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An ayurvedic recipe to strengthen digestion during Diwali

The Diwali lehyam, made in most South Indian homes, promises to neutralise the effect of excessive indulgence

Ingredients used in Ayurveda. (Freepik)

By Indumathy Sukanya

LAST PUBLISHED 07.11.2023  |  09:01 AM IST

Diwali is coming up. Households across the country will spend much of this week preparing sweets and savouries for the occasion. This is the time when even the most health conscious among us might give the diet a rest and gorge on the delicacies. The items may vary depending on the region, but generally, the preparations tend to be rich in oil and ghee, made mostly of gram flour and therefore, hard on the tummy. It is to remedy this that in South Indian households, a special preparation called Diwali lehyam or marundhu (medicine) is made.

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The preparation comprises a number of medicinal roots and seeds that have carminative and digestive properties. When roasted, ground and blended together with ghee and jaggery, they form a chyawanprash-like paste that has a sharp, spicy taste and leaves a mild burning sensation in the mouth and throat on its way in. Moms and grand-moms fashion gooseberry-sized balls of the mixture and make everyone at home eat one first thing in the morning.

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Naturally, it is not eaten with the same gusto as the laddoos and murukkus, as it is quite literally, medicine. So the little (and some not so little) ones are force-fed if need be. The effort is worth it, however, given the benefits. I myself didn’t like it so much when I was younger: I’d either gulp it down without really chewing it or secretly spit it out to avoid the burn. But now as a grown-up whose metabolism is not what it used to be, I appreciate all the help I can get. And to be honest, I quite enjoy the burn now.

The ingredients in the lehyam are names one might find in many Ayurvedic preparations. They are known to regulate the stomach and liver enzymes to aid the system in processing the excess fats, carbohydrates and spices consumed around the festive season. Those especially susceptible to bloating, flatulence and acidity may benefit from a small dose of this every day. Besides aiding digestion, the lehyam is also believed to strengthen the immune system in time for the chilly months, as around Diwali is when the climate turns around in this part of the world. The components in the preparation have anti-infective properties as well that may help one ward off the flu.

A variant of this lehyam was a staple in our household during the terrifying COVID months, when even the slightest scritch in the throat led to much worry and panic. A spoonful of the lehyam with a glass of milk or hot water would make the sniffles go away. Even when all of us did get COVID one time, we were able to manage the symptoms better with it. Since then, we make a batch of it every now and then and store it in the freezer for a rainy day.

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Every household may make a different version of the lehyam with a variation in the ingredients. All of these roots and spices are likely available in your local Ayurvedic/native medicine store. But for those wishing to make a simple version without having to run to the store, here’s a recipe that uses things you probably already have at home:

Diwali Lehyam 
(Traditional recipe)

3 pieces turmeric root (curcuma longa) 
5 dried ginger 
2 tbsp ajwain
2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp white pepper 
2 tbsp tailed pepper 
2 tbsp long pepper root (Kandan Thippili) 
2 tbsp long pepper fruit (Arisi Thippili) 
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp fennel seeds 
2 tbsp cumin seeds 
5 pieces liquorice root (athimadhuram or mulethi) 
5 pieces lesser galangal (Sitharathai or kulanjan)
10 pods cardamom
10 pieces cloves 
One-fourth piece nutmeg 
2 strands mace
250 gms jaggery 
5 tbsp ghee 

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Method
Dry roast each ingredient separately. Grind them and sieve them twice or thrice to get a smooth powder. Boil water and dissolve the jaggery in it. Run the mixture through a sieve to remove any impurities. Add the powder to the jaggery water and mix until you get a thick paste. Add the ghee and mix until it blends in.

Diwali Lehyam 
(Quick recipe)

Ingredients
2 tbsp ajwain 
2 tbsp black pepper 
2 tbsp cumin 
2 tbsp dried ginger powder 
2 tbsp turmeric powder 
4 tbsp coriander seeds 
10 pods cardamom 
1 tbsp cloves 
200 gms jaggery 
25 gms ghee 

Method
Soak the ajwain, pepper, cumin, coriander seeds, cardamom and cloves in water overnight. Then, grind them to a fine paste. Add dried ginger powder and turmeric powder to this paste. Heat the pan and mix the jaggery in some water. Add the paste to the pan and mix well. Bring this mixture to boil and add the ghee. Mix well until it becomes a firm, thick paste.

Store in a cool dry place for a couple of months.

Indumathy Sukanya is a Bengaluru-based writer and artist.

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