Modak for Ganesha Chaturdhi

I feel privileged to serve on the board of WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit. My favorite thing about WISDOM is getting to know women from all kinds of faith backgrounds whom I would not otherwise meet, especially now that I’m retired and no longer meet diverse people through work. Today’s guest blogger is Padma Kuppa, an IT consultant in the Detroit metro area. who lives in suburban Detroit.

On the Hindu holiday of Ganesha Chaturdhi this year, I will be with my friend and executive eirector of the Hindu American Foundation, Suhag Shukla, doing something related to advocacy and interfaith.

It is the second time in five years that we will be together. In 2012 we were in Washington D.C., advocating against hate crimes and for human rights in the wake of the Wisconsin gurudwara massacre. It’s no surprise that I sometimes choose to promote interfaith understanding and social justice, and not to do the elaborate prayer rituals typical of such Hindu holy days. I tend to prefer the path of karma yoga, and being faithful through my actions and my activism; bhakti yoga and the devotion and ritual that it encompasses, have long been my mom’s realm.

Ganesha Chaturdhi, or Vinayaka Chaviti, the name variant that I am more familiar with because my mother tongue is Telugu, falls on September 17 this year. The holiday is typically honored with an elaborate prayer ritual at home and/or the temple. The holiday is marked in many different ways, across the many different linguistic and cultural groups that practice Hinduism. My mom always made a special food known as undrallu as part of the offering during worship; these various Indian-style dumplings known as modak are said to be Ganesha’s favorite.

God of Success

Ganesha (also spelled Ganesa and known as Ganapati, Vinayaka and Pillaiyar) is one Hindu way of viewing the Divine. He is known as the God of Success, Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles. Because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is Divine, Hindus believe that God manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains and earth.  So Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head, symbolizing wisdom, as elephants are recognized to be among the wisest of animals.

Stories are told generation to generation, not simply of how a young boy with a rotund belly acquired the elephant head, but as allegories; the meaning of the stories deepens as the devotee matures. Destruction of vanity, success in the face of adversity, filial duty, how the Divine is formless yet can have a form: all these themes are found in stories of Ganesha. The symbolism of what people simply see as “the elephant headed god” seems limitless, while the rich, underlying philosophy is approachable.

And because of all this, Ganesha is widely revered all over the cradle of Hinduism – India – and the among the Indian Hindu diaspora. Murtis (an image of the Divine which itself becomes divine) and images of Ganesha are found everywhere, in many different forms, and he is invoked before the undertaking of any task.

No place is Ganesha more widely celebrated than in the Indian city of Mumbai, where my WISDOM sister Anjali Vale hails from. The favorite dish of Ganesha takes on a different form in the Indian state of Maharashtra where she grew up. In fact, it  takes on different names across the Indian landscape: in Tamil Nadu, it’s kozhakkattai, in Karnataka, it’s modhaka, and in Andhra, it’s also called kudumu.

Sweet or savory, steamed or fried

Modak can be sweet or savoury, they can be steamed or fried, and the fillings can be traditional (like shredded coconut and jaggery) or innovative (like paneer, coriander and tomatoes). I had many opportunities to see the elaborate mandap – the altar setup and decorated for worship – at Anjali’s home during the 10 days each year when her family celebrated the holiday. But the best part was eating many of the wonderful modaka – filling my tummy to have a belly like Ganesha’s!

The recipe that follows is from a blog on healthy Indian recipes by Swasthi,a mother and homemaker who lives in Singapore. She says you can use store-bought rice flour, but it’s not nearly as good as rice flour you make yourself! Click here to see how to make your own.

Here are some links to for more information about Ganesha Chaturdhi and some recipes for the holiday:

16 recipes for Vinayaka Chaviti from Swasthi, including one for undrallu, the Andhra style steamed modak

NDTV’s Food site with 7 modak recipes

ssure cooker steam for 10 minutes; a small pressure pan will need only 6 minutes.