Prasadam - Poha


Poha, flattened rice

Apr 18, CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Today we begin a new three-part segment in the 'Prasadam' series on the featured ingredient, poha. This ancient foodstuff is known by many names. It is mentioned in the Rg Veda as pruthuka. The Hindustani term is pavaien, and in English it is generally called flattened or beaten rice. The devotees known this foodstuff best as chipped rice, which is famously described in the pastime of Lord Krsna and the austere brahmana, Sudama. Poha is also the main ingredient used to celebrate the Panihati chipped rice festival.

Poha is known in South Indian cooking as aval, and it appears in preparations that range from sweet, to tamarind-tart, to savoury. It is generally referred to as chivda when dry puffed or ghee fried. Fried chivda is often mixed with dried fruit, nuts, spices and siv or boondis and eaten as a snack. When puffed, it's often made into a milk sweet.

Poha might accurately be described as one of the world's first "fast foods". Because of the methods used to prepare it, it can be used as an ingredient in preparations with very little cooking, much like instant rice, potato or oatmeal.

Poha Chivda

Poha is essentially a parboiled rice made thin and flat by applying pressure to the partially cooked rice. The traditional method of preparation is to take paddy that has been soaked in water for 2 to 3 days, which softens the kernel. It is then boiled in water for just a few minutes. One it has cooled, the water is drained off and the paddy is again heated in a shallow earthen vessel or iron pan until the husks burst open. It is then pounded by hand with a wooden pestle, which flattens the rice kernel and removes the husk. The husks are separated by winnowing.

Today, of course, commercial production is done by machine, and the finished product we're familiar with on the Indian grocery store shelf is no doubt a few degrees less excellent than the hand-produced product. The mechanized process involves putting the rice through a roller device called a 'flaker machine', which flattens the pre-softened rice grains. Various levels of pressure are applied to produce very thin flakes, or a few stages of thicker flakes. The highest quality poha is the paper thin, translucent variety, which is more expensive. But each type of poha has its own unique benefits, as we'll see in the recipes to follow.

Before we get into a detailed discussion of the many savoury preparations in which poha can be used –for breakfasts, sweets, snacks, salads and breads – let's begin by savouring some excerpts of the pastime of Sudama's gift of chipped rice to Sri Krsna, as described by Srila Prabhupada in chapters 80 and 81 of Krsna Book. This story beautifully describes the essence of offering foodstuffs to the Lord with devotion. Whatever sort of prasadam preparations we make with poha, the story of Sudama brahamana should always be remembered so that our bhoga is offered in the same simple, loving way exemplified by this great devotee.

Sudama, rice bag tied in his cloth

As described by Sukadeva Goswami to King Pariksit, Sudama Vipra, who was a perfect brahmana, was a friend of Lord Krsna. As a householder, he never busied himself with accumulating wealth for comfortable living; therefore his living circumstances were very austere. In fact, his material condition was such that he and his good wife were not even eating sufficiently, and they were both very thin. Sudama's wife was not concerned about her own personal comfort, but she was worried for her husband, and therefore encouraged him to go visit his dear friend Krsna, and let Him know about their circumstances. She trusted that Krsna would understand the nature of their impoverished condition, and help them with some of the bare necessities.

After much encouragement from his wife, Sudama finally agreed to go and visit Krsna, but in his heart he was only anxious to see the Lord. He asked his wife if she had anything in the home that he could offer to Krsna.

    "… [Sudama's wife] immediately collected four palmsful of chipped rice from her neighboring friends and tied it in a small cloth, like a handkerchief, and gave it to her husband to present to Krsna. Without waiting any longer, the brahmana took the presentation and began to proceed toward Dvaraka to see his Lord."

