MaaviLakku or Maavizhakku [Maav viLakku] or literally Maavu ViLakku where Maavu – Flour, ViLakku – oil lamp with a wick, which literally means an oil lamp made of flour in Tamil.
MaaviLakku : Sacred edible dough lamp. Also, one of my favorite sacred food offering traditions that I prefer not to miss every year.
It is neither a sweet treat nor just a device for worship. It is much more than that; a culmination of food, culture and tradition in one beautiful rice preparation. Goes to show the supreme importance rice as a grain enjoys and how the trio of coconut, rice and jaggery is an intrinsic part of our South Indian culture in ways more than for sustenance.
the edible dough lamp is made by binding a tight dough out of raw rice flour freshly ground from damp and towel dried rice, fresh gratings from a coconut broken solely for this purpose, jaggery shavings, cardamom dust and some saffron, all mixed together in devotion.
It is prepared particularly on PurattAsi (Perataashi) Shani kizhamai i.e, four Saturdays in the PurattAsi month of the Tamizh calendar, as an offering “Naivedhyam“to Lord Srinivasa, PurattAsi Shravanam being his birth star. Time and all else permitting, this ritual can be performed on all the four Saturdays of that month, if not, at least on two Saturdays either odd or even weeks like the 1st and 3rd or the 2nd and 4th. I was able to observe the ritual neither on the 1st, 2nd nor the 3rd Saturday and hence performed the ritual with two Maavilakku’s on the 4th or last Saturday as per household elder’s suggestions.
All four Saturdays of the month are specially celebrated by making edible rice flour lamps lit only with pure homemade Cow Ghee or Nei.
The hand moulded sweetened rice flour lamp is made to resemble a hill, symbolic of the Tirumala (Tirupathi temple is surround by seven peaks) with two pits – left pit filled with Ghee for Padmavathi and the right pit with the wick as a symbolic of Venkateshwara or Srinivasa himself.
Best part is that the edible lamp is completely raw food – raw rice flour (freshly ground damp rice), freshly grated coconut, jaggery, cardamom dust and some saffron, all mixed together. Of course, if we do not count the Ghee for the lamp.
Optionally Pacchakarpooram / edible camphor (not the camphor used for MangalArati) can also be added to prepare the Maavilakku. However, my personal experience forces me to caution against using it unless you are aware of its effects when used in larger quantities. In any case, if you are still tempted to use it, the size of a mustard or two is more than enough for the quantities given in my recipe.
What I love is that ancient Indian cuisine knew when and how to use raw foods without overdoing, much before any of it became a revolution. And intertwined it with culture. I find it very fascinating every time how food is an intrinsic part of our cultural fabric. Isn’t it?
My earliest memories of “Maavilakku” are that of watching my aunt Ve [Vay] religiously and devoutly create them on all the Saturdays of that month, during my growing up years at my Taatha’s (maternal grand dad) place. In orthodox Iyengar families like my Taatha’s, the procedure to prepare Maavilakku was rather uncompromising due to reasons of “Madi” and hence consisted of starting from scratch with soaking rice in water for a few hours, then lightly dried, pounded with a wooden pounding staff and repeatedly sieved till the rice flour of the required consistency is obtained.
Now-a-days, self confessedly, such rigorous care is not possible for most of us (including me) and therefore, I have simply started with ready-made rice flour.
Similar forms of this sweet aka “Thambittu” [ Thum bit too] are prepared in Karnataka among several communities too, on other different festive occasion like Mangala Gowri Vrata or Shivaratri and as Pindi Deepam in Andhra during Karthika Pournami as well as during the welcoming of a new bride into her new home.
To offer prayers:
Shape the dough into a small hill with a shallow pit at the top and part it in the middle.
Place two cotton wicks in the left partition and wet them with ghee. Pour the remaining ghee in the right partition.*
Light the cotton wicks and offer prayers to Lord Venkateshwara.
- 1/2 cup Rice flour
- 1/2 cup Jaggery mashed / grated
- 1/2 cup grated coconut
- 4 cardamom powdered
- a pinch of Saffron
- 1 tbsp milk for the saffron to leave color
- 2 - 3 tbsp Ghee
Mix together in a bowl, grated coconut, jaggery and powdered cardamom and set aside for 15 mins so the jaggery melts and blends in.
Warm up the milk and soak the saffron for 10-15 mins until it leaves color.
Add in the rice flour, saffron milk and 2 tsp of ghee to the coconut jaggery mixture and mix well. Do not add any more milk or water to this.
Shape it into moulds, make pits for lighting Deepam as explained above in the post.