Thiruvathira, a festival observed mainly by Keralites and Tamilians, is a women-centic festival celebrated on the day of Thiruvathira star of the Malayalam month of Dhanu masa that mostly coincides with full Moon day. Thiruvathira is also the birth star of Lord Shiva and also the day when He came out his deep meditation after Sati’s self-immolation and married Parvati. Women observe a day long fast and perform various rituals. Tamilians celebrate this day as Ardra Darshanam and worship Shiva and go to the temple before sunrise. There is also a version that Thiruvathira festival is celebrated in memory of the revival of Kamadeva, the mythological God of love, after he disrupted Shiva’s meditation that resulted in him burning to death due to Shiva’s fury.
My mother still fondly recalls the joyful Thiruvathira days during her teenage days. They used to wake up early (4 am) and women from other homes would come and they proceed as a group, gathering other women along the way and singing songs praising Lord Shiva as they walk towards the temple pond of a Shiva temple. They would carry clothes, new set if it was available. At the pond, they would place their clothes on the roots of the huge banyan tree. Getting into the pond would be a difficult task as Dhanu masa mornings are misty and cold although Kerala hardly experiences any winter. Some bold ones who have already got in would splash water on the hesitant ones still staying by the steps of the pond. While taking bath, they sing songs and rhythmically splash water using their fists (thudichu kuli). Towards the end, while still standing inside the water, they hold hands and stand in a circle. After bath, they wear their new set of clothes, visit the Shiva temple, and then eat a banana and chew betel leaves. My mother says they were too poor to even afford to buy bananas and she used to look forward to the banana that was given by one of the women who belonged to a rich family. They sing songs and return home where a swing hung on a tree in front of the house awaits them. They take turns to sit on the swing, sing songs, and swing each other.
Thiruvathira fasting is observed by women by abstaining from all rice-based items and only eating preparations of wheat, millets, fruits, and a mixed vegetable dish called Thiruvathira puzhukku cooked mainly out of tubers. The main ingredients of this dish are purple yam (kaachil/kaavithu), colocasia (chembu), Chinese potato (koorka), yam (chena), raw plantain (ethakaya), broad beans (avarakkai), mung beans / long beans cooked with a thick paste of freshly ground coconut and jeera. A sweet dish made of arrowroot powder (koova) and jaggery is also a speciality of this festival. In some parts of Kerala, on this day, women chew 108 betel leaves and redden their lips.
Women observing Thiruvathira fast keep vigil at night by engaging in song and dance rituals on this full moon night. An image of Siva is placed at the central courtyard and flowers, banana, and jaggery are offered to the deity. Women then perform Thiruvathirakkali round the deity. They stand in a circle around a lighted lamp and sing and dance clapping their hands. The theme of the songs revolves around Parvati’s love and longing for Shiva’s affection. Thiruvathira dance is the epitome of feminine grace, charm, and subtle lasya.
There is also a custom called Pathira poochoodal (wearing flowers at midnight). The first Thiruvathira of a new bride is called Poothiruvathira or Puthen Thiruvathira is very special.
A special preparation cooked using tubers during the Thiruvathira festival. The main ingredient of this is a special purple yam, which is harvested during winter.
Purple Yam (Kaachil / Kand) – 250 gm
Raw banana – 1
Pumpkin – 250 gm
Green gram – 1/2 cup
Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
Grated coconut = 1 cup
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Red chilly powder/green chillies – 1/2 tsp/4
Water – 1 glass
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 2 stalks
Soak the green gram dal overnight and pressure cook it. Keep aside. Cut the vegetables into cubes and put them in a cooking pot. Add some water (just enough to immerse half of the cut vegetables). Add turmeric powder and chilly powder. Close with a lid and stir occasionally.
Grind the grated coconut and cumin seeds to make a coarse paste. If you are using green chilies, add that along with the coconut and cumin seeds. When then vegetables are tender and well cooked, add the cooked green gram, ground coconut paste, and salt. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the fire and add the coconut oil and fresh curry leaves. The dish gives out a pleasing aroma. This dish is a self-sufficient meal in itself. There are many variations to this dish. You can also try adding your own combinations of vegetables.
Arrowroot Pudding (Koova)
A sweet dish that is made from arrowroot powder, which is usually made from home-grown arrowroot plant.
Its a lengthy and tedious process of pulling out the root, cleaning, chopping, grinding, adding water, and distilling the powder. At the end of all this you end up with very little quantity of arrowroot powder.
Koova (arrowroot powder) – 100 gm
Jaggery – 200 gm
Water – 3 glasses
Grated Coconut – 1/2 cup
Cardamom powder – 1 tbsp
Melt the jaggery in water. Strain to remove the impurities. Mix the arrowroot powder in some water and make a smooth and thin paste without any lumps. Add this paste to the jaggery syrup. Place this mixture on the stove. Stir continuously on low flame. The mixture starts thickening. Turn off the fire when the mixture becomes a fine paste. Add cardamom powder and grated coconut. Mix well. You can add ghee or cashew fried in ghee but this is optional. You can also add cooked moong dal along with the arrowroot powder.
There could be regional variations to both these recipes.
During Thiruvathira, Palakkad brahmins prepare a dish called Kali, a sort of rice halwa.
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