Sukham Cooler Buttermilk ~ Offering to Shitala & Bodri

by on March 27, 2019

Buttermilk…the Sukham cooler we relish in Chennai throughout the year. The Ayurvedic texts recommend it as an after meal drink, also known as anupana. Buttermilk or takra, which is diluted and churned yogurt, is considered an ideal anupana after lunch.
Most of us assume that yogurt and buttermilk have similar properties. But, according to Ayurveda, yogurt which is hot and sour in essence, when churned into buttermilk, undergoes manthan samskara and becomes sweet after digestion, exerting a cooling effect. The texts proclaim, “Just as nectar is for Gods, buttermilk is for humans. One who consumes buttermilk daily does not suffer from disease and diseases cured by it do not recur.”

Down memory lane

Buttermilk – the drink of diluted curd takes me down memory lane. It reminds of the story I heard since I was a child, on the eve of Shitalashtami or thanda khaana. It is a day that prepares us for the summer ahead. On this day, we eat food prepared the previous day. The food is not reheated, the stove is not lit and the geyser is not switched on. The point is to stay away from anything associated with heat. So, we pray to the goddesses, visit friends and relatives, and above all, keep cool. I wish we could use this day to imbibe some coolness in our hearts as well, letting go of intense heated emotions of love & hate, but that is a journey that takes more than a day.

Shitala Mata Indian Goddess

Every Shitalashtami, we would wake up early, wash our hair with cold water, dress up, and head to the temple in the wee hours of the morning. All our questions about the day had to wait until after the pooja. We would then sit in the courtyard and listen to my mother as she eloquently rendered a lovely folktale, year after year.

The folktale of Shitala & Bodri

This is a story of two sisters, Shitala and Bodri, who wandered into a village at the peak of summer. Feeling hot and thirsty, they looked for something cool to eat or drink. Many offered them alms of exotic sweets and rich preparations, but their parched throats found no relief, not even at the king’s palace. Feeling frustrated and angry, they put a curse upon the village and began to walk away.
As the sisters reached a hut on the outskirts of the village, they saw an old woman and asked her for something cool and soothing to eat or drink. She went into the hut and fetched them some buttermilk and leftover rotis. The woman apologised, for she was poor and had nothing else to offer, but this simple, cold food was all they wanted. It felt like nectar to the two sisters. They finished their meal and blessed the old woman, saying that her house would always remain cool and happy. Then, they walked away into the woods.
Soon, catastrophe struck as a fire consumed the little village. The villagers tried to douse the fire, but its flames spread all the way to the palace. Only the little hut miraculously stood unscathed in the aftermath. When news of this reached the king, he rushed to the hut and asked the poor woman why her home had been spared. The woman said she did not know why, but mentioned the two young girls whom she had fed the stale rotis & buttermilk to earlier.
After searching high and low, the two sisters were found resting under the shade of a tree in the deep woods. The king and the villagers prostrated themselves at the two sisters’ feet and asked them who they were. The sisters introduced themselves as the goddesses Shitala Mata & Bodri Mata, who had cursed the village for not quenching their thirst. Thus, the king and the villagers apologised and sought the blessings of both goddesses.
To this day, we celebrate the 8th day of Chaitra month, soon after the festival of Holi, to appease these two Goddesses. Some people celebrate it on saptami, or the 7th day. Shitala, as the name implies, means ‘coolness’ and Bodri means ‘pox’. Thus, Shitala Mata & Bodri Mata are the two Goddesses who protect us from all summer diseases, as well as the heat boils of smallpox and chickenpox. We seek their blessings to remain cool and serene.
As a tribute to this festival, enjoy this delicious recipe of buttermilk.

Spiced Buttermilk ~ Ayurvedic Recipe from Sukham Ayu

Buttermilk kindles the digestive fire, bestows nourishment and is an aphrodisiac. Its light and water absorbent properties make it useful in controlling diarrhoea and dysentery. Its sour essence and warming potency, coupled with the fact that it makes a good appetizer and digestive, makes it soothing to vata. Its astringent essence, coupled with it being dry, light and quick to digest, calms kapha; and its sweet post-digestive effect keeps it from aggravating pitta.
sukham ayu buttermilk

  • 2 cups fresh yogurt (from cow’s milk)
  • Powdered rock salt to taste
  • 1 tsp cow’s ghee

The paste

  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 3-4 black peppercorns
  • 6-8 large spinach leaves
  • 10 petals of fresh hibiscus (optional)
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh coconut

The tempering

  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • A pinch of asafoetida powder
  • 4-5 curry leaves, chopped fine
  1.   Churn yogurt along with 1½ cups water to make buttermilk. Add salt and set aside.
  2.   For the paste, heat ½ tsp ghee in a wok. Add cumin and pepper and as they crackle, toss in the spinach and hibiscus. Sauté for 1-2 minutes. Cool and grind into a fine paste along with the coconut and ¼ cup water. Strain this paste into the buttermilk.
  3. For the tempering, heat ½ tsp ghee in the same wok. Add cumin and as it crackles, add the asafoetida and curry leaves. Immediately switch off flame and pour this tempering into the buttermilk.

Serve as a post-lunch drink or as an accompaniment to steamed rice.

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