I recently returned from a short vacation in Goa. I try to stay away from the typical outing people indulge in Goa, like the clubs and the booze bouts and the like, and try to do something different each time I visit the place, which is generally once a year.
So, this year, my trip coincided with the celebration of the Ganpati festival – Ganesh Chaturthi. I was out exploring the countryside on my rented Honda Activa, and I encountered a pandal with the Ganpati seated majestically in it. The people outside the pandal were celebrating the occasion with dance and music. And I just joined in. Nobody really objected. Some people engaged in a conversation with me, and I comfortably said I am from Mumbai, and I stayed back for the Aarti as well. I avoided taking a lot of pictures, not wanting to disrespect either the villagers or their rituals with the Lord, as also not to draw a lot of unwanted attention which generally comes when you start clicking pictures around. I was planning to drive off as soon as I could.
In the aarti I noticed the offering of 21 modaks. And the modaks were white as milk. Spotless, flawless. After the aarti, when I too received the Prasad of the modaks, I realized the modaks did not have a hard shell like the other modaks I have had. This one had a soft shell with the filling inside. The shape was exactly as the other modaks I have had. I learnt that this is what is called as Ukadiche Modak. Ukadiche Modak. These are said to be the most favorite of Lord Ganesha. The Ukadiche Modaks are made from rice flour with sweet coconut stuffing, flavored with cardamom. These ones also had some nutmeg in it. They did not have sugar as a sweetener, instead it used jiggery as a sweetener. Upon talking to the women around, I found out that the special Goan Pyramid Jaggery is used to prepare these modaks, combined with scraped coconut. The filling is similar to what you would find in Goan Coconut Neuris and Patoleos.
The Ukadiche Modaks are hand-made, and hence, it is difficult to give it that particular shape like a garlic pod, without having them disintegrate in your palms. Some households have started using moulds to make the job of shaping the modaks easier, but the ones I was seeing and eating were definitely entirely hand-made and shaped, there were differences in the size and minute differences in the shape as well, so it is a simple guesswork here. Once the modaks are shaped, they are steam cooked in pressure cookers. Hence, the softness and lack of the tough shell of the modaks, and the whiteness too.
There were 21 modaks placed before Lord Ganpati as an offering on a banana leaf. I was wondering why the number 21. They could 11, which is another auspicious number, or maybe some other auspicious number. And why the banana leaf, while the rest was in a simple steel plate/vessel? Apart from modaks, there were rava laddoos and sheera as well as some dry fruits.
As the mythological story goes, once Lord Shiva visited Anusuyua at her home in the forest, and he was seated next to a young Ganesha for the lunch. Lord Shiva was really very hungry and waited for Anusuya to serve him. However, Anusuya said that he would have to wait as Bal Ganesh would be served first, and after he had had his meal and was satiated, she would serve Lord Shiva. Now Ganpati, a voracious eater as he was, kept on eating up everything that was being served, and being satiated was far from close to a possibility anytime soon. Even his mother, Goddess Parvati was astonished at the amount of food he was eating. Worried that Lord Shiva might go hungry if Ganpati continued his eating as he was, Anusuya gave him a sweet. Ganpati ate it and burped loudly, and at the same time, Lord Shiva burped too, not one but 21 times. This indicated that they had had their fill, and did not want any more food. Later, Goddess Parvati asked Anusuya what the sweet was, to which she replied, it was a Modak. Upon knowing this, Parvati wished that Modaks be served to Ganpati whenever he was worshipped, and the devotees who offer him that, their wishes would come true. That is why, Ganesha is also referred to as Modakpriya.
With all these things that I learnt, I enjoyed the Ukadiche Modaks, made my way back to my Activa and drove off exploring more of the Goan countryside. Enriching and fun experience, I must say!