When it comes to celebrating Janmashtami, there's no place quite like Vrindavan. This sacred town, believed to be the place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, immerses itself in a week-long celebration in preparation for the auspicious day. The culinary tradition here is to present 56 dishes in a grand thali known as chhappan bhog. The whole place, dotted with Krishna temples, is gripped by festive fervour as neighborhoods unite to celebrate Janmashtami which falls today.
I interviewed three residents from Vrindavan to find out what’s cooking in their kitchens. Let’s dive straight in.
The preparation of Makhan Mishri in the Dwivedi household pays homage to Krishna’s love for makhan (butter). The Dwivedis who supply milk and dairy products to ashrams in their neighbourhood of Nandgaon keep some makhan aside to donate to the needy. Shivanand Dwivedi, the head of the Dwivedi household, is known to be an expert in extracting makhan from unsalted buttermilk by churning it with a hand-held wooden whisk to which he gradually adds powdered sugar, equal to half the amount of butter, along with cardamom powder and saffron strands. It yields a creamy delight savoured best when served chilled.
Bedmi Poori with Aloo Sabji
Every year Deepshikha Sengar fasts during Janmashtami, and breaks it with crispy bedmi puri paired with Vrindavan-style aloo sabzi. Bedmi puri is made with a special mix of urad dal paste, whole wheat flour, and a spicy mixture of asafoetida, cumin seeds, and red chilli powder, along with a pinch of salt. The complementary aloo sabzi is prepared by sautéing diced potatoes along with cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, and finely chopped tomatoes. The food prepared for this occasion has no garlic and onion.
It is believed that Krishna was born at midnight and Janmashtami is typically celebrated on the day before and after. The thick gravy spiced with a pinch of garam masala, and garnished with coriander is a staple breakfast item of Vrindavan residents on the morning that follows the auspicious midnight. For tourists, Sengar recommends getting bedmi puri and aloo sabzi from the famous Brijwasi Sweets during this time of the year.
Mukesh Tiwari, a resident of Barsana, a town 40 kilometers northwest of Vrindavan, insists on the mandatory offering of Dhaniya Panjeeri throughout the area as part of the chhappan bhog. It’s a wholesome and nutritious sweet dish made specifically during Janmashtami to be served as prasad or bhog. Mukesh’s mother has been preparing it for 40 years in a row for every occasion related to Krishna. She distributes scoops of panjeeri along with panchamrit (sweetened holy water and milk) during the jagraataas (night-long celebrations in honor of god). Her secret of achieving the perfect consistency of her specialty is by dry roasting about half kadhai of dhaniya (coriander seeds) until fragrant. She then adds an equal quantity of whole wheat flour to the roasted ingredients along with powdered sugar and some desiccated coconut for texture. She insists on using homemade ghee prepared with milk from the cows she has at home, and lovingly looks after. Her special offering of the Dhaniya Panjeeri to the local temples is usually garnished with some coarsely crushed roasted dhania seeds, cardamom powder, and chopped dry fruits.
For those keen to learn the recipe, here's one by chef Sanjeev Kapoor.