Why we make food for our forefathers...

We, the Pathare Prabhus of Mumbai, excel in cooking non-vegetarian fare and churning out rich sweetmeats. To be honest, it is quite a challenge for our community to plan and prepare a vegetarian meal. However, during the sacred period of Pitru Paksha, the 16-day phase when we pray to our ancestors, we lovingly offer vegetarian delicacies to the souls of our forefathers.

Pitru Paksha falls immediately after Ganesh Visarjan. The last day is regarded as Sarva-Pitri Amavasya, which is considered to be an auspicious occasion to seek blessings and ask for forgiveness from the souls of the departed.

The food that is offered to the ancestors consists of a sweet dish such as kheer flavoured with cardamom and saffron, something bitter like a karela and three kinds of vegetables - cluster beans with red pumpkin, ladies fingers with black peas and ridge gourd with green peas.

Apart from these, a typical thaali includes:
Udad Ddaalicha Vada: Split black gram puris that are a powerhouse of protein
Umbar: Sweetened banana fritters
Patwad: Colocasia leaves are layered with ground Bengal gram, rolled tightly, steamed, cooled and deep-fried till they turn golden brown
Alooche Sambare: A curry of colocasia stems cooked in coconut milk
Varan Bhaat: Rice and daal with a dollop of pure ghee, along with a serving of curd and chunks of cucumber as a coolant.

These vegetables are easily available during this season and inevitably make their way into our menu. When food is associated with a spiritual cause, each member of the family accepts it with due diligence.

The family will first offer the well-laden thaali to their ancestors with the eldest male member leading the prayer ritual, as we remember those who have departed. We place the full thaali in an open space, such as the balcony, terrace or a garden during this ritual. It is infused with love and reverence and that is all that matters.

It is my personal belief that even if you break a small roti into pieces, place it on a leaf and offer it to your ancestors with a silent prayer, it reaches out to them. We believe that if a crow eats this, it is as good as your ancestors relishing your food.

As a householder, I perform my duty towards my ancestors on every Sarva- Pitri Amavasya. However, I lovingly remember my parents, sister, uncles and aunts every day. So, I put hot roti on my kitchen windowsill and call out to all my dear departed souls to quickly come and eat the roti while it is still warm. And in no time, a crow or two will swoop in and my roti will disappear.

Image courtesy: Ketaki Rajan Jayakar

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