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Tradition wrapped in faith

To new beginnings(Left) A plate ofkotte kadabu; (right) moulds made of jackfruit leavesRashmi Gopal Rao and V Sreenivasa Murthy

To new beginnings(Left) A plate ofkotte kadabu; (right) moulds made of jackfruit leavesRashmi Gopal Rao and V Sreenivasa Murthy  

In parts of Karnataka, devotees welcome Lord Ganesha with some fresh, soft kotte kadabu every year

It is the time of the year when the streets are lined with colourful idols of Ganesha. And while everyone is frantically searching for their ‘perfect’ idol to take home, 70-year-old Vasanthi is on a hunt of a different kind. At home in Kundapur, near Udupi, she is looking for the perfect screw pine leaves to take home, process and weave into moulds, for her much awaited homemade kotte kadabu . It is a scene that plays out each year, in most households across the South Canara region of Karnataka.

Revered favourite

Known to be a favourite food of Ganesha, with references found even in the Mudgala Purana , kotte kadabu is a savoury, steamed cake akin to the idli , but steamed in moulds made from leaves of the screw pine tree.

A species that grows in coastal Karnataka, the leaves and its moulds are locally called mundakana ole , or simply, kotte . The leaves lend a unique flavour and aroma to the dumplings.

The offering of kadabu to the idol is considered highly auspicious, and when made on a large scale in temples, it’s called “ Mudi Akki kadabu seva ”.

“This is a highly revered seva and most devotees take a pledge to offer kadabus as a token of gratitude once their desires are fulfilled or prayers answered. The tradition can be traced back to days when agriculture was the main occupation of the people here, when they would come and offer rice to the gods after a successful harvest. The rice would be used to prepare the kadabus , offered to the Lord and taken back as prasadam ,” says Anand Urala, manager at the renowned Anegudde Sri Vinayaka temple in Kumbashi about 30 kilometres from Udupi. The temple turns around as many as 1,000-1,200 kotte kadabus each day!

Dying art

The term mudi refers to a fixed quantity of rice (around 40 kilograms) that is stored in a sphere made of rice straw and hay. It is common practice to offer one or more mudi s of rice to make these savoury cakes, once your wishes are fulfilled.

Apart from the Annegudde temple, the Guddattu Sri Vinayaka Temple near Barkur — 18 kilometres from Udupi — is one of the few other temples that have this offering on their seva list.

The making of the mould — known as moode in Tulu — is quite an arduous task and, not surprisingly, a dying craft. The screw pine leaves are elongated and have a thorny texture. First, the thorns are removed, and the leaves are heated on a low flame to remove moisture. This makes them less brittle and easier to fold into cylindrical moulds, whose loose ends are sealed using tiny sticks of the coconut palm. “There are not too many people who makes these moulds at home these days, as it needs a great amount of skill and patience,” says Vasanthi.

Staple treat

The traditional recipe which is still followed in temples, involves preparing a batter of urad dal and rice. The rice is washed, dried and then ground coarsely on a traditional grinding stone. Most houses today use idli rava or rice rava instead, as grinding raw rice is not the easiest of tasks.

Moulds made by the few who possess the talent are sold readymade in most of the coastal towns today. In Bengaluru, they are available in the umpteen ‘Mangalore stores’ around the city. Making moulds from the leaves of the jackfruit tree is also an option preferred by many. Turmeric leaves are also used by some.

The tradition can be traced back to days when agriculture was the main occupation of the people here

Standing tall for centuries

Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree in the White Mountains of California, is over 4,800 years old.

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