Why Coconut Is The Star Of Festive Celebrations Along India’s Western Coast

Narali Poornima and Raksha Bandhan are celebrated with a glorious platter of coconut sweets .

Kalyani Sardesai

It's not just the silken chords of love that make Raksha Bandhan so special—but also the delicious sweets prepared on this day. In Maharashtra, it is also marked by Narali Poornima, and preparations like Narali bhat (sweet coconut rice), Naralachi vadi (coconut barfi) and laddus are the items on the menu.

Sure enough, Raksha Bandhan, one of the most important festivals of the Indian cultural scene, which falls on the auspicious occasion of Shravan Poornima—is not just a wonderful celebration of the brother-sister bond but also a tribute to the bounties of nature.

Significance of Narali Poornima along India’s Western Coast

"While the Hindu month of Shravan is a period of fasting and prayer across India, Narali Poornima that falls on the full moon night of Shravan Poornima is significant not just Raksha Bandhan celebrations in Maharashtra but also in the Konkan and most parts of the Indian coastline that experience the South West Monsoon, it marks the day the fishermen return to sea,” explains Pandit S Abhyankar, a Pune-based scholar.

“From this day on, the South-West Monsoon begins to recede, thereby making the seas calmer for the fishermen to venture out. On Narali Poornima, the fishing community venture out into the sea in gaily decorated boats. The catch is most likely to be plentiful as there is no fishing in the month preceding Narali Poornima," adds Abhyankar.

"Thus, on this day, due homage is paid to the ocean—and all that it contributes to human life and sustenance, by throwing coconuts—also one of the greatest gifts of the sea and the coastal climate—back into the sea. According to some, it is an offering to the food-giving goddess of the water, while still others say it is for Varun (Neptune) the Vedic God of the ocean. Either way, the coconut, as we all know, is a sacred fruit as per Indian folklore given its versatility, taste and assorted uses, thereby making it an offering like none other. It is, therefore, a given for not just the fisherfolk but those celebrating Raksha Bandhan to make sweets out of coconut," says Abhyankar.

The special Rakhi meal

Piece de resistance of the Narali Poornima and Rakhi meal is definitely the much loved Narali Bhat, an irresistible dish that is a winsome blend of rice sweetened with coconut and jaggery, and spiced with dry fruits and raisins. Something quite similar to the North Indian meethe chawal—and then again, not quite. The rice is cooked in coconut milk instead of water and sweetened with jaggery—which makes it quintessentially an offering of coastal India.

Narali Bhat recipe

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  • Soak a portion of basmati rice in water 15 minutes prior to cooking
  • Take some fresh coconut milk and mix it with jaggery.
  • Add a few strands of saffron to a bit of warmed milk to give it that rich yellow colour.
  • Take ghee in a pan and add the spices—elaichi, cinnamon, cloves and dry fruits. Fry till they let off their fragrance.
  • Cook the rice till it’s 80% done.
  • Add the coconut milk and jaggery along with the saffron milk.
  • The sweeteners may be added only when the rice is almost done, or it won't cook properly.

Marketing professional Gauri Barve says Narali Bhat is a must-have in her home every year on Rakhi day aka Shravan Poornima. "However, my elder brother largely prefers the naralichi vadi or laddoos (coconut laddu or barfi) which are made from freshly grated coconut,” she says.

Coconut Laddu Barfi Recipe

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  • Scrape out the white flesh of a fresh coconut and roast it in ghee for a few minutes in a pan or kadhai.
  • Add sugar and mix well, followed by malai.
  • Mix and cook for about 30 minutes. Wait for the mixture to thicken.
  • Reduce the heat and add cardamom and nutmeg, followed by sliced almonds.
  • Once the mixture is consistent, switch off the heat.
  • Grease a flat surface with ghee and pour the mixture on it.
  • Flatten with your hand or a spoon and then cut into diamond or square shapes. Alternately, this can be rolled into little laddus.
  • The coconut laddus can also be made in a similar way using either fresh or dessicated coconut and sweetened with jaggery.
  • To tweak the recipe a little more, chocolate flavoring and slivers of chocolate can be added to the coconut barfi.

Coconut laddus with suji or semolina recipe

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  • Roast semolina in ghee until pinkish.
  • Add scraped coconut to the roasted suji and stir till there is no more moisture left.
  • In a separate pan, make sugar syrup of one string consistency and add some saffron to it.
  • Added the sugar syrup to the suji-coconut mixture. Cook for one or two minutes and then switch off the flame.
  • Add slivers of dry fruits and roll into laddus when cool. If you prefer cutting them in squares, then flatten them on a greased plate for barfi.

It's not just siblings who enjoy the goodies on Rakhi day but also the rest of the family. What's more, thanks to the pristine white colour of the coconut flakes, coconut laddus and barfis can be brought alive with the zaniest of food colourings, making them all the more attractive for the little ones. 

Photo: Shutterstock

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