Upon arriving at Krsna's palace in Dvaraka, Sudama brahamana was richly received and given all the welcome facility of an esteemed guest. In Chapter 81 of Krsna Book, we read about how Sri Krsna received the gift of chipped rice from Sudama:

    "Lord Krsna was engaged for a long time in talking with Sudama Vipra about their past association. Then, just to enjoy the company of an old friend, Lord Krsna began to smile, and asked, "My dear friend, what have you brought for Me? Has your wife given you some nice eatable for Me?" While He was addressing His friend, Lord Krsna was looking upon him and smiling with great love. He continued, "My dear friend, you must have brought some presentation for Me from your home."

    Lord Krsna knew that Sudama was hesitating to present Him the paltry chipped rice which was actually unfit for His eating, and understanding the mind of Sudama Vipra the Lord said, "My dear friend, certainly I am not in need of anything, but if My devotee gives Me something as an offering of love, even though it may be very insignificant, I accept it with great pleasure. On the other hand, if a person is not a devotee, even though he may offer Me very valuable things, I do not like to accept them. I actually accept only things which are offered to Me in devotion and love; otherwise, however valuable the thing may be, I do not accept it. If My pure devotee offers Me even the most insignificant things--a little flower, a little piece of leaf, a little water--but saturates the offering in devotional love, then I not only gladly accept such an offering, but I eat it with great pleasure."

    Lord Krsna assured Sudama Vipra that He would be very glad to accept the chipped rice which he had brought from home, yet out of great shyness, Sudama Vipra hesitated to present it to the Lord. He was thinking, "How can I offer such insignificant things to Krsna?" and he simply bowed his head.

    Lord Krsna, the Supersoul, knows everything in everyone's heart. He knows everyone's determination and everyone's want. He knew, therefore, the reason for Sudama Vipra's coming to Him. He knew that, driven by extreme poverty, he had come there at the request of his wife. Thinking of Sudama as His very dear class friend, He knew that Sudama's love for Him as a friend was never tainted by any desire for material benefit. Krsna thought, "Sudama has not come asking anything from Me, but being obliged by the request of his wife, he has come to see Me just to please her." Lord Krsna therefore decided that He would give more material opulence to Sudama Vipra than could be imagined even by the King of heaven.

    He then snatched the bundle of chipped rice which was hanging on the shoulder of the poor brahmana, packed in one corner of his wrapper, and said, "What is this? My dear friend, you have brought Me nice, palatable chipped rice!" He encouraged Sudama Vipra, saying, "I consider that this quantity of chipped rice will not only satisfy Me, but will satisfy the whole creation." It is understood from this statement that Krsna, being the original source of everything, is the root of the entire creation. As watering the root of a tree immediately distributes water to every part of the tree, so an offering made to Krsna, or any action done for Krsna, is to be considered the highest welfare work for everyone, because the benefit of such an offering is distributed throughout the creation. Love for Krsna becomes distributed to all living entities.

    While Lord Krsna was speaking to Sudama Vipra, He ate one morsel of chipped rice from his bundle, and when He attempted to eat a second morsel, Rukminidevi, who is the goddess of fortune herself, checked the Lord by catching hold of His hand. After touching the hand of Krsna, Rukmini said, "My dear Lord, this one morsel of chipped rice is sufficient to cause him who offered it to become very opulent in this life and to continue his opulence in the next life. My Lord, You are so kind to Your devotee that even this one morsel of chipped rice pleases You very greatly, and Your pleasure assures the devotee opulence both in this life and in the next." This indicates that when food is offered to Lord Krsna with love and devotion and He is pleased and accepts it from the devotee, Rukminidevi, the goddess of fortune, becomes so greatly obliged to the devotee that she has to personally go to the devotee's home to turn it into the most opulent home in the world. If one feeds Narayana sumptuously, the goddess of fortune, Laksmi, automatically becomes a guest in one's house, which means that one's home becomes opulent. The learned brahmana Sudama passed that night at the house of Lord Krsna, and while he was there he felt as if he were living in a Vaikuntha planet. Actually he was living in Vaikuntha, because wherever Lord Krsna, the original Narayana, and Rukminidevi, the goddess of fortune, live is not different from the spiritual planet, Vaikunthaloka."

    Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.


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