At times, words fail you when you try to describe something that is very close to your heart. I feel the same when I try to talk about Vrindavan.
On the surface, it might appear like any other spiritual destination. But, dig deeper and you will find the remnants and the link to a civilization and culture, thousands of years old!
When I'm in Vrindavan or Braj Mandal that comprises of Vrindavan, Mathura, Barsana, Govardhan, Nandgaon and other places in and around, I'm lost in another world.
Walking down the streets or travelling on the rickshaws while navigating the narrow bylanes, listening to the chants of the localites known as Brijwasis greeting each other with Radhe Radhe, the sounds of the temple bells resounding in every corner and the musical kirtan (congregational singing) in the temple halls amounts to a surreal experience to me.
There is no dearth of street fare here and the entire region has a unique specialized vegetarian cuisine known as Braj ka khana (the food of Braj).
One of the common sights that greets you across the streets is vendors selling sweet lassi, a creamy delicious drink made of buttermilk, laced with fresh butter. This is truly one of the highlights of the streetfare of the region.
Kachoris, pakoras, chaats and a variety of sweetmeats comprise a significant part of the food sold openly.
With more than 5,000 temples spread across this space, visiting the prime ancient temples with a history and tradition that is hundreds of years old is another highlight of every visit. And what peaks my interest is the culinary aspect attached to these temples.
The temples set up by the Six Goswamis who were the main disciples of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu are of primary importance and the history attached to these temples has been documented through the years. Ro and me explored many places in Vrindavan when we visited the place during the holy month of kartik in October this year.
The Radha Raman temple is one of the oldest temples in Vrindavan where the standards of worship are known to be the highest, preserved and passed down through the generations.
The Gosvamis (family priests) of this temple are known to be very generous and whole heartedly distribute the nectarean Prasad to all the devotees that throng the temple.
Fifty six offerings are made to Lord Radha Raman every day cooked by highly skilled cooks in the temple kitchen whose families have been cooking here for generations. Another mystical aspect of this temple are the kitchen fires that have been burning for nearly five hundred years non stop, ever since the conception of the temple.
The kuliya Prasad, a divine concoction of milk and sugar stirred over fire for hours on end is a speciality of this temple and popular amongst the devotees from all over the world.
We had the fortune of tasting many of the Prasad dishes but unfortunately had to miss out on the lunch invitation by the presiding Gosvamis for the maha bhog as we had a flight to catch.
Back in Mumbai, I couldn't stop reminiscing about this temple. The deity, the pristine atmosphere, the classical music sung in the courtyard of the temple and the bhog or food of this temple, all seemed to have stuck a chord.
Then I remembered having browsed through a dish cooked in the Radha Raman temple in Yamuna Devi's The Art Of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. When I looked through the recipe again, I found it to be very similar to the Lauki Channa Dal curry that I made regularly at home.
Infact, I was surprised with the similarity of the dish that I made with that made in the temple. Maybe it was an old world deep connect that bound the threads of my cooking with the ancient cuisine of this temple.
And it seemed a perfect arrangement that I had a piece of fresh bottle gourd in stock, so I knew what to make for lunch on that day. Bottle gourd is one of the few vegetables belonging to the gourd family that retains its shape even after cooking and does not turn mushy.
This simple, quick and hearty dish pairs well with rotis or other Indian breads, plain rice and pulao.
Vrindavan Style Lauki Channa Dal (Bottle Gourd With Bengal Gram Dal) Recipe
Make sure that you select fresh and tender bottle gourd for this dish. You could replace the bottle gourd with any other squash when bottle gourd is not available.
1 medium sized bottle gourd (lauki)
140 gm (¾ cup) channa dal (soaked for 30 minutes)
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2" cinnamon sticks
4 to 5 cloves
½ tsp hing
2 tsp grated ginger
½ tsp turmeric powder
¾ tsp red chili powder
2 tsp coriander seed powder (dhaniya powder)
1 tsp cumin seed powder (jeera powder)
2 cups (500 ml) water
1 ½ tsp salt
Peel and cut the bottle gourd or lauki into bite sized pieces.
In a pressure cooker or a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, hing, ginger, turmeric powder and red chili powder.
Stir for a few seconds and put in the bottle gourd and the drained dal. Stir in 1 tsp amchur powder (depending on the tartness, use between ½ tsp to 1 tsp).
Add 2 cups water and salt and pressure cook till 1 whistle. After the pressure is removed, cook the dal a little more on low heat until the desired consistency is achieved.
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