By admin       2017-12-08

A tantalising aroma of ghee, coconut and roasted nuts wafts in the air. “No more temple hopping. Let’s find the source of this heavenly fragrance first,” I tell my Nayanmar story trail brigade, once we reach the Karaikal Ammaiyar temple. It had been a pleasant enough day walking through the town of Karaikal in Puducherry, and the stories were rather interesting. But the smell is irresistible and we make up our minds to give a rest to the gory yet fascinating tales of Shaivite saints and make way to the halwa stall round the corner. Here, a smiling bhaiya tells us that the scent is from the mound of coal-black halwa he is selling. While I’ve tasted many types of halwa, this is a first for me. Called paruthi halwa, it is made from cotton seed and I’m intrigued. The vendor serves us a scoop of the warm sweet, laden with cashews and grated coconut. It is only mildly sweet and boasts a silken texture that has me hooked from the first bite. Despite hailing from Kozhikode and being brought up on a staple diet of halwas of different tastes, textures and colours, I have never before savoured anything as soft and flavourful as this. The vendor tells me it has been made by his wife at their humble kitchen at home, and that they have been in this business for generations. “Across the belt from Karaikal up to Thanjavur, you will see several fields that cultivate cotton. The halwa is made from the milk extracted from these cotton seeds,” he explains. In fact, it is very much a local delicacy, with the paruthi paal being sold even at bus stands. Apart from this, we also taste his damroot halwa, made of rava, which he says is a typically Muslim delicacy prepared mainly during Ramzan in his house. The halwa stalls here are a part of the temple bazaar. Many of the sweet and aluminium vessel stalls are helmed by Muslim vendors. In fact, the confluence of people from different faiths is a familiar sight in Karaikal, which has the Velankanni church, the Sri Saneeswaran temple and the Nagore Dargah in close proximity. “And, because your livelihoods depend on the festivals in these places, people have grown used to co-existing with their differences,” my guide tells me. I try to pay attention to my guide, but soon I am lost in the vibrant bazaar bustle and the melt-in-the-mouth paruthi and damroot halwas, and before I know it, my mind has wandered off to a happy place.

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