Of pilgrimages and crocodiles and kootus..

Every year as children, we used to make a pilgrimage with the parents (or rather the other way round, i guess!) to Mantralayam, on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, a place where one of the saints of South India attained Samadhi. 

As children, all trips were causes for excitement and so we didn’t mind it so much as we did in later teenage years when I was at college studying Philosophy and all these seemed very irrational things to do! Well, one moves beyond that too… 🙂

The journey used to be made by train and then by a jutka (horse-drawn carriage) in the earlier years and by a taxi in later years. The jutka was exciting except for the smell of horse manure which hung around the stables and which, to our city-bred noses, was weird and mildly offensive! Reaching Mantralayam, we made our way to one of a long row of old-fashioned guesthouses – with a bathroom and loo in the backyard. Wet bathrooms, then and now, have been a source of misery to me – so the “bath” – such as it was – was gotten over with as quickly as possible. 

Then the real excitement of Mantralayam… we made our way to the river to bathe. The Tunga was a shallow river most of the year and so we could easily get to almost halfway across by jumping across stones where we could and wading where we couldn’t… until one of the big brothers decided that it would be fun to make me really jump and told me there were crocdiles in the waters (there were NOT). Of the many pet fears in my life (there was a long list starting with cockroaches and working its way down to less dangerous animals like tigers and pythons and lions), crocs vied with cockroaches to top the list! End of jumping around in the river – I streaked out of there like my back was on fire – or worse – like a croc had caught hold of it!

The temple had a huge dining hall next to it which served and continues to serve several thousand people free meals every single day! The food there, as in most of Karnataka, is absolutely delicious and one way to forget that I’d nearly been “got” by one!



  • 5 red chilies
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp urad dal 
  • 1 tbsp chana dal
  • 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds


  • 1/4 cup grated fresh coconut 
  • 2 tsp tamarind  paste

VEGETABLES: cut these withut removing the skin. It helps the veggies hold their shape as they cook.

  • 2 cups white pumpkin – cut into 1″ chunks OR
  • 2 cups yellow pumpkin – cut into 1″ chunks OR
  • 2 cups ridged gourd (beerakai) or the large round cucumber called dosakaya – cut into large chunks (optional) OR
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables (any of the above)


  • 1 cup toor dal – pressure cooked with 2 cups water and a pinch of turmeric
  • 1/2 cup peanuts or mochakottai (fresh field beans)/anumulu or chikkudu ginjalu in Telugu
  • Jaggery – 1 tsp


  • 2 tsp – oil – preferably sesame or peanut
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Curry leaves – 4 sprigs

Roast the ingredients listed for roasting and grind together with the ingredients listed for NOT roasting to a smooth paste. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the peanuts and fry on a slow flame. When they start spluttering a bit, add the mustard seeds. When they splutter (no, we do not have an indignant dish on our hands – it’s just their character), add the curry leaves and asafoetida. Add the white pumpkin and cook for a few minutes. Then add the yellow pumpkin and ridge gourd, the masala paste and a couple of glasses of water and bring to the boil. Let cook till the vegetables are almost done. Add the jaggery and salt and the cooked toor dal and continue to cook for a few more minutes till well done. Adjust water to a sambar like consistency – though this dish tastes very different from a sambar!

Serve with hot rice, ghee, appadams and attain moksha from rebirths and crocodiles too!