Tales of Temple Prasads and Panagam Recipe

Remember I had told in my very first post about some temples having unique stories behind the prasad offered there? Sometimes there is a legend, but many are related to health. By associating them with God and festivals, our wise ancestors ensured that people consumed sensible and healthy food in the guise of prasad.

Here is the legend behind salt free offerings at the Oppiliappan Vishnu temple in Tamil Nadu:

Sage Markandeya did great penance to beget Lakshmi as his daughter and Lord Vishnu as his son-in-law. Pleased with his devotion, the Lord granted him a boon. And one day Lakshmi appeared as a little girl under a tulsi plant. He named her Bhoomi Devi and brought her up with love and care.

When she was of marriageable age a very old and ailing Brahmin appeared at his doorstep. The sage welcomed and offered him hospitality. But the old man asked for the hand of Bhoomi Devi to cook and care for him. Markandeya tried to dissuade him saying that she was too young for him and that she didn’t even know how to cook or add salt to food.

But the old man adamantly said that even if the food was saltless, he would eat it happily. Now, Bhoomi Devi threatened to commit suicide if she was forced to marry him. Helpless, Markandeya prayed to Lord Vishnu. And lo! In place of the old man stood Lord Vishnu. Overjoyed, the sage gave his daughter’s hand to Vishnu and asked for some boons. One was that Lord Vishnu should reside in that place and another was that all offerings at the temple should be without salt.

And that is why even today, all prasads including vadas, chakli, tamarind and curd rice – are without salt and no salt is even permitted inside the temple. One can’t but wonder if Markandeya had deliberately asked for this boon, knowing how harmful salt is. Incidentally, salt is an acquired taste and one can train one’s palate to enjoy food without it, as I discovered, biting into the second chakli. I was actually enjoying the taste!

And then there is a unique personal experience associated with another prasad that I want to share.

There is this temple dedicated to Lord Narasimha in Mangalagiri near Vijayawada. There are two temples, one at the foot of the hill and the other at the top in a cave. The latter doesn’t have a conventional image, but just a face of the Lord made around a ‘mouth’ which is a 15 cm opening in the wall of the cave. The offering of panagam, a cooling drink, (recipe at the end) is poured into this opening and one can actually hear the gurgling sound of drinking.

The legend says that panagam is offered to cool down the anger of the Lord, after he had vanquished the demon Namuchi. But there are other reasons too: the Mangalagiri hills are supposed to be volcanic and sugar/jaggery has the power to neutralise the Sulphur content in the rocks! And of course, there is the health angle too. Since the area is very hot, and panagam being a cooling drink, it also helps to cool down the body in addition to restraining the Lord’s anger!

Regardless of the size of the pot of panagam, the drinking sound stops when exactly half the quantity is poured into the mouth and any more comes out! I wouldn’t have believed if I had not actually seen it. What’s more, there were no ants or flies around even with all the spilled sweet liquid. Maybe there is another scientific reason behind them!

And now for the recipe of panagam:

Jaggery – 1 cup powdered

Water – 4 cups

A pinch of dry ginger and pepper powder

Juice of 1 lemon

Cardamom for flavour

Dissolve jaggery in four cups of water. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Your healthy, cool drink is ready!

The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard! 

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