Of “chamma chakka”, cowdung lumps and yucky Ovaltine!

Come every Sankranti and I’d be one happy little girl in a paavadai-chokka, twirling  round and round till the skirt puffed out around us and we sat down with a most satisfying “bussss” , clapping hands with my friends as we chanted…

Chamma chakka, chaaradesi mogga,

Atlupoyanga, aaraginchanga

Mutyaala chamma chakka mugguleyyanga

Ratnaala chamma chakka, ranguleyanga

Pagadaala chamma chakka pandireyanga

Ammaayi pelli… .something something… i forget the rest!

But here’s a link to the song – the tune is not quite right, it seems to me – I always sang it to a  different tune, but this will do 😉 

This was one time of the year that I did not mind being woken up early, even in Hyderabad’s chilly winters – for the pleasure of drawing muggulu (kolam/ rangoli/ rangavalli/ designs drawn in the front yard with rice powder to decorate a house) – an art form that i absolutely loved! We had an old Iyer maami who lived with us and cooked for us and I spent many somnolent summer afternoons learning how to do this from her….Poor soul, we used to tease her by calling out “maami, maami” and then when she came, pretend that we had actually called Tommy, the dog! Children can be pretty awful sometimes, I swear! 

Anyway, these winter mornings, I’d be woken up early, given a glass of milky coffee – a treat! – and then would sit down outside to draw ENORMOUS muggus which covered our front garden. If, in a fit of virtue, my mother decided that I was still too little for coffee and insisted I have the usual Ovaltine (loathsome stuff!), I could quite happily dispose of it among the rose bushes with no one being any the wiser! That’s when I understood the concept of win-win games though when I was small, it was called “quietly pour the Ovaltine away without anyone seeing it” game!

Much as I loved the muggus themselves, they came with an unwanted “side effect”! Once the rangoli or muggu is drawn, small lumps of cowdung are shaped into little conical thingies, placed on the design and decorated with turmeric and kumkum and flowers. These thingies are called gobbemmalu. Cowdung?! No way I was going to touch it! So this part of the work had to be done by someone else, usually our maid. Cowdung patties were used as fuel so most people were used to doing this. It was only us kids who went ‘euugghhh!’ at the thought of picking up what came out of a cow’s nether parts!

Festival food was always a delight and pongal, chakkara pongal (both recipes appear earlier in these chronicles), mukkala pulusu were longed-for treats. Today’s dish is another festival dish – coconut rice – with a difference.


  • Cooked rice – 2 cups
  • Grated fresh coconut – 2/3 cup
  • Boiled fresh peas – 1/2 cup
  • Green chilies – slit – 2
  • Salt
  • Pepper – 1 large pinch


  • Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
  • Ghee – 1 tsp to fry cashewnuts
  • Cashewnuts – 10-12 -halved
  • Garam masala – 1 pinch (optional)
  • Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1 tbsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tsp
  • Jeera (cumin seeds) – 1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Curry leaves – 2 tbsp – crisp up in the microwave for 2 minutes.
  • Chopped coriander – 1 tbsp

Heat the ghee, add cashewnuts and roast on a low flame till golden. Add garam masala, if using and mix. Take out of the saucepan – otherwise the cashewnuts will contine to roast and burn. 

Add the oil, Heat and add mustard seeds and chana dal. When the seeds splutter, add the urad dal and let dals both roast to a golden yellow – about 30 seconds. Add the jeera, asafoetida, green chillies and boiled peas. Stir well. Add the salt  and coconut. Crush the crisped up curry leaves over. Add chopped coriander leaves and rice. Switch off and mix everything together well. Serve with vadas, appadam, a salad and a vegetable on the side.

I promise to sing you chamma, chakka to the right tune one day!