How to DRINK rose thorns

The milling crowds at the Havyaka Pakotsava were battling their way to taste the elaborate spread. — Photos: K. Bhagya Prakash  

IT FELT like an oven inside the pandal. But the milling crowds didn't seem to mind either the heat or the chaos. It looked like every Havyaka in the city was there and happy. The small community of Brahmins — who hail from Malnad, Uttara Kannada, and Dakshina Kannada regions — not only speaks a unique dialect of Kannada, but also has its own special cuisine. Havyaka Pakotsava, the two-day festival in Bangalore last weekend, showcased the community's cuisine.

You will take to Havyaka food if you like mild, non-spicy food with lots of coconut and a touch of jaggery. The agricultural community also puts every locally available herb and vegetable to best use. Havyakas cook, for instance, an amazing range of dishes with various parts of the banana plant, a variety of gourds, jackfruit, sprouts, and so on.

How to DRINK rose thorns

The entire range of the Havyaka cuisine was there to be savoured at the Pakotsava. There were six varieties of payasas, including those made with banana, snake gourd, and beaten rice. Some items featured in the impressively sized sweets section, like genasale and thotadevvu, are exclusive to the community. Jaggery, rice, and coconut go into genasale. It is pressure-cooked in layers of clove leaves for an hour. It tasted a bit like kayi kadubu, but has a special aroma, thanks to clove leaves. Thotadevvu is a very crisp sweet, made with rice and sugarcane juice. And there was aralina shukrunde, made with popped rice, very unfamiliar to those from the Old Mysore region.

There were palyas and hulis galore. But what took the cake (a blasphemous idiom, really!) was the range of thamblis. Curd-based preparations made with a variety of herbs, these are both delicious and have great medicinal value. There were 13 of them, including those made with ginger, turmeric root, bilwa, and brahmi. Savitha S. Bhat Adwai, a Havyaka cuisine expert who was among those who oversaw the kitchen at the Pakotsava, said that these are prepared depending on what is good for the body in a particular season. "We have something called holakudi thambli made with just about every available sprout, including jasmine and rose sprouts. We throw in a couple of thorns too!" she said. "As they say, there isn't a sprout on this earth that has no medicinal value." This section was an oasis in the hot pandal, and many (including this reporter) stayed put here, unabashedly downing glasses after glasses!

How to DRINK rose thorns

The stalls around the main enclosure did not exclusively sell Havyaka foods. But there were quite a number of products from the Havyaka belt. There was neatly packed genasale made by Bhagirathi Hegde, who had come all the way from Marur near Kumta. Ganesh Hegde, from a village near Siddapura, was selling areca malt, which, he said, is good for diabetics and those with digestive disorders. After riding on a boom, areca prices have crashed, forcing unhappy farmers to look beyond the conventional uses of areca. "Please try this, you will be helping a movement to popularise areca by-products," Mr. Hegde urged. Stalls selling kashaya pudis, concentrates of ginger, lolesara (aloe vera), and majjige hullu (lemon grass) juices did brisk business. You could even get a small packet of ondelaga (called brahmi by hair oil and shampoo manufacturers), which grows wild in the fields of Malnad, for Rs. 5.

A stall at the entrance of the pandal displayed souvenirs brought out by the Havyaka math in Ramachandrapura (Hosanagar taluk, Shimoga district) during the consecration of a Rama temple and opening of the math's branch office in Bangalore in 2002. Kodanda, which had a strident image of Lord Rama with the bow in hand on the cover, was being distributed for free. Sri Raghaveshwara Bharati Swamiji, the reigning pontiff of the once-low profile math, is working towards mobilising the Havyaka community. The branch office of the math was an important player in organising the food festival. A happy tummy, perhaps, is a good conduit not just to the heart, but to the mind too!