Amāvasyā and the Sānnāyya: final thoughts and food.

My final post on this subject is of a more mundane nature than the spiritual speculations of the last post – just a few thoughts regarding worship at the New Moon, and how the sānnāyya story might be useful on a practical level, with perhaps a few thoughts even for those who are not devotees.


Returning to the original text, I remember the instruction that even one who is not a Soma-sacrificer may offer the sānnāyya. While these texts are intended for brāhmaṇas – priests, scholars, and teachers – there is one aspect of the story that I particularly like: When he (the Moon) is not seen that night either in the east or in the west, then he visits this world; and here he enters into the waters and plants. Elsewhere this is re-affirmed: This night (of the new moon) the food of the gods slips down, from yonder (heaven) and it reaches this world. Those gods observe, ‘How can it be (made) that this (our food) will not be away from us and how will it come back to us?’ They have their hope only on those who offer the sānnāyya, thinking, ‘These (performers of sānnāyya) only will offer to us, having collected (it).

It seems to say that on this night, the food and drink of the world are suffused with Soma.
And that is a lovely thought – that even without a proper household or its fires, lacking any knowledge of Sanskrit and with a mind worse than ignorant in so many things, that my offerings are, in some mystical sense, “Soma” to my Lord one night each month.

The second part of the quote is humbling: They have their hope only on those who offer. There are times I feel a bit silly offering food to God, who of course can have whatever He wants, and needs nothing from me; other times, I feel automated, tiredly making offerings in pūjā because it’s what I’m supposed to do, thinking of a thousand other things at once. But to the Vedic world, sacrifice created the universe and continued to re-create it with every moment. An offering was not ridiculous or robotic; it was rightful, and radiant.

The idea that God does not need us doesn’t seem quite accurate; would God create or sustain needlessness in this universe? Each being has, at least, a role, some small place to fill and fulfill in this universe. Perhaps a clearer sentiment is to say that the Devas do not require us, in order to be themselves glorious, beautiful, and powerful. But they do, perhaps, want us. Certainly they want us? as their empowered allies, growing stronger every day that we grow in knowledge and wisdom. Their hands are held out to us, and even the smallest things we give them do matter. We have a place in this universe, and part of that comes in making a more brilliant universe by worship and love. We have that right, that rite.

To look into oneself and find there a fierce longing for God and immortality, an unsatisifed burning that lies at the heart of all earthly fears and all mortal loves, is stunning; it is more so to consider that God might long for us, too, and rejoice as we move closer to Him.

I wrap this up with a few final thoughts that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else, a bit of speculation that isn’t particularly deep or moving, just random.

–Milk, both sour and sweet, continues even today to be associated with strength and vigour, particularly by eastern European and Scandinavian cultures; even Ukrainian immigrants in my community praise foods like buttermilk, whole milk, and yogurt as good for long life and health. It’s interesting when I consider that many of these cultures were pastoral/nomadic, but were more likely to herd sheep, goats, or other animals than cows, yet it is the milk considered invigorating, and the source less important. I have wondered if the deep Vedic significances given to milk, especially in stories like this, were the origin of this seemingly-widespread idea.

–In pūjā, we treat God as our honoured friend and offer various services to God’s image, such as washing the hands and feet, and giving fresh clothing, flowers, and adornment, the sorts of delights that we might offer to a special houseguest. And naturally, part of pūjā is that we offer naivedyaṃ – consecrated food – to God. But most religious scholars state that this pūjā ritual, this cornerstone of Hindu worship, did not exist as such in Vedic times.

The Vedic yajña did offer ghee, milks, and certain sorts of grains to the Devas. But I have not yet found this idea of personal nourishment given for God’s pleasure; the offerings sustained the wheel of the universe on its course, so to speak.

Does this sānnāyya-offering contain a germ of pūjā, perhaps? For it is one of the most personal, specific and meaningful to God-in-a-specific-personal-form (that of Indra) that I have seen in any of the texts so far. Already there is the explanation that status (Soma-sacrificer or not) matters less important than the desire of the offering being made.

I wonder.

Finally, I have a recipe to give. After I once read an oblique message-board reference to “Indra’s staple food being milk mixed with curd,” I went looking for dishes that might fit that description, and felt a draw to kalakand of the many recipes I found. I began making it, then found the full sānnāyya story to explain why this blending was significant. So, kalakand it was, and the sweet still feels like the right thing to make. This is what I offer my Lord every New Moon.

