The translucent drink or special chutney Ugadi Pacchadi is made fresh and shared as part of Ugadi celebrations, bringing people and their doshas in line with the environment and Nature's bounty of the season
India has many new years. From mid-March to mid-April, either at the new moon of the month of Chaitra or the Chaitra Purnima (full moon), many cultures on the subcontinent celebrate the new year, bringing in a new cycle of growth and prosperity.
In south India, at the new moon, the tradition of Ugadi begins a new year for the people of the Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, called Chandramana Ugadi. In Karnataka, the festival is known as Yugaadi; Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra; and Cheti Chand among the Sindhi community. Across the Hindi heartland in the north, the time is known as Chaitra Navaratri, Vasant Navratri or Rama Navratri, a nine-day festival in which the devotees worship the nine avatars of Maa Durga. In 2022, the festival commenced on April 2. Each new year is a new beginning, with festival rituals associated with the milestone that each have health impacts.
Fourteen days after Ugadi at the Chaitra full moon, Puthandu or Varsha Pirappu celebrates the Tamil New Year in which similar rituals occur with neem flowers and raw mango. Around the same time, the solar calender, which has 12 cycles per year, gives the first day of the month of Vaisakh, celebrated as the new year in the Vikram Samvat calendar, the calendar of Orissa, Kashmir, the Punjab, Assam (called Bohag), and Bengali (called Boishakh) with their local fruits and flora.
Of the numerous customs associated with the Ugadi festival, Ugadi Pacchadi is one of the most important rituals of the new year celebration that emphasizes that health is wealth, using fortifying foods that correct imbalances. The translucent drink or special chutney Ugadi Pacchadi is made fresh and shared as part of the celebrations, bringing people and their doshas in line with the environment and Nature's bounty of the season. Also known as Shadruchulu (shad, 6 + ruchulu, tastes), this dish/drink is known for improving immunity against many diseases that arise in late spring and summer. In Telangana, the preparation is made less thick and is more of a drink, whereas in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Ugadi Pacchadi is a chutney to be licked.
The tasty dish or drink when made with fresh and balanced ingredients utilizes the Ayurvedic principle of purification of the gut, cleaning away excess vata, pitta, and kapha dosha from the body, preventing the seeds that allow illness to develop. It is thus reputed as a all-round disease prophylactic and is considered a medicine for the season. Its reputation is as a coolant for the ensuing hot summer.
The main ingredients of the special Ugadi Pacchadi are Neem flower, tender raw mango, tamarind, jaggery, salt, fresh pepper or green chilies, Neem leaves, and clean water.
The drink is said to highlight the essence of life. The pacchadi has sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent (both tangy and spicy tastes), and astringent. By consuming this drink with a balance of all six distinctly different rasas (~tastes), the brain is signalled through the taste buds to stimulate digestive enzymes. This clear away all undigested food lingering in the gut.
Sweet: Happiness - Jaggery, clean water
Sour: Fear - Tamarind
Salty: Disgust - Salt
Bitter: Bitterness - Neem flowers
Tangy: Surprise - Raw mango
Spicy: Anger - Freen chilies
Astringent: Sorrow - Neem leaves
It is said that these tastes represent the different flavors that a full life will experience, including happiness, fear, disgust, bitterness, surprise, anger, and sorrow. Each ingredient also has its own benefit by invoking all the emotions connected to the taste buds and reminding us that a wise life should include all flavors. Symbolically, consumption teaches one how to digest all experiences of life in the coming year which may include both good and bad events.
The madhura rasa, known as sweet taste, comes from jaggery and from natural clean water, not RO or laboratory altered. Nature-produced sweet tastes symbolize the happy moments of life.
With its abundant minerals like selenium and zinc that have antioxidant power, jaggery detoxifies the liver by accelerating its self-cleaning power, flushing out harmful toxins from the body and preventing the free radical damage known to create cellular death. Jaggery also increases the immunity of the body against infections by empowering the cells that create defense in the body.
Tangy is a sweet-pungent flavor found in many unripe fruits. The tangy taste of Ugadi Pacchadi from the unripe mango marks the beginning of the green mango season in Hyderabad. The jump of flavor on the tongue is a surprise, reminding us to be aware of sudden events. Ancient ayurveda texts tell us that unripe mango pieces drenched in Neem sauce heal intestinal wounds and bleeding and prevent sunstroke.
Raw Unripe Mango
With its complex tangy and astringent taste, raw green mango slices prevent dehydration by holding on to water in the body; they also help improve blood circulation by cleaning the pitta in the blood and provide relief from acidity and heartburn. Raw mango increases the secretion of bile and cleans the intestine of bacterial infections and is an overall cleanser of the gut due to its pitta cleansing ability. With abundant vitamin C, green mango boosts the immune system, improves the elasticity of blood vessels and helps in the formation of new blood vessels.
What is considered hot and spicy taste comes from the molecule capsaicin, found in red chilli powder, green chili pepper as well as most of the pepper family. The heat, burning, and impatience of spicy taste symbolizes the angry moments in life.
Pepper and Chili
The fiery mouth and the evocation of water in pungent-spicy flavors found in pepper, green chili or red chilli powder improves immunity and also fights with any skin infections by heating up the body but reflexively lowering pitta.
While salts are rarely found in fruit or vegetables, they represent the taste of life, and salty moments are necessary to make our lives interesting. The salt prevents rheumatic disease and sluggishness. Salt prevents dehydration by holding water in the body through osmotic pressure, and also balances the sodium lost through excess sweating during the hot heat.
