Yesterday, was Easter and the 40 days of fasting and 10 days of the passion week has come to end. This year many people said that they never knew that christian fasted and abstained from non-vegetarian food, including milk and alcohol, for 50 days in a year.
Fasting, abstaining from certain food, penance and praying has relevance in the Christian religion, from the time of Christ itself. Christ went on a 40 days fast in the wilderness, before beginning his 3 years ministry leading to his Crucifixion and Resurrection. 40 days lent is one of the basic foundation the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, founded by the Apostles. Believers get purified, detoxified and they get the energy to survive spiritually for the next one year.
Christianity came to Kerala in the early days itself, when St. Thomas (who is know as Apostle of India), came to India in AD 52. In the past 2000 years, Kerala Christian’s tradition of prayer, food, and culture is a blend of the Bible, the life of Jesus, the association with other Apostolic Churches in the world and Kerala tradition.
The first forty days of fasting is purely full of prayers, fasting even without drinking water upto 12:00 pm; and having lunch after the Mid day prayer and kneeling 40 times. The simplest form of fasting is abstaining from meat, fish and egg for 50 day. The toughest form of fasting depends on the one who fasts. Some of the Ashram priests, it is said, have light lunch including kanji (water rice or gruel) and stir fried moong (green gram). And they have even lighter supper — Such men do not live by bread alone but by the word of God.
There are a lot of symbolism connected with the lent season, which raises nostalgia. Certain lent food prepared during the last 10 days of the passion week have lot of symbolic value. The 40 days of fasting ends on the Friday before Good Friday, and the next 10 days are dedicated for more prayers and more spiritual activities.
Here are some the food items which are symbolic of certain holy days of the Lenten period:
The family of Lazarus, and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, was Jesus’s favourite. Lazarus died and was buried. On the third day Jesus came and rose Lazarus from the dead. It is said that Kozukattai was one of the favourite food of Jesus. He had kozukattai with Lazarus family. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is remembered on this Saturday.
People make kozukattai at home and share it with friends, relatives and neighbours. Kozuattai are steamed rice dumplings with a stuffing of cocounut gratings, jaggery and a pinch of cardamom.
The tradition of Pesaha Appam dates back in the Jewish tradition 2000 years before the birth of Jesus. The Jews remember the Passover day when the Israelite’s left the Egyptian slavery and started their Exodus to Israel. During the preparation to leave Egypt, the Israelite’s were asked by Moses to prepare unleavened bread. On the day before his Crucifixion on Good Friday, Jesus observed the Jewish Passover festival with his 12 disciples, at the house of Mark. The ‘Last Supper’ painting of Michelangelo depicting the event is very popular.
Kerala Christian prepare unleavened bread or Pesaha appam (Pesaha mean Maundy Thursday) with rice flour and urad dal as the main ingredients. There are a number of different variation of preparing pesaha appam. And an accompaniment called Pesaha pal is also prepared. In traditional homes all the members of the family gather round the table, with the head of the family at the main chair. The youngest member of the family will ask the head of the family about the relevance of the festival. He will explain and distribute the appam to the family members.
Good Friday Kanji
Rice Gruel (kanji) at the end of the long Good Friday service is a nostalgia for Kerala Christians. After fasting for the whole day, and having Chorukka (bitter drink) at the end of the service, the Rice Gruel, with stir fried green moong (green gram) and kadu manga(a special mango pickle) is an incomparable delicacy blended with spiritual and traditional values. In olden day the Kanji was served in earthen place with jack fruit leaves shaped as spoons.
Vellayappam is kind of dosa prepared from rice flour, crated coconut and; fresh coconut toddy or yeast used as leavening agent. On the two main festivals of Kerala Christians, Christmas and Easter, vellayappam is prepared in large numbers for the relatives, neighbours and helpers. For a Kerala Christian Christmas cake is exotic. For them vellayappam with chicken or mutton stew symbolises the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.