I have been told before that the Vedic gods should not be worshipped in the same way that the modern Hindu deities are – i.e., no pūjā or its constituent rites like the offering of naivedyaṃ. After thinking much on this point and praying a bit as well, I decided a) an offering is called an “offering” because the Deva is free to reject it, hence that it is not called the “shoving down throat-ering,” b) that it was better to offer than not to offer, because the love and care that goes into the offering surely means something even if the actual dish is unfit, and c) if a Deva finds my offering offensive, surely he not only may reject it, but may command me to cease entirely?

Since I’m not aware of personal wrongdoing in this regard, I offer instructions for Amāvasyā sweets here.
(A quick thought: is the IAST spelling of this sweet kālakand, and if so, does that mean the name could possibly translate to chapter of time? If so, that would amuse me, given my interpretation of the sānnāyya’s significance in the last post.)

Kalakand, as I make it, has only four ingredients – or three, if you leave out the jaggery and try to pretend you’re healthy. I’m writing it down exactly as I make it.

2 cups half-and-half
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
Lump of jaggery

Put the half-and-half in a pan or pot or other round cooking thing. Turn the heat on high, wait for the milk to boil, and when it does, quickly turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the yogurt to the pot and stir. Let it cook for a few minutes, then add the condensed milk and jaggery. Stir. Stir and stir and stir and stir and stir.
This stuff takes a while to condense down. Essentially, you’re making sticky globby chewy goop out of liquid, by boiling away all of the liquids until the protein-y solids remain. DID I MENTION IT TAKES A WHILE. Keep an eye on the pot, and stir often, or even continuously if you want. (Depending how temperamental your stove and pot/pan/thingy are, you may end up with a burnt layer of milk solids on the bottom of the pot, which is gross and takes forever to scrape off. Not that I would know, because I am perfect.) Feel free to add more yogurt if the mess doesn’t seem to be curdling at all; the yogurt is what makes the milk transform from “liquidy stuff” from “liquidy stuff that seems to be getting thicker with grainy globby bits.”
Eventually, the contents of the pot will become angry. The milky mass will start rumbling with deep thundery noises and then spit flecks of fiery dairy rage at you. This is when you know you are starting to tame the beast, and also the point at which you need to glue your hand to the spoon; keep stirring, and don’t stop. The stuff will fight back and resist becoming kalakand, but if you persist, it will eventually give up, start pulling away from the sides of the pot/pan/thingy, and become a sticky globby goop.
This is the point at which you take your lightly greased square pan, and pour or spoon the goop into it. Let it cool, set, and do other things that sound culinary. Cut it into squares. Decorate it with nuts and stuff if you’re feeling really ambitious.
Or just leave it in the pot and eat the whole thing with a spoon once it cools. Your call.
But if you want to use the kalakand for offering, it’s best to do it right, with the whole square thing. And don’t taste anything you’re about to offer, because you’re cooking for God, dagnabit. While he does want your devotion, he doesn’t want your grubby spit-spoons gunking up the dish, nor does he want you drooling over his dessert before he’s even gotten to try it.
This is the cheatingest recipe for kalakand ever, by the way. Half-and-half, or table cream (which I’ve also used) are thicker and richer than whole milk (which is what the recipe is supposed to use), and between that, and the syrupy condensed milk, you can have a batch of extraordinarily sweet, insanely fattening, sticky-soft kalakand in less than two hours. Whole milk seems to produce a smaller quantity of a lighter, fluffier product, and takes about twice as long to cook down.
The “lump” of jaggery consists of whatever I can manage to chop off of the block at the time, by the way. I never measure it.

So, I think that’s it. And now that I’ve contemplated salvation, universal truth and justice, victory, worship, light and darkness, sun and moon, and dessert, it’s time for bed.

Adorable Indra, our Saviour, Vṛtra-slayer and promoter of our highest aims,
may He be our Protector from the end, from the middle, from behind and from in front.

Atharva Veda 19.15.

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2 thoughts on “Amāvasyā and the Sānnāyya: final thoughts and food.

  1. I’ll have to try this. Can’t say I’ve ever cooked with jaggery before though… (I actually had to google it as I had no idea what you were talking about)… and I’m not entirely sure if I have any lying about… since I’ve never actually TASTED jaggery, do you think brown sugar would be an adequate substitution? Or do I just need real jaggery?

  2. No worries – at first I didn’t know what it was, either! I have two nice-sized blocks of jaggery at home that will take me a good long while to use, so if you want, you can taste it and take one of the blocks with you, the next time I see you.

    A better substitute, flavour-wise, would be raw sugar/turbinado, but any sort of sugar is ok. (That includes white sugar, in terms of taste, but because white sugar processing uses bone ash in the bleaching process, it isn’t technically vegetarian and thus doesn’t work for naivedyaṃ.)

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