This week, India is getting ready to celebrate ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’, the annual festival celebrating the (re)birth of the beloved, playful, elephant-headed Lord Ganesha (also called Ganapati). Ganesh Chaturthi will be celebrated on Monday, the 9th of September this year, kicking off a 10 day festive spree.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated all across India, as Ganesha is one of the most important Gods of the Hindus (and we have thousands of them, or is it millions?). But in Maharashtra (the western Indian state of which Mumbai is the capital) it has much larger significance than being just a religious celebration.
Circa 1893, India was under British Rule, public gatherings were forbidden and Hindus were divided due to the caste system. Freedom fighter and social reformer ‘Lokmanya’ Tilak came up with the idea of using the Ganesha festival as a well-organized, public event that would unify the people in worshiping Ganesha as the God for everyone.
He came up with the concept of local ‘pandhals‘ (large pavilions) where huge images of Ganesha would be put up and people could come out in large numbers to jointly worship Ganesha. The images have been since replaced with giant idols of Ganesha and the size of the idols as well as the number of worshipers keep increasing every year.
Local societies compete with each other on who comes up with the most beautiful statue or the best decorated one and there are huge cash prizes to be won, making the Ganesha festival one of the most important ones, economically too.
It is a tradition for Mumbaikars to visit various pandhals throughout the city, pray to the elephant headed God and eat lots of ‘prasad” (food that has been offered to the deity, blessed and then distributed among worshipers).
Because of Ganesha’s reputation as the ‘Vignaharta‘, the remover of obstacles, it is not just Hindus who worship Him. People from all religions throng to the pandhals and offer their prayers. As a kid growing up in Mumbai, it used to be fun sitting on my Dad’s shoulders, to be able to see above the crowds and looking at the mammoth statues of Ganesha at the local pandhals. And of course waiting in line expectantly to receive the sweet prasad from the priest
Now, the most important food preparation during the Ganesha festival is Modak, a steamed rice dumpling, shaped like a dim sum, that holds the most wonderful concoction of coconut, jaggery, nuts with a hint of spices, within its bosom.
Modak is Lord Ganesha’s favorite sweet and hence its importance during this festival is not to be taken lightly. The usual variety of modak that you will find in most sweet shops is the one made out of milk solids (mawa) or nuts.
But the real deal is the one made by traditional Maharashrian housewives, who manage to mould the rice flour mixture into the most beautiful modaks, which look too pretty to eat. Compared to that my modaks look like they have been thrown together by a 2-year-old!
I need a lot more practice in modak-making, but they taste delicious all the same. Silken layer of steamed rice flour on the outside and juicy, drool-inducing coconutty goodness inside.
Here is the recipe.
Makes 10 modaks
For the Ukad (Outer Rice Coating)
1 cup Rice Flour (very fine grade)
1 cup Water
Pinch of Salt
1 teaspoon Ghee/Butter/Oil
For the Stuffing
1 teaspoon Ghee
2 cups Grated Fresh Coconut
1/3 cup Jaggery (Indian uncentrifuged sugar)
1 tbsp Poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon Cardamom powder
2 tablespoon Assorted nuts, chopped
To make Ukad
Heat the water in a medium-sized pan, add salt and ghee and bring to a boil.
Turn off the heat and add all of the rice flour and mix well.
Cover and keep aside for 10 minutes.
To make Stuffing
Heat the ghee in a pan and add the poppy seeds. Stir and add the coconut, followed by the jaggery.
Keep stirring till the jaggery melts and is mixed well with the coconut.
Add cardamom powder and nuts, mix well and set aside to cool.
Take ukad, wet hands with water as well as some oil and knead the ukad into a soft dough.
Split dough in equal size balls.
Now start to form the ball into the shape of a bowl with your fingers.
Stuff filling into the bowl and mould the bowl into a dim sum-like shape, sealing the filling inside the ‘rice-bowl’. Watch this video for better understanding.
Next, steam these modaks in a steamer or by keeping a shallow colander over a pot with boiling water.
Steam for about 10 minutes over medium heat, till the modaks have a glossy sheen to them.
Cool and serve.
Ganpati Bappa Morya!!
May Lord Ganesha remove all the obstacles in your path & shower you with life’s bounties