Made from medicinal herbs that sprout with the showers, the monsoon Kanji protects from seasonal ailments and niggles.
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For as long as I remember, my mother’s favourite chapter from her childhood is about how she apprenticed her grandfather, an uncertified Ayurveda expert, in picking the right medicinal plants from the backyard for the Ayurvedic concoctions he lovingly made for his beloved wife’s long life and health. His wife or my mother’s maternal granny (and my great granny) outlived her husband, living to witness a thousand fullmoons in her lifetime--a rather posthumous validation to her husband’s unauthorised skills. He got very busy during the monsoon months, making lehyams, kashayams, arishtams (herbal drinks and preparations), so the entire family stayed healthy through the year.

Monsoon has a special place in the lives and psyche of a Malayalee. As the state that witnesses the first downpour of the season in India, Kerala welcomes its southwest monsoon rather gleefully. The monsoon peaks in mid-July, in the Malayalam month of Karkidakam.

In the pre-global warming era, Karkidakam was a dreaded month, flooding paddy fields, keeping people indoors, sending the economy southwards and generally getting cussed about putting people in serious misery. But with Kerala slowly shifting from an agrarian economy to a service economy and not to mention the monsoon rains shedding their weight considerably, Karkidakam had an image makeover. It's not considered inauspicious anymore (though very few ceremonies are conducted during this period); in fact, it's hugely auspicious for it's also garnered the reputation of being the “Ramayana maasam (month)” where one or all of the members of the Hindu families read the Ramayana aloud to propitiate Lord Rama.

As a culture steeped in Ayurvedic tradition, in Kerala, Karkidakam is also considered the right time to undergo any Ayurvedic treatments because the body is most receptive to these treatments at this time. Even if you have no ailments, Karkidakam lets you rest and relax--any relaxation treatments or sukha chikitsa are recommended during this period.

Ayurveda believes in the three basic energies that govern the body--vata, pitta, and kapha--which go out of whack during the summer months. When the season changes to monsoon, the energies are in a state of delirium which dissipates and slowly begin to stabilise towards Karkidakam. “This is when any treatment is most effective,” says Ayurveda physician Saraswati Mohan Sooraj of Sri Sankara Ayurveda Vaidyashala in Kerala. “In olden times, monsoon also gave the farmers time to rest and relax and make the most of the Ayurveda treatments available,” she says.

And almost all families that follow the Ayurvedic tradition (mine included) have what is called Karkidaka Kanji or monsoon porridge for dinner during this time. This is a medicinal porridge that is believed to help you recuperate from the bitter effects of a long tropical summer and prepare your body to face the harshness of the months to follow. There could well be one more reason why this porridge--made of medicinal plants--may have been recommended during this period. Nudged by incessant rains, these medicinal plants sprout and flourish on every backyard during monsoon.

About 10-12 medicinal plants are used to make the porridge and the number and type of plants vary according to the availability and also the health condition of the person who will consume it. These plants are ground, the juice extracted and mixed with the porridge while it is being made. “The porridge is made with a special rice called njavara rice (red, fibrous rice) which is proven to have health properties. This can be replaced with wheat if the person taking it is diabetic,” says Saraswati.

Once the njavara rice is boiled with a teaspoon of fenugreek and the extracted juice of the medicinal plants is added to it, grated coconut or coconut milk can be added to it for taste. Again depending on whether you like it sweet or not, jaggery or salt can be added to the kanji.

This is how Karkidaka Kanji is prepared in certain homes, but this is certainly not the only way to make it. All Malayalee homes have a recipe unique to them. And that’s what makes the Karkidaka Kanji so special.

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

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