Thiruvathira Puzhukku

January 17, 2008 | 29 Comments

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Thiruvathira is observed in Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the full moon during the month of Dhanu (December-January).

The way the festival is observed differs entirely, though. Tamil Iyers celebrate Thiruvathirai to commemorate the birth of Lord Shiva. It’s also called Ardhra Darshnam. Both genders participate in the rituals. (See this post)

In Kerala, some Hindus like Nairs and Namboodiris celebrate Thiruvathira to commemorate the death of Kamadeva, or Cupid at the hands of Lord Shiva. Kamadeva allegedly made some advances towards Shiva’s wife, Parvathi. Shiva destroyed him, but relented on Parvathis’ pleas. He restored Kamadeva to life on the condition that he would be formless.


Women observe Thiruvathira to mourn Kamadeva’s death, and then to celebrate his resurrection. More about the Malayalee version of Thiruvathira HERE. (Also see this and this).

Thiruvathira in Kerala is basically a girls’ night out where they sing, perform the famous Thiruvthirakali (dance), ride swings and have a blast under the guise of ‘fasting’ for their husband’s long life. Unmarried girls pray for a good husband.

It’s a benign version of the north Indian fasting ritual or karva chauth, where women fast until moonrise and then indulge in specially prepared foods. The Tamilian ritual of Karadayan Nonbu has a similar intent, but is observed with a different set of rituals. As with most time-honoured traditions, men are not required to reciprocate for the women in their lives in any way, shape or form.

The men will claim that the women do it on their own, and that they couldn’t care less if their wives gave it a pass. They may be right. A lot of women observe these rituals because of peer pressure or to ‘keep the peace’ with the in-laws. (Scroll down this link to read Vikram Doctor’s piece.)

For Thiruvathira in Kerala, fasting actually means going without rice. That is a huge deal for the Malayalee, ‘cos every meal of the day has rice as the major component. The word for ‘cooked rice’ (‘choru’ ) is synonymous with the word for ‘food’.

Going without rice means means gorging on a whole array of goodies from bananas, to starchy tubers, beans and legumes.

There’s no real ‘fasting’ or sacrifice involved here except for the dip in the ‘kulam’ or pond for the song session. In most traditional Kerala homes, baths were taken in a dug-out pond near the home. On Thiruvathira day, this ritual takes place really early, and it is so not fun on a chilly winter morning.


In my immediate and extended family, we do not observe Thiruvathira for two reasons.

1. The embossed wrapper of the tradition manual tells you that it is an innocuous little hen-fest where the women get together to have a good time. What it won’t tell you is that widows are excluded from the festivities.

Besides, my grandmom, mom, aunts, and I never got the whole fuss about proclaiming your devotion to your husband while all he is required to do is sit on his hiney and gloat about how privileged he is for being plumbed differently.

Yeah, there are convoluted “scientific” explanations on why this tradition, or karva chauth, or karadayan nonbu is not sexist and/or was never intended to be, and we’ve heard them all. We just don’t buy them.

2. Those who don’t observe rituals seem to have an equally good or better success rate at snagging smart, kind, good-looking partners. Look at who Jai (he’s allergic to rituals) ended up with. :devil:


Thiruvathira is a dying tradition in Kerala, and while we’re not going to shed any tears when it becomes extinct, there are a few recipes associated with the festival that are worth preserving.

thiruvathira puzhukku

The main one is Thiruvathira Puzhukku, also called “ettangadi puzhukku“.

‘Ettangadi chuduka’ is an important ritualistic act of women. On this day, eight different tubers are roasted in the fire. Through this ritual, it is believed that Kamadeva’s body represented by the tubers is regained. This delicious preparation known as Thiruvathirappuzhukku, a special dish prepared by these tubers forms the main item for lunch.


ettu = eight, angadi = store, chuduka = roast.

Puzhukku is a type of warm salad where starchy veggies (like tubers or green plantains) are cooked with spices and coconut, mashed (while retaining their shape), and served topped with curry leaves and a drizzle of coconut oil.

Malayalees make puzhukkus often, usually with a single veggie. (See Kappa Puzhukku at my favourite online Thattukada – street snack shop.)

This recipe has myriad veggies, often with the addition of beans like red cowpeas (chori) or whole moong beans.

For Thiruvathira puzhukku, the tubers generally used are koorka (Chinese potato), kaachil (English name, anyone?), elephant yam (telinga potato/suran), and a host of other tropical root veggies. Sometimes, these can be found in southeast Asian stores.

This recipe is from Ammini Ramachandran‘s Grains, Green and Grated Coconuts. She uses red cowpeas, along with green plantains and 4 cups of assorted root veggies. She recommends substituting the traditional ones with potatoes, yams, taro (colocasia/arvi) and cassava (closely related to yuca/manioc and sometimes used interchangeably. Also called ‘tapioca‘, which is actually the starch derived from this tuber).

