On the occasion of my sons second birthday, I made Narayan Sheera, a halwa that is rich, nutritious and gives a feeling of satiety to the tummy and soul. It is made for Satyanarayan Puja or any religious ceremony as prasad (food offering to God).
Post Partum diet: I have the book Ayurvedic Garbha Sanskar by pioneering Ayurvedic physician and spiritual master Dr. Shri Balaji Tambe that my mother and I used as a guide during my pregnancies. It is an excellent book for those who are pro natural living and inclined to Ayurveda. Along with all the great information, the DOs and DON’Ts, the book has some recipes, including this Narayan shira / sheera that makes a rich but healthy dessert for one and all, especially beneficial during postpartum care. It is quite potent and so also recommended for women just before going into labor, as it provides the energy to sustain the mother through (and the only food before) the arduous hours of labor, childbirth and immediate recovery period.
This recipe is adapted from the book. Note how the characteristic proportion of suji to ghee to sugar is 1:1:1.
1/2 cup rava / suji / semolina
1/2 cup ghee / Indian clarified butter
1/2 cup sugar*
2 cups milk
2 tbsp almonds (or more/less, per you wish), chopped
2 tbsp cashews (or more/less, per your wish), halved
1 tsp elaichi powder (cardamom)
1/4 tsp kesar powder (saffron)
1 ripe banana
1. In a thick bottomed pan, heat gheeand fry almonds and cashews. Set aside.
2. Add the suji in the ghee and fry it on low flame until it changes color to a dull pinkish and fragrant. Heat milk in the mean time.
3. Add the hot milk slowly while stirring so as to not let it form into lumps. After adding all the milk, stir well and cover to let it cook for about 5 minutes on very low heat. Make sure it doesn’t get burnt at the bottom (Put another griddle between your stove and the pan, if you need to).
4. Add sugar, almonds, cashews, saffron, cardamom powder, stir well, and cover for a minute or two. In the end, stir in the ripe banana pieces and cover for another minute or two before turing off the stove.
*The Indian sugar somehow seems sweeter than the one in the US. That said, you could add a couple more teaspoons of sugar if you wish. But again, most people like it not “too sweet” too. So adjust sweetness to your taste.
On a chilly winter evening, sitting by the fireplace bundled in my cozy throw and having hot chocolate or something, listening to the stories and secrets from times gone by… This is exactly how I felt reading through the book.
Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet is a fictional memoir of an Indian Princess of her time and traditions in the royal household, written by Sharada Dwivedi and Shalini Devi Holkar. The book is replete with household remedies for health and beauty from either the kitchen or the garden, rather than the store bought jars and bottles. With the backdrop of her childhood in Rajasthan, her marriage, moving to husbands royal home in Hyderabad and her journey spanning seven decades of her life, the Princess describes all the health and beauty traditions handed down from generation to generation.
Did you ever have the urge to time travel? I always did, to travel in the past. To see the people and understand their life and lifestyle, their customs and beliefs, the wisdom that got lost with time. I’ve always been curious to know how we’ve evolved in our ways and values as a society. I have vivid visuals from the conversations as a child with my grandmother of her time as a child bride, her mothers home and then that of her husbands, her lifestyle and all the interesting stories. I have always wanted to know more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent that is as old as the hills. And about Ayurveda. Oh – and how to be beautiful.
As you read through each beauty formula in this book, you become one with this ‘beautifying’ process and certainly are inspired to try some out. I thought it had a similar effect that you get after shopping for clothes or cosmetics: it makes you feel beautiful. The princess also talks about the importance of saleekha (an Urdu word meaning balance and moderation, neither too much nor too little) that is expected of the palace women. Reading through such a desirable image of women makes you want to be like one, balanced, respectable, dignified and delightful.
The long baths and head bath rituals in the zenana (secluded women quarters) are explained in engaging detail and exude sheer luxury- one of my many favorite parts in the book! After their long headbath they’d lay “... stretched out in the sunlight after the shampoo, their hair spread over a basket of herb incense smoke, lazily watching the parrots in the mango trees and laughing at some silly joke. That sort of vision makes me long to be young again, close to the earth and closer to other women. Somehow in those days we were all sisters in these simple pursuits. That was a very sweet comfort” I like the idea of women having the time to groom and feel good about themselves without rushing through it.
Today, I am not sure why, but we seem to rush all the time; everything is a means to some distant or unknown end. We miss living the moment, which, I feel, these women did much more than we do. And they also got so much ‘girl-time’ and had the sisterly bonding, which is priceless!
The mention of flowers, the smells, the clear ponds, the changing seasons brings forth a myriad emotions and evokes memories you might or might not know you had. A passing mention of Kalidas’ Ritusamhara in the book brings forth such a beatific picture:
One of our renowned poets, the famous Kalidasa, who lived in the fourth century, has written a poem on the seasons called Ritusamhara “Garland of the Seasons,” which expresses the rhythm and the joy of our seasons, passing from the heat to the cool of the monsoons, from the rains to the blessings of winter. He describes it all through lovely courtesans. Robed in transparent muslin in the heat of summer, they smear their breasts with sandal paste and their hair with light perfumes. Wearing flower garlands around their necks, they fan themselves with fans moistened in sandalwood water and swim in cool lakes full of lotus blossoms. Lac dye shines on the soles of their feet and jewels cold to the touch adorn their bodies.”
For me, this book also took me back to my childhood days as I remember using the same shikakai and other herbs like Ritha, nagarmotha, orange peels etc. that my grandmother used to have powdered for the women of the house to wash hair with. I have used chickpea paste (besan) and other household ingredients as a skin scrub and cleanser. We used to make the spiced tea in our household to cure sore throat, using turmeric (haldi), holy basil (tulsi), peppercorn etc.
Its a book by women, of women and for women for the most part. If you will let it, the imagery the words create will, along with the actual vintage photographs, paintings, postcards, zoom you back in time. And the sensuous indulgences described will delightfully keep you there, as time itself would seem to have become still, waiting on you. I have felt the comfort of finding the ‘me’ that lived back in time. A cut and dry account of beauty and health regimen would made a book quite informative, but quite boring all the same, had it not displayed the camaraderie, the belongingness and the love behind it that these women enjoyed, which was an integral part of their lives.
Personally, I find the book is a keepsake of sorts.