Fresh tamarind paste add distinct sour-sweet taste to pacchadi. The sour moments of life remind us to appreciate the other flavours that make our lives worth living.
Fresh tamarind paste is useful for many diseases, acting as an excellent cleanser and digestive assistant, especially during stomach discomforts. Tamarind helps the body to absorb minerals. It reduces inflammation throughout the body, improves skin condition and lowers cholesterol.
On Ugadi morning, the drink is prepared with new Neem flowers -- which are extremely bitter -- freshly picked from the tree and offered to the Gods, seeking blessings for the year ahead. All ingredients are fresh. After the offering is complete, it is the first item consumed on the new day and shared with loved ones. On any later day, the drink can be prepared with dried Neem flower which lose their bitterness as they wither.
The Neem tree gifts all people who know it with its bounty of aid living in its various parts. Neem flowers are edible, especially those grown in native areas such as Thanjavur in Tamilnadu. They can be cooked or consumed in raw form. Rich in vitamins and minerals, neem flowers are a robust source of antioxidants.
While they are extremely bitter, Neem flowers are used for reducing bile, controlling phlegm, and treating intestinal worms. The bitter and astringent principles dry out the kapha and excess mucus in the body and retard the growth of parasites that require mucus to thrive. The neem fruit, which arrives just weeks after the flower, is used for hemorrhoids, intestinal worms, urinary tract disorders, bloody nose, phlegm, eye disorders, diabetes, wounds, and leprosy because it is a power reducer of pitta and kapha. Ayurveda lauds Neem as ideal medicine for dozens of illnesses of the gut, skin and mouth, using the flowers, fruits, seeds, leaves, bark, roots, and resin known as glue. Neem has also been shown to have biochemicals that are unique antimicrobials against worms, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Since the flower, fruit, and seed are not available year-round, consuming Neem leaves periodically throughout the year reduces inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Neem leaves can also reduce ulcers as they quickly reduce pitta. They are also used for a wide range of intestinal issues, including acute gastroenteritis, constipation, bloating, and cramping. A midday meal once weekly starting with one tablespoon of sauteed neem leaves in two tablespoons of rice keeps the gut strong and clean.
The Neem tree is also known as the margosa tree by the Portuguese term amargoso which means bitter. In native forests of Nigeria, the tree is known as Dongoyaaro. In Tamil, Neem flowers are known as Veppam Poo and as Vepa Putha in Telugu.
In the modern day, with engineers reducing food to chemicals and calories, the majority of people neither observe the Ugadi ritual properly nor appreciate its value. Vendors do not prioritize supplying original ingredients, finding it a difficult chore to gather unwithered Neem flowers to the market. People who are interested in the deep value of Ugadi Pacchadi must make an effort like a pilgrimage to find each ingredient growing on a tree, and then approach the tree on the morning of Ugadi. Drinking Ugadi Pacchadi is a quiet ritual that must be observed for many families, though they no longer discuss it openly due to pressures from modern society to explain its value.
Recipe - Ugadi Pachadi
This recipe makes 250ml, enough for 5 people.
2 tsp of fresh neem flower petals from unwithered flowers, separated completely from the berry.
6 tsp of ghee or unrefined sesame oil
3 raw green mango
1.5-inch spherical lump of freshly prepared tamarind paste
1 1/2 tsp sea salt or rock salt (do not use chemical table salt)
4-6 red or green chillies or 15 peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp mustard seeds
a pinch of hing/asafoetida
15-20 curry leaves
1.5-inch spherical lump of jaggery, about 250 grams
one pinch of turmeric powder
2 tsp rice flour
Neem flower petals
- Fry the tender neem flower petals in 2 tsp of ghee until it turns a dark red color.
- Crush the red fried flower petals into powder. Set aside. One variant is to use whole petals not powder.
- Prepare tamarind juice from the paste by adding some water, mixing, then pouring the liquified portion into a measuring vessel. Repeat until there is a liquid of 250 mL. Add the liquid into a stone vessel.
- Add to the tamarind water, raw mango slices that have been cut into big pieces, either slices or squares. Remove the pericarp seed. Do not peel the mango. If the skin is thick, simply scrape the coarse portions away. The raw green mango should neither be too tender nor too ripe, so that it is both sweet and sour.
- Add salt and a pinch of turmeric powder and set to boil on low heat.
- When the mango is cooked and tender, add 250gm jaggery to the stone vessel and allow it to dissolve fully. Bring to a slow boil.
- While this mango-jaggery-tamarind mixture is cooking in the stone vessel, heat 4 tsp ghee or sesame oil in another small vessel. Fry the mustard, chili/pepper, hing and curry leaves for about 20 seconds.
- Set aside until the mango is fully cooked, you might add the Neem flower petals or petal powder to the tadka, stir, then add the ghee-spice mix to the stone vessel.
- Mix the rice flour in slightly-warm water, then pour into the developing pacchadi.
- Boil for 2 minutes until all ingredients are mixed well. Then remove from fire.
- Just before serving, if you did not add the Neem flower petal powder to the tadka, add the fried Neem flower petals to the drink.
(This article is co-authored by KR Vidhyaa, Madhu Oberoi, Preeti Pratap, and Bhaswati Bhattacharya, participants of the IndicAcademy course, The Conscious Diet: Plant-Based Ayurvedic Nutrition, held by IndicCourses in 2021.)
(This recipe is based on descriptions by Smt Meenakshi Ammal in her cookbook “Cook and See”, first edition published in 1968.)