On Friday 15th April, Hindus around the world will celebrate Ram Navami – a festival dedicated to the birth of Lord Rama to King Dasharantha of Ayodhya. It also marks the end of the nine-day Vasanthothsavam (festival of Spring), which starts with Ugadi (Hindu New Year). The region of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh is particularly enthusiastic when it comes to celebrating Ram Navami, as it is here that Lord Rama was supposedly born. A huge procession (or rathyatra) is watched by thousands of devotees who line the streets of the city and partake in the party atmosphere.
According to traditional folklore, Lord Rama was the long awaited heir to King Dasharath and is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is a legendary figure and his story is told all across India – you’d be hard pressed to find an Indian who isn’t familiar with Lord Rama’s tale! He epitomises all that is good and true – but his birth isn’t only celebrated with processions, food also plays a key role in Ram Navami.
In fact, prior to the festival a lot of devotees fast as it is thought that fasting will help you move closer to salvation. People adopt different levels of fasting, however; some avoid all food and water while other prefer to eat only satvik food – this is food that, according to Ayurvedic medicine, leads to clarity of the mind and body. A satvik diet will include fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, nuts and rock salt. Most Ram Navami recipes are therefore based on these ingredients.
For example, aalukisubzi is a very popular dish to eat during Ram Navami and is a kind of potato curry, flavoured with green chillies, rock salt and bunches of fresh coriander. Sabudanaki kheer is another popular choice; this is a dessert made using tapioca, sugar and cashew nuts. Sometimes raisins are also added for extra sweetness.
But it’s not just the festival goers who enjoy the food – neivedyam refers to the food and drinks offered to the Hindu gods during the festival and forms an integral part of the celebration. The main offering is panakam, a sweet drink that can be found in all Hindu temples and households. It is a mix of fresh ginger, grated jaggery, crushed peppercorns and crushed cardamom pods. All these ingredients are boiled in water and then filtered.
When it comes to neivedyam dishes, one made specifically for the festival is vadapappu. To make this, moong dal is soaked in warm water and drained after about 30 minutes. A number of other ingredients are then added – including grated coconut, green chillies and salt. This dal is served as it is and does not get cooked. Chalimidi is also offered;it is similar to vadupappu in that it is uncooked. Rice is soaked for 2-3 hours in warm water and mixed with coconut, jaggery and crushed cardamom.
If you want to take part in the very special celebrations of this day, why not book in for a meal at one of London’s fine dining Indian brasseries?