We used a combination of taro and cassava. The traditional dish is on the drier side (see pic on
Ammini’s website
). You can make it wet or dry, based on personal preference.

kappa, cassava, yuca, manioc

Kappa (cassava, also sometimes called yuca/manioc/tapioca)

There is a certain protocol to boil kappa (cassava). See step-by-step instructions at Ginger and Mango. As Inji points out:

Do not ever boil Cassava with skin.
Some Cassava is poisonous depending upon the variety …

Removing the skin, boiling, discarding the water, then boiling it again makes it safe to consume and digest.

Plain boiled kappa with salt is our favourite way to eat this veggie. From time to time, in many Kerala households, there will be a meal where kappa replaces rice as the main starch.



recipe from here

4 cups of cubed root vegetables (we used taro and cassava. see note above)
1 medium size green plantain peeled and cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
½ cup of red cowpeas soaked overnight (whole moong works too)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 ½ cups of freshly grated coconut (we used 3/4 cup)
2 to 3 fresh hot green chili peppers
2 tablespoons of coconut oil
A few curry leaves

1. Combine all the cut vegetables in a pot and add enough water to cover. Add salt, turmeric and red pepper powder and cook over medium heat till the vegetables become fork tender. Drain water if you want a dry curry, use it if you want it wet.

2. Cook the red beans separately until they are soft and combine with the cooked vegetables.

3. Grind the coconut, cumin and green chilies to a coarse thick paste and add to the pot and stir gently. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes over medium low heat.

4. Pour coconut oil over the cooked vegetables and stir gently. Garnish with fresh curry leaves. Serve hot with cooked cracked wheat or brown rice.

We had ours with rose matta rice.


Thiruvathira B!tchfest and Puzhukku go to dear Jyothsna of Currybaaar for the Regional Cuisine of India: Kerala event.

Legumes and starchy veggies go really well together. This dish also goes to sweet Susan @ The Well-Seasoned Cook for her Legume Love Affair.

- Bee


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  1. Mansi says:

    That’s something I never knew anything about!! it’s fu to learn about so many new festivals ad things from blogs man! thanks for sharing:)

  2. Nupur says:

    Oh my, but there’s a startling picture :)

  3. Manisha says:

    This post stands testimony to my statement earlier – either here or on DH – that I find out more about festivals on this blog than anywhere else. So nyah! You may not participate or indulge or whatever but the info is made available right here! One more nyah!

    I saw funny looking cassavas at the Asian market last week, too. The yucca root that was in the bin rght next to it was very different though. Yucca is an agave plant whereas cassava is from a different family. I think you have an extra c as ‘yuca’, according to Wikipedia, appears another name for cassava.

    i checked and now i am thoroughly confused. one is supposed to be more bitter than the other (more ‘cyanide’ :no: ) though they are related. – b.

  4. Manisha says:

    Oh and I forgot to say – which many other people will say aftr me – but let me be the first to respond to this statement:
    Look at who Jai (he’s allergic to rituals) ended up with.
    Um, where is it that you want us to look? :hammer: Not those monkey pics you put up, right? I am really kicking myself for not taking pictures of you and Jai. Just think…I could have sold them for $$… :o hno:

    Al that aside, let me vouch for smart, kind, good-looking cos it’s true! :cool:

    don’t forget ‘modest’. :devil: – b.

  5. Rajitha says:

    i am in agreement with not celebrating festivals where they alienate a sect of women..because they are widowed. it is such practices that make my blood boil..and when you speak against it..ppl look at you thinking you are nuts!! I am fed up of going to ppl’s homes and they land up giving you sindoor to wear..because it is soo great to be married and have a husband..wowie!! what a freakin achievement!! :fume:…i have actually told ppl i do not want it..they seem confused and older aunties look at me like i am a wierdo :D but coming to the recipe..yum! we make puzhukku too..but quite different and it is super simple :embarrass

  6. Mythili says:

    -Ditto – @ Manisha’s second comment :D :D

    Yep.. i am too lazy today.

  7. Superchef says:

    i never knew soo many things about thiruvathira…though we do make puzhukku very often at home…thanks for sharing these stories / info!!

  8. sagari says:

    havent tried that vegetable curry looks yummy

  9. richa says:

    must taste real good with all that coconut :D

  10. Deepa says:

    I am completely drooling over this pic!!!!!

  11. Latha says:

    Wow! So much thought and effort goes into each post u guys! Awesome. And so good to know about all this! We have something similar in Telugu tradition too – but its more about getting together and having a good time :-)
    And bee i love the reasons why u guys done celebrate this in your house! Love the candid way u say things!
    And pictures look awesome! I don’t think I will be trying this recipe – maybe i’ll just come over to try it! :-)

  12. Latha says:

    LOL on the last line – the title of the post thats going to Currybazaar!

  13. TBC says:

    “Thiruvathira in Kerala is basically a girls’ night out”- :rofl:… sorry, just found that funny. :laugh:

  14. sra says:

    I agree with you, Bee, and with Rajitha too. I won’t repeat that but have you seen some women get pious looks on their faces when they are fasting, feasting, doling out kumkum and blouse pieces on small steel plates, not to mention clearing their husbands’ dinner plates as if that was the most blissful thing on earth! :huh:
    There’s nothing Bitchfest about this, it’s all justified and valid. :)

  15. bhavani says:

    to manisha’s list of what jai ended up with :yes: , let me add ‘fun’ and ‘highly creative’. i use my ‘appa kuzhi’ with which to make appams, about four times a year and it is unused the other 361(2) days. no one except bee might think of using it to light tealights!!

    thanks for the interesting info on thiruvathirai. we tamils make a ‘thiruvathirai kali’, and it is sweet but goes with a multi-vegetable sambar.

  16. Nags says:

    i am not much of a puzhukku fan, but you are right, the recipe is worth preserving!

  17. Suganya says:

    I never knew Keralites celebrate Thiruvadhirai for a different reason. Girls night out sounds fun, minus fasting, though.

  18. Jyothsna says:

    Funny post Bee!! My parents only observe the kali and puzhukku making tradition of Thiruvathira. I always thought Shiva’s b’day + Kamadeva dying + the girls nite out was all a part of the Malu fest. Never knew abt the fasting aspect tho’ – never observed that in my extended family! Thanks for the entry!

  19. Aparna says:

    Good read, and I definitely agree that these kind of recipes need to be preserved.
    And yes, for the average Mallu, food generally means “choru”.
    About girls’ night out, I don’t know. All girls affair, that’s true. Then where’s the fun in trying to fit this bit of cooking as well into regular routine on Thiruvathira? The “night out” bit, well……….. the girls cook and everyone gets to eat, unless in the “modern” version of things, you decide to eat the”traditional” meal at a 5, or 4 or 3 starred restaurant!! This would work only for a nuclear Mallu family though.
    On the aside, as a Palakkad Iyer, I get to celebrate in double doses so we celebrate Karadayan Nonbu and Thiruvathira!!!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Errr…when was thiruvathira or for that matter nombu :hmm:…was I supposed to know…??? :huh: never mind,…Reading your post is like reading my own thoughts… ;) well, the puzhukku looks real yum ( isn’t there an emoticon for drool…)

  21. TC says:

    These angry bee posts are the best.

  22. sia says:

    what? there is karva chouth in south india also????
    Look at who Jai (he’s allergic to rituals) ended up with.
    where? where? where????????????? not that monkey pic plzz….

    didn’t you see my illustrious posterior?
    - b.

  23. Miri says:

    I usually remember these festivals only when reading blogs like these….else they go unobserved in our home. Nombu also seems to be a family tradition and some families do and some families don’t. We don’t as you would have guessed…

    And have you seen the “haldi kumkums” which were held by the various Mahila Mandals? I understood only later why Mom never used to attend those….

    my mom avoided those haldi kumkums like the plague. same reasons. – b.

  24. Happy Cook says:

    I really agree with rice beeing main fo us Keralites.
    Here when I tell friends that we have rice twice a day back at home they can’t believe.
    I have never had this my mom make chakka puzhukku.

  25. Asha says:

    Hi Sweet Bee, great post about tradition, new to me. NEVER fasted one day in my life. Healthwise, it’s great though, gives body to refresh!:)
    I love red choli dishes, looks yum. Have a great weekend guys. I don’t have any for Liquid comfort unfortunately, will see next time. It’s snowing here today, kids are off school, more work for me!:D

    did you find your doggie? – b.

  26. pooja v says:

    I loved this recipe. Infact i made it and i was waiting it i had tasted it to comment and give my feedback. I am completely drooling over it.

  27. Pooja says:

    It was nice to read this post Bee. :) . I agree with you-
    “Those who don’t observe rituals seem to have an equally good or better success rate at snagging smart, kind, good-looking partners” . :yes:
    I have seen many Indians around here fooling themselves on the name of “karva chauth ” , by the first thing they do is they get up at 12 in the noon :) ) ,and show that they are too good Indian ladies… , I really wonder what the fun they amre making out of it. :hammer:

    Thanks to Sia, I just read your “about” was niceto know more about both of you :) .


  28. Pooja says:

    Oops….!!! forgot to say entry is delicious, I was always wonderigg abt this , when I see this in stores, i have one recipe now to try it with.
    Thanks for sharing Bee.

  29. Susan says:

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was guacamole. It’s got that thick, creamy green going for it.

    Thanks for the great legume entry as well as something else to chew on.

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