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003 Haldi through kitchens, medicine cabinet and pooja room

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Haldi - that magical yellow turmeric powder is one of the few spices from the Indian subcontinent that traverses the realms of recipes, rituals and home remedies with such ease. According to the food scholar K.T. Achaya, haldi (haridira in Sanskrit/ Curcuma longa) is one of the earliest recorded spices in Indian food, and finds mention in the Yajur Veda (1200-800 BCE). There is a whole category of people who are called the Nishadas (‘nisha’ is turmeric and ‘ad’ is to eat) based on the fact that they eat turmeric in their food (Achaya, p. 9, 37).

Haldi travels through recipes, rituals and home remedies with such ease

In Food

Haldi is a quiet spice, and makes its presence known more by the striking golden yellow colour that it imparts to food, than through it's subtle taste. My mother always boils her potatoes and sprouts with a pinch of haldi. I only realised this when I went to Haverford College in the U.S. as an undergrad student and came across ‘white boiled potatoes’ in the college cafeteria. I thought it was a different variety(!) of potatoes, since at home I had always seen yellowish potatoes being crushed by hand for my mother's yummy chaat. How naive of me! I had never participated in cooking growing up, and food just seemed to magically appear on the dining table. Therefore I did not know the swift and delicate additions my mother added to her pressure cookers, pots and pans.

In Rituals

One of my most cherished memories of this spice is that pre-wedding "haldi" ceremony that we had at home. It was not a glamorous Bollywood style Haldi ceremony, and instead we chose to have it at home surrounded by a few loved ones. As a bride, I was ‘cleansed’ and ‘blessed’ with this spice. In the midst of by my best friends and all those wise wonderful older women, I felt a cocoon of support, reassurance and joy that has held and carried me through the transition that is marriage and wifehood.

As a Home Remedy

After the birth of my first son, my mother-in-law sent some of the most fragrant haldi powder I had come across. She had prepared it at home, toiling to first roast, then crush the dried ginger-like root of the plant. She made tiny chunks in her stone pestle and mortar, and then crushed this in the mixie with some ajwain. We mixed this with besan (chickpea flour) and both my son and I would have our daily bath with this paste for the first few months. That particular smell of haldi and ajwain will always remind of me a steady assurance amongst those blurry days of early motherhood where everything seemed confusing, overwhelming and magnified.

Thank you haldi for everything that you do.

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