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An untold patriotic story of laddu that marks Ganesh Chathurthi
The story goes back to the spring of 1977, to the Artillery Regiment of the Army in Nashik, which spread up to Deolali, a beautiful small hill station.
I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law, who was posted there as an Air Force officer supervising the Flying Unit. I was amazed at the organised ways of the Army. Their Officers’ Mess had a landmark relic, a Japanese World War II bell hanging as a gateway arch, in memory of all the Indians sent to fight the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, in which many had sacrificed their lives for the country.
General TN Raina, who had lost one of his eyes during the World War II, was the Chief of the Army Staff then. As he was visiting Deolali, the regiment wanted to celebrate the festival of Ganesh Chathurthi in his honour with a grand show — with the officers and their families performing as artistes.
Since the regiment knew I was there, I was invited to organise the show based on the story of Ganesh Chathurthi. As I was also undergoing my chef training, I was asked to train the mess cooks in preparing delicacies served for the festival.
The cultural drama with officers and their wives came to life with a live band playing tunes, while narrating the story of how Ganesh Chathurthi came to be celebrated in the country with dance and drama.
The festival began as a nationalist movement, with links to our country’s freedom movement. According to historian VK Rajwade, the earliest Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations can be traced back to the times of the reigns of dynasties of Satavahana and Chalukya.
Historical records reveal that the festival celebrations were initiated in Maharashtra by the great Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji to promote culture and nationalism. The year of 1857, which was a landmark year in the context of India’s struggle for freedom, saw an armed rebellion against the ruling British Empire by Indian soldiers.
Though an unsuccessful attempt, the year marked the beginning of fight for independence — with many great leaders being driven towards it. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, one such freedom fighter and social reformer, observed how Lord Ganesha was worshipped by the upper stratum, as well as the rank and file of the country.
The visionary that he was, Tilak realised the cultural importance of the deity and popularised Ganesh Chathurthi as a national festival to bridge the gap between all Indians and find an appropriate context to build new grassroots unity between them.
He knew that India couldn’t fight for her independence unless she resolved the differences between her own people. Hence, to unite all social classes, Tilak chose Ganesha as a rallying point for Indian protest against British rule, because of his wide appeal as the god for every man.
Since then, Ganesh Chathurthi has been celebrated throughout the country as a communal festival. Laddu and modak were the first prasads cooked and distributed for worshipping the god. With the Indian Independence in 1947, it was proclaimed to be a national festival.
The story told at the Regiment through dance and drama started Ganesha’s birthday with the right spirit. General Raina and all the guests loved the show, while the prasad was a big hit. Besides modak, kheer, badam halwa, the auspicious laddu made its presence felt significantly, while also being Ganesha’s favourite. Here’s a recipe of his much-loved laddu.
Ganesh Chathurthi Boondi Laddu
Gram flour: 500 gm
Full fat milk: 1 litre
Cow ghee: 800 gm
Sugar: 750 gm
Water: 3 1/2 cups
Orange colour: 12 drops
Saffron: 1 tsp, soaked in milk
Cashew nuts: 60 gm
Raisins: 60 gm
Cardamom: 10 peeled and powdered
Salt: a pinch
Edible silver foil: 2 sheets
- Prepare a thin batter with gram flour and milk.
- Place the heavy bottom kadhai on medium flame.
- Pour in the ghee.
- Fill the fryer/strainer with half the batter.
- When the ghee is hot, position strainer over the kadhai and tap the sides.
- Keep repeating till all the batter is done and falls into the ghee as small spheres.
- When golden brown, remove and keep aside.
- In another pan make the sugar syrup by boiling the sugar and water, till it becomes a half thread consistency. Keep stirring.
- Add the saffron, colour, chopped dry fruits, cardamom and stir well.
- Add a pinch of salt.
- Add the fried boondi to the syrup.
- Remove from fire after a few minutes and let it cool for an hour.
- Then moist your palm with ghee. Take small portion of the mixture, mould it with your hands into laddus.
- Insert a sliver of badam on top of each laddu and a small piece of silver edible foil.
- Soak chana the previous night itself to prepare sundal
- Laddus can be prepared a day in advance to save time
- You can keep the stuffing for sweet pooranam, kozhukattai a day before
- Decide the menu two days ahead and shop for groceries to save last minute rush
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of 'Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes'