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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Competition in the good old days !!

Remember the post on the naming ceremony ? I had eaten one too many "vadai"s (think of them as south Indias answer to the Falafal) and had fallen sick. I did promise a post on that .. so here is the story that had come to mind.

This story is real. It happened when my grandfather was not boy of 10 or 12. In south Indian brahmin families it is customary to celebrate the death anniversary of your immediate forefathers (maybe two generations) with a prayer (to call for their souls to rest in peace). This is called the "srarth" or "srartham". At the end of this half day ceremony, they usually put 11 big plaintain (banana) leaves and ask 10 brahmins, to eat a feast. The 11th leaf is served but is not touched by any of the brahmins and at the end of the ceremony sometimes a kid is asked to eat from that leaf (the idea is that the 11th plate is for god !). This feast is called "bramanartham" in tamizh lingo. Enough of the details.. lets get to the story !!

Usually they pick priests with big potbellies because at some point in history, people started equating the happiness and contentedness of the priest at the end of the feast to the amount of rest that the forefathers poor souls get !! So, you can imagine how things evolved over a few hundred years. The priests who started performing srartham ceremonies started developing superior bellies that could potentially house a family of three or four kids inside with room to spare.. I am talking bellies that were genetically passed on from father to son and the ability to eat enough to fill those bellies in 30-45 minutes. It is rumored that these priests used to teach remedial classes for camels and cows that used to fail the "chewing the cud 101" course !!

Naturally, they were much sought after, even more than the ones that could actually recite the prayers because their belch at the end of the meal could directly be heard by the forefathers souls, faster than the recited hymns and prayers !!

In one such feast in the village near Mayiladudurai (where my grandpa grew up), there were two priests who were famous for both their knowledge of the scriptures and their ability to eat ! (I cannot name them here because, who knows, their great grand kids might be reading this post !!).

The poor womenfolk, start cooking for the feast as early as 3 -4 AM and they get no rest till the last priest has had his fill. That said, in one of the ceremonies, one of the priests challenged the other to a contest. "I can eat more vada's than you !!" and I will prove it in todays feast !. When the ladies heard this, they were of course alarmed. They had not prepared enough lentil dough to make the vadais.

Keep in mind that usually the lentils are soaked in water the previous night, then they were ground in a stone grinder manually !! There was no electricity or Osterizers or Griders available 70 years ago ! At the end of the grinding process, they added some ginger, chillies and peppercorn to this dough, some curry leaves and salt and deep fried in oil, in the shape of a mini donut.. The end result was and is usually divine both in smell and taste. Today, even a novice like me with a mini belly can eat 10 vadais in one sitting..

When two veteran priests have decided to contest and especially on one item in the meal, the ladies panicked. What if there is not enough dough, and the priests curse them ? Luckily a village elder (super granny) calmed them down. She asked them to boil water and accelerate the soaking process for the lentils. This helped, but still the ladies were in the frying process when the priests started the contest.

In 15 minutes both priests had consumed all the vadais that had been made for the morning. The other priests and the family who had to eat after the priests all decided to forego their share of vadais to help the ladies in their noble cause !! They had finished 50-60 vadais each !! and were asking for more. While the frantic ladies were parallel processing vadais on multiple stoves, the priests were going about demolishing them even faster!! I can only imagine them beating their chests, a la "king kong" style with every additional set of vadais safely tucked in their tummies.

This keeps going for almost an hour and a half and by this time they are both pretty full. But their "bloated" egos, wouldnt let them concede victory to the other and they keep asking for more. In those days, the priests word was absolute and the family had no choice but to oblige. But by now, a crowd has gathered to witness what has now turned into a local sporting event !

The local medicine man was put on standby as the family did not want a dead priest to commemorate their grandfathers anniversary! They were both in the nineties (I mean the number of vadais, not their age)and struggling. At this point one of the priests makes it to a hundred vadais and stops. He can hardly speak. But he looks at the other one for a response and starts to throw up violently.

So the other priest wants to top the 100 with 101 vadais. He finishes it (picture it in slow motion) and collapses right there ! His pulse starts to drop and pandemonium breaks out.. What happened next ?

The local doctor (medicine man), asked the priests near lifeless body to be taken to the river. He then asked two or three guys to hold the priest by the shoulder, facing the river where the currents were strongest.. 15 minutes later (as my grandfather tells me), the priest burst his "over pressure relief valve" located in his rear and out came the vadais (digested or otherwise) and with a choke he woke up !! The local doctor saved the day !!

Luckily both the priests survived the competition ! Even today you can go to south Indian brahmin family "srartham"s and watch the priests in action. At the end of the day there is something to be said for watching a man eat and show how happy he is.. When they bless you, they bless you with all their heart, or should I say stomachs ?!?


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:01 PM, Blogger TJ wrote...

Nice Post!!
The Sradham are an event of family get together!! Took me back to those golden days. My paternal granpa sradham is on the day next to diwali, and all kids sport the diwali dress, and go to the diwali release movies before the aseervadham and vadai/ellurundai starts.

we were also calling it 'Srardham' before our Guru[Shastrigal] corrected me and said it is 'Sraadham'.

Also, the singe leaf, i think is called 'Mahavishnu' and all the rest are called 'Brahmanaartham'.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 2:00 PM, Blogger Balaji S Rajan wrote...

Sundarji- I have seen sraadham recently being performed in one of my relatives house in Chennai. The priest who comes for it tells in advance about what are the complaints he have. I remember one such guy visiting my house the previous night and talking to my Mom and informing about what to be avoided. So nowadays ladies are also well versed and are making things 'Sraadhathirku sastiram'. As days roll by, awareness will increase... I bet this may happen one day.... A priest telling another priest " yenga regular-eh Gym, joggingnnu poidareengo ".
Priest 2 telling " Yep... I need to be conscious oye.. Atleast I am going to 10 or 12 brahmanaartham every month. I need to keep myself fit. Ofcourse, all regular customers only.. They are also cooking in Fat free oils. I insist on more vegetables and salads."
Who knows the menus may change.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:09 PM, Blogger Ram C wrote...

I could recollect 'idli eating' competition we had in our college hostel, when I read this post.

I came second.. don't ask how much, I pushed into my mouth.. But, I really felt giddy for 30 minutes after that

BTW... wish you a happy new year, Sundar

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:07 AM, Blogger Raju wrote...

LOL'ed.. Luckily, I havent seen any such thing, though I have seen hundreds of sradhas. I guess the custom is different different brahmins (Tamil, kannada and telugu).

I too remembered my Idly-eating.. no competition.. nobody to compete with me.. My mom's Idlis were so soft, I ate 36 for a breakfast, oneday. ;-)

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:25 PM, Blogger Jagan wrote...

100 vadas ..man ..its really funny :)

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:18 PM, Blogger Unknown wrote...

tj, you are right about the golden days..we still havent been corrected.. so we say srardham.. and yes the leaf is called the mahavishnu leaf..

balaji sir, that cracks me up.. todays saasthrigal is a bike driving, cell phone brandishing hep guru.. that said, i am not one bit surprised that they have turned calori conscious.

ram. c, happy new year.

ramc and raju, i have never competed in any idli eating contest. must have been fun..

jagan, this was a true story !!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:44 AM, Blogger Viji wrote...

Hi, this is my first visit here. Nice blog!
My maternal grandmother's dhevasam/sraadham comes on Deepavali day... all of us used to gather at my mother's native place in Tiruvaalampozhil in Thanjavur district. After the Dhevasam came the mangli pondugal ceremony... we kids were usually the first ones to be seated in the pandhi. Yar naraya poli saapadranu competition ellam irukum. kannukutti,vayal, pumpset, vaasalla color kolam,adhu mela pooshnikka poo, street cricket... ooohhh, sublime bliss!
It was a good get-together all of us looked forward to... Unfortunately, we don't do that anymore (not the dhevasam,i mean the get-together) because most of us have drifted apart to various places... :(

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 5:36 PM, Blogger Narayanan Venkitu wrote...

I feel sad at this custom Sundar.

Noone cares how sick the priest is..but forces him to eat all kinds of sugary and oily stuff. This has to go I feel.!!

If the souls of the forefathers/mothers have to be pleased..this need not be the remedy.!!

That said, the story was a funny read indeed. Happy to see a good ending.!! I thought one atleast was going to die.!!
I remember how sick I felt, when I finished a bag of Lays Chips a few years back.!!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:59 PM, Blogger வேதா wrote...

thats a very good story, a very humourous one indeed. I jus recall the happenings whenever a thevasam comes around. we wont be eating anything from the morning and the smell of vadai and athirasam is something i cannot jus resist and when the function is over, the priests have the feast first and we will be waiting till then. and one cannot deny the fact that no one in the world cannot help sleeping after a thevasam sappadu.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:39 PM, Blogger Visithra wrote...

ehhehe adapavameh 100 vadais? sigh god bless - weren't they there to do just that? humm

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:39 PM, Blogger Anu wrote...


The post made be nostalgic abt the good old days, in my family it was not only the priests.. but some cousins who have had the vadai eating competition.. its funny how these same guys nowadays look at the calorie content in fruits before they take a bite :))

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:37 PM, Blogger Unknown wrote...

viji, welcome !

street cricket.. now that alone is a topic for a blog saga..

narayanan sir, ippo ellam priests have heavy demands for the feast.. pretty soon they will accept bakshanam made only with splenda instead of sugar.

veda, i forgot about the starving till 3 in the afternoon part.. if you are from a sub sect that claims "bodhayana sampradhayam" you starve for an extra few hours!!

visithra, you are right.. they were there to eat and eat they did..

lt, i have stayed away from eating contests that deal with volume.. i have always been known for my speed.. i think that is a safer way to compete.. who can eat 10 vadais faster is anyday a safer competition than who can eat most vadais..

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

little bit overhyped.. but a good post. Better those ppl where physically working a lot rather than now ppl dont do any physical work but pay money in a ultra decorated gym, to beat calories :)
Long live the new generation and their culture.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

Normally,The Brahmin sitting for Bramanatham food should be on fasting on previous evening,but can take plantain fruit(then called pazha agaram).Then,next day(Srartham day) they will get gingilly oil&seekai powder for taking oil bath.Then they will take food with lot of hunger.In practice they should not waste food offered to them.The host get satisfied that their pithuru ate the fod with hunger.Along with head-priest,they will praise the host with blessings of all kind.
Ofcourse,No one seems to follow this,nowdays.


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