In the festival of “Nine Nights,” Hindus across the globe worship the feminine form of the Supreme. No other major religion of the world acknowledges God as part female but for Hindus, the Goddess, Shakti, is the emanating power, the essence and the creative manifestation of the Supreme Being. This unique broadness of Hinduism makes Navratri the world’s greatest festival dedicated to the Goddess. This yearly festival is celebrated for nine or ten days in the lunar month of Ashvina. Hindu women consider Navratri as a festival they can deeply connect to. Many see it as a way to commune with their own feminine divinity. A widespread practice to honor the Goddess is by inviting young girls home, feeding them and offering them new clothes and gifts.

In a ritual performed throughout India, Hindus begin the observances with the sprouting of seeds. In this ceremony, an earthen or silver pitcher is filled with water and barley seeds. The vessel is placed in the shrine room or some other honored place in the home, where the seeds will sprout over the next nine days. It is a green exuberance that displays the fertility power of the Goddess and brings blessings for a bountiful crop. A traditional deity kumbha is also prepared; this is an ornate brass pot filled with water, herbs and metals, with mango leaves and a coconut on top. The kumbha is set up to invoke the Goddess during the festival period.

Durga is worshiped as Navdurga, the one with nine manifestations, one for each day of the festival. They vary in attributes and appearance - Shailputri, daughter of the mountain; Brahmacharini, the chaste one; Chandraghanta, the fighter; Kushmanda, of many lights; Skanda Mata, mother to Lord Skanda; Katyayani, the divine daughter; Kalratri, the black one; young-looking Maha Gauri, who seems no older than eight years; and Siddhidatri, the all-powerful Siva-Shakti. Each is invoked with a special mantra. On the tenth day or Vijaya Dashami, the festival culminates in the triumph of the Goddesses over the demon Mahishasura.

Prayer ceremonies are held in homes and temples in reverence of the Goddess and are attended by large numbers of devotees. Some form of prasad/offering is always distributed to everyone at the end of each prayer session - roath being among the more common ones. Roath is a kinda deep-fried biscuit, with a thick crisp crust and a soft chewy interior, made out of very basic ingredients. I’m not sure about the spelling so please correct me if I’m wrong. The recipe is from my mum who makes the best one I know so far.

‘ROATH’

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup full cream milk powder

1/2 cup granulated sugar

75 g pure ghee, melted

120 ml cold water

1 tbs anise seeds

Vegetable oil, for frying

Method:

  • Combine flour, milk powder, sugar and anise seeds in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre.

  • Work the ghee into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine crumbs.

  • Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together as a soft sticky dough.

  • Leave dough to stand for 15 minutes before dividing into 10 balls. Flatten into a disc of 10 cm diameter.

  • Heat oil in a deep pan and cook in batches of 2 to 3 over lowest heat until dark brown in colour.

  • Flip over and cook on the other side. Drain well on absorbent paper and cool to room temperature.

  • Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days. Makes 10 pieces.

Milk laddoos are always there on the puja thali next to semolina halwa and roath. They are a childhood favourite of mine and I remember asking for seconds whenever we were given offerings to take home. Laddoo blanc/white laddoo, as we called them back then, are very, very easy to make. Once again, the recipe is from my mother who cooks and bakes without kitchen scales. So I had to go around measuring everything [Thank God, there were only three ingredients!] before I could post the recipe on the blog.

MILK LADDOO

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup + 2 tbs milk powder

5 cardamom pods, crushed

1 tbs pure ghee, melted

Method:

  • Place water and sugar in a heavy based saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.

  • Cook until syrup reaches the one-string consistency - it forms a thin thread when lifted by a spoon.

  • At this point, add milk powder and stir vigourouly until mixture becomes thick and sticky.

  • Add ghee and cook over low heat, stirring continously, until mixture forms a ball and leaves sides of pan.

  • Remove from heat immediately and dump into a greased dish. Add cardamom and knead to form a smooth mixture.

  • Shape into balls. Dip your fingers in water as you work to give them a glossy finish and leave out to air dry.

  • You will need to work quickly as the mixture will solidify pretty fast. If it does, sprinkle cold water over and knead again.
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