in no particular order:

When I first arrived I took this shot of the daily rubbish collection in the vast grounds of Sri Mayapur. The bulls love to work, especially doing devotional service.

Bovine Rubbish Removal Company:

When it was built some years ago, this was the longest building in Bengal. I think it still is. Known affectionately as (you guessed it) ‘The Long Building’, it offers profuse accomodation facilities.

the long building:

This is a nice aerial view of the Memorial Temple (Samadhi Mandir) to Srila Prabhupada. It really is a massive building.

samadhi aerial view:

Under the mosaic-lined main dome is the actual memorial tomb of Srila Prabhupada, as shown below. The gorgeous marble and onyx main hall can hold up to 4000 people.

inside samadhi:

Back in the main temple building, we have some vision of an inner sanctum, the ancient abode of Lord Nrisimhadeva, where regular worship is performed at certain times of the day.

nrisimhadeva puja:

This is the wonderful arati ceremony where cauldron-like flaming camphor lamps are offered accompanied by joyful singing and music, and the chanting of millenias-old Sanskrit hymns.

Here is is one of the many sacred sites around Sri Mayapur, an ancient lake that’s been extant for millenia.

sacred lake:

Here’s a good shot of the main courtyard of the Sri Mayapur main Temple. The 3-spired roof marks the entrance to the main temple complex. The single spire marks the place where the main altar is situated. Note the security framework on the right under the grass-roofed area. As is common in most large Indian temples these days, security guards check each entrant for potential terrorist breaches.

temple building:

Each morning the devotees gather at the far end of the main temple to offer respects, flowers and sacred items to our founder/acharya Srila Prabhupada, in a ceremony known as guru-puja.

flowers offered with love:

Each devotee present offers handfuls of marigold petals from the temple garden. Here’s a scene of the temple gardens.

mayapur garden scene:

And another shot of the gorgeous lotus-petal fountain.

fountain:

This photo definitely does not do justice to the gigantic size and awesome beauty of the Deities of the five sacred forms of Panca Tattva, newly installed a couple of years ago in one of the massive temple halls.

panca tattva:

Here’s a couple of photos of just a small fragment of the 4800 devotees sitting attentively in a morning and evening classes held in a massive temporary pandal (decorative Indian festival tent) built on a large stretch of lawn at Sri Mayapur.

hearing attentively:

These tents are a special wonder of Indian construction ingenuity, and come with comfortable cushioned floor seating and electricity. Some are built to house 30,000 in one sitting. This small one was tailored for 5000.

chowpatty walas:

This is the lotus-eyed beauty of Sri Lalita, one of the divine cowherd girls that constantly offer service to Radha and Krishna.

sri-lalita-devi:

And here’s two more gorgeous gopi servants of Krishna.

gopis:

There are numerous places to eat in Sri Mayapur, including seated, restaurant-style dining. If you want to eat in a traditional way, the Gada building offers daily fare for those who want to partake cross-legged. Here’s a small view of the massive prasadam (sacred food) hall that seats 1000 at a sitting. That’s Kesava on the right, the group leader from Melbourne.

The banana leaf plate is there, with the customary wedge of lime, salt and water. Lunch is on the way!

lunchtime lineup:

To be continued…