The traditional Maharashtrian sweet & sour Kairichi Vatli Dal or Ambe Dal, a fresh piquant raw mango chutney, is a quintessential part of the menu of this first month of the Hindu calendar, Chaitra. This is a month that heralds the arrival of summer, the auspicious New Year day Gudi Padwa which we already spoke of, as well as the must-have Gauri Haldi Kumkum ceremony.
Made without any onion or garlic, Kairichi Dal is hugely popular in Maharashtrian homes this month, enjoyed equally by young and old, be it as part of lunch or just as an evening snack. It is usually served along with Kairicha Panha (Aam Panna) a raw mango cooler, at the beautiful Haldi Kumkum gathering.
Kairichi (raw mango) Vatli (ground)Dal is a sumptuous summer delicacy, a quick delicious snack made of coarsely ground soaked raw chana dal & tangy fresh grated raw mango, and hence the name. Spiced up with mild green chillies, perfectly balanced with flavours of sugar, lemon juice, grated coconut & fresh coriander leaves & finally some ginger & asafoetida to take care of its digestion.
Chaitra Gauri Haldi Kunku is a very traditional socio-religious gathering of married women & young girls held in the month of Chaitra. A range of authentic Maharashtrian sweets & snacks as well as seasonal summer delicacies of mango, raw mango, semolina etc. are made and offered. It is an ideal way to balance flavours for the palate while feasting on sweets.
The concept of Haldi Kunku is said to have started during the Maratha & Peshwa rule in Maharashtra & typically held anytime between mid-January until February end or then March-April. It usually involves a married woman inviting 5 or more married women from her neighbourhood, relatives & friends to her home. An excellent networking idea to revamp social connections if you ask me, even more so in today’s busy times.
The hostess decorates her home with fragrant jasmine & orange marigold flowers. Decorative oil lamps & festive rangolis or handmade floor designs from dry white rice flour and multi- coloured flower petals adorn the entrance doorway as well as interiors.
This customary woman centric gathering provides the hostess & her guests a break from monotonous daily life as also a wonderful opportunity to dress up in traditional attire – a rich gold border sari & jewellery, green & gold bangles, fragrant jasmine in their hair and a vermillion dot on their forehead. A perfume or attar is applied onto their wrists at the entrance & cool rose water sprinkled on them out of pretty silver canters made especially for this. There is much cheer and merriment in their air while greeting one another at the entrance.
Once inside, these women are welcomed traditionally & offered token gifts as well as a few items symbolic of a healthy, long & prosperous married life. These are:
Haldi-Kunku (Vermillion-Turmeric powders); coconut; blouse piece for a sari; fresh betel leaves & betel nut; green bangles; strung Jasmine flowers or gajra to wear in their hair. All of these symbolize feminine power, energy, long married life, prosperity & loyalty in love & fertility.
The idol of Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, is bedecked with delicate ornaments, a sari & flowers & then prayed to. They also seek the blessings of other married ladies.
In earlier times, when independent houses with large courtyards were the norm, women indulged in unique traditional games such as Phugadi (holding both hands outstretched & fingers interlocked in front with another lady-then both spin in circles until they are slightly giddy!! All this to the tune of traditional songs created solely for this custom, with everyone singing wholeheartedly!
Another fun custom involved each married woman taking the name of her husband in a poetic or limerick form using a 2-line couplet known as ‘Ukhana’. In olden times, when it was customary for women to address their husbands with a respectful title such as Rao or Aaho, without taking his name, this provided for a light entertainment opportunity especially for new brides, almost like a fun competition for the best couplet.
While these customs, traditions and rituals may have started out as a need of those times when men went out to battle for long periods, thus providing hapless women stuck indoors with an opportunity to dress up & socialize with dear ones, today it provides us with a strong sense of belonging and binds us to our roots, thus giving us a cultural identity.
It may originate in an era long gone, but definitely leaves behind sweet memories of happier, carefree times, reminiscent of a cuckoo singing in the light summer evening breeze, the fragrance of sweet white Jasmine flowers in the air, the sound of womens’ laughter ringing in the air & the lip smacking combination of a glass of sweet saffron-cardamom infused Kairi Panha & bowl full of sweet-sour Kairichi Dal!
Recipe for Kairichi Vatli Dal – Marathi Raw Mango Chutney
- ½ cup split Bengal gram lentil/ chana dal / harbhara dal
- 1 chopped green chilli
- ½ inch piece ginger
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tablespoon coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated coconut (optional)
- salt to taste
- ½ cup grated raw mango / kairi
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Handful of coriander leaves
- 1 teaspoon oil
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds / rai
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds / jeera
- A pinch of asafoetida / hing
- 4-5 curry leaves / kadipatta
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder / haldi
- Wash the chana dal really well a couple of times till the water runs clear & then soak it in enough water for at least 4 hours.
- Drain excess water and transfer soaked (uncooked) chana dal into a blender pot.
- Add cumin seeds, chopped green chili & ginger pieces, 1 tbsp water and salt.
- Blend in short bursts, checking frequently, into a coarse mixture with a few lentils remaining whole. We are not looking for a fine smooth paste. Avoid using any water for grinding.
- Transfer the mixture into a bowl. Add ¼ cup raw mango/ kairi, sugar, lime juice, grated coconut and mix well. You can increase or decrease quantity of kairi according to your taste.
- To prepare seasoning, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small seasoning / tadka pan.
- Once hot, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and turmeric powder.
- Give it a quick mix without burning & add the tadka on top of the dal. Mix well.
- Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
- Kairichi dal or Ambe Dal is ready. Makes for a great side dish or simply just plain.