Diwali reminds me of anarsas. And anarsas remind me of my grandmother and her astounding ingenuity. I recall vividly how once she had made huge quarter-plate size anarsas, which made perfect seed centers of giant golden yellow crepe paper sunflowers! These anarsa sunflowers were one of the many fantastic presentations featured in the rukhwat of one of my aunts.
Rukhwat is a sort of a trousseau, or a hope chest of bridal goods, that were meant to give the young couple a good start in their domestic life. It usually consisted of embroidered linen, tableware, pots and pans, some furniture, flatware and other bric-a-bracs lovingly prepared for her new marital home and hearth by the bride’s mother or the bride-to-be herself and her maidens. But unlike a trousseau, a rukhwat features more than just manchester or linen. Possibly deriving meaning from the word ‘ruksha’ or dry, rukhwat was meant to provide supplies in the form of ready-to-eat, long-life goodies and condiments to last the bridal entourage on their long and arduous way home. So pots of preserves, packs of dry fruit, spices, little bags of other supplies were generously gifted.
Why on earth would people laboriously weave a mesh of almost microscopic beads all around a fresh whole coconut- the coconut will soon go bad, won’t it? And woe betide those that made tacky wall hangings featuring a woman holding her nose in both her palms as if she were about to sneeze (she’s actually meant to say ‘Namaste’ or ‘ Welcome’). Also, tell me, who would dare to break pieces off little Ganpati idols made of dried shirkhand?
For the little foodie that I was, the over sized boondi laadus, chunky chikkis or peanut brittle, candied puffed rice (churmura) made into tall cones, and chaklis are large as dinner plates were the most fascinating. Perhaps, in the days of yore, when girls were married very young, it was a way to keep them happy and engaged with the idea – as if they were going to a party! Ha!
My aunt’s rukhwat was the first one I had seen. I was about 10 years old and absolutely awed by the two great artists working in tandem – one a chip off the other. My grandmother and mother had taken up the task of making the most awesome rukhwat till date! What creativity, what resourcefulness! All from one small town with limited supplies of craft material and food decoration supplies.
The most notable things that have stuck in my memory nearly forty years later are the beautiful peacock patterned georgette saree painted by Salma Arastu, (now a renowned painter and philosopher in the US) and a basket of miniature fruit made with rava laadu material that looked so marvelously realistic made by mother and of course – the glorious sunflower anarsas. I wanted this rukhwat for myself.
13 years after I first saw this rukhwat, I had a brilliant one myself – lovingly prepared by my mother and aunts, admired by one and all, and used up by me over a few years. I can go on endlessly about this rukhwat, but I demur, for it deserves a story of its own.
The rukhwat I have cherished the most and nurtured till date AND plan to pass on to my girls – is the portly pots of patience and perseverance, the huge laadus of love for the family, friends and pets and animals, the oversize chaklis of understanding of complicated and tangled human relationships and the firm set burfis of determination. And many more pragmatic, fantastic endowments….
And the anarsas, of course…
- 2 cups rice
- 1 cup grated jaggery
- 1/3 cup sugar or 2 tbsp sweetener
- 2-3 tbsp poppy seeds (Khuskhus)
- 1 tbsp ghee/coconut oil
- 1-2 tbsp mashed ripe banana
- Milk/ dairy free milk, as required
Making the dough:
- Wash and soak rice in plenty of cold water. Drain the rice and replace the water the following day. Repeat the process for two more days. On the fourth day, drain the rice and air dry in shade it by spreading it on a clean tea towel.
- When almost fully dry, grind the rice into as fine a powder as you can and sieve it.
- Mix in the jaggery and the sugar/sweetener and store it in cool and dry place in a box to mature for 3-4 days. After this time, you will need to store it in the fridge, where it will keep for a few months.
Shaping the anarsas:
- Just before making the anarsas, add a tablespoon or two of ripe mashed banana and knead the mixture into a pliable and smooth dough using ghee. Use milk only if the mixture is still very dry. Make small balls of the dough.
- Sprinkle some poppy seeds on a little flat plastic or glass dish and press a ball of dough onto it. Now grease your fingertips and thumb and flatten the ball making a small disc like shape. You will need to use your thumb to move the edge of the circle and the fingertips to flatten it. Very soon you will have a uniformly thick disc the size of a small cookie.
- Heat oil in a kadhai and lift the cookie gently or upturn the plate onto your fingertips and quickly place it the poppy seed side up in the oil. This is a bit tricky, but you will be able to manage it with practice, or else, flip it in slowly and then turn it as soon as possible.
- Fry on a low heat, till golden brown. Drain and keep aside.
- Repeat this with the remaining dough.
- Cool the anarsas before serving and storing. These delectable morsels taste earthy yet intriguing due to the rice wine like flavour!
- These anarsas will last for a few weeks without refrigeration. You can keep the dough for longer, in a cool and dry place, stored in a glass or porcelain container.
Shruti Nargundkar is an Admin member of the Angat Pangat Facebook group, and is a writer, linguistics trainer, and chronicler of traditions.