Sunday, November 10, 2013


             ( Tahar distribution. A watercolour by  Bansi Parimu)                            

                                                    ( Tahar in a bronze  plate)                                           


Tahar is rice cooked with turmeric powder  and  mixed  with hot clarified butter or mustard oil and a pinch of common salt . It is a symbol of Kashmir’s composite culture. Kashmiri Pandits cook it on birthdays or for offering it to the deities, and also to express gratitude or thanksgiving. They eat it within the family and distribute this ‘Tahar’ among neighbours on birthdays apart from carrying it to Ashrams of saints to distribute it to the devotees as Prasada. They do not use onions for preparing  ‘Tahar’ or yellow rice.

It is a treat to eat Tahar or yellow rice on birthdays. After the Puja by the priest, Tahar is distributed as small palm pressed yellow rice balls called  ‘Tahari Meitt ’ in Kashmiri. Before being distributed among the family members, some quantity of this Tahar is first offered to  the birds. Tahar is also relished with curd and spicy vegetarian or non-vegetarian ( cheese or potatoes or generally goat or sheep liver cooked with potatoes called  ‘Ollu Tsarvun’ in Kashmiri ) dish.

Kashmiri Muslims also prepare it for thanksgiving or Shukraana or Niyaz. Some families invariably cook it on Fridays and carry it to the mosques for distribution after prayers. Kashmiri Muslims add shallots ( a variety of onion known as Praan in Kashmiri ) to it and cook large quantity and quite often distribute it publicly on the roadside or inside Ziyarat of a saint. I have seen yellow rice or Tahar being distributed at Tsraar  Sharif  Ziyarat of Nund Reshi. I have observed that this old tradition of ‘Tahar’ cooking and its public distribution continues  with  Kashmiri Muslims to this day.It was a common scene in Rainawari or any part of  the  Srinagar city to see men rushing to receive ‘Tahar’ when some family brought the same on the roadside in a big copper plate. Something like a stampede would be created by people to receive  Tahar.

Kashmiri Pandits would also celebrate ‘Ashad-Navum’ (the ninth day of the month of Ashad)  as the birthday of goddess Sharika. People would go to Hari Parbat shrine of the goddess with  ‘Tahar Tsarvan’ (  cooked yellow rice and non-vegetarian dish ) and distribute the same to  the devotees over there. It is believed that Hari Parbat is the abode of  goddess Sharika or the benefactor mother goddess of Srinagar.
Tahar is also prepared by Kashmiris when something untoward had to happen but luckily did not happen or someone was saved from some trouble or misfortune or accident. I vividly remember how our ladies would immediately cook yellow rice or Tahar as a thanksgiving to almighty.  I also remember my mother preparing yellow rice and feeding the birds after moving the rice laden plate three times over my head.  At this time she would  say softly  :-

“ Gutsch tche balai dhoor ”

( Let every evil be away from you.)

The tradition of ‘Tahar’ continues with the Kashmiri Pandit community even after their migration from the  Kashmir valley. Tahar cooking continues to be an essential part of some important rituals and religious ceremonies. Tahar is also taken for distribution to the devotees as Prasada to various Ashrams built-in memory of highly venerated saints of Kashmir like Gopi Nath Ji, Reshi Peer and  Swami Nand Lal  Ji. 

Preparation of   Tahar or yellow rice is not confined to Kashmir only. I found it in cross section of  cultures in the country . I also  came to know about its significance in many cultures across various countries of Asia,  Europe and Africa.

 Some religious scholars link the cooking of yellow rice in India with  ‘Basant Panchami’. This festival is related to the yellow bloom of mustard flowers. In India, people celebrating this festival would perform Puja, cook sweet yellow rice and wear new garments preferably with yellow colour.


                                                      (  Tahar in a Kashmiri Pandit Household  )     
                              ( Tahar Distribution at Tsrar Sharif  Ziyarat Kashmir )

A careful study of various cultures reveals that yellow rice is also cooked widely in plains of India and other countries  the world over. I quote some:-

(1)   In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Pongal and Onam festivals are celebrated with the cooking of special rice made yellow with a pinch of turmeric. This yellow rice is considered auspicious and is also showered on newly married couples. It is offered to the deities and used as an oblation in the sacred fire of  many Hindu rituals.

(2)   The  Srilankans eat yellow rice ( using turmeric ) which is exactly Kashmiri ‘Tahar’. They also add cardamoms, cashew nuts, lemon juice, green leafy vegetable and cloves to this rice.

(3)    Yellow rice is a traditional  South African recipe and is eaten with mutton having spiced gravy.

(4)    In Thailand, rice made yellow with a pinch of turmeric is prepared on festivals. Now saffron is also used as a colouring agent. It is enjoyed with curries of all kinds as well as seafood, fish, and even chicken dishes.

(5)   Rice made yellow with turmeric or saffron is  popular and a staple dish in Spain.
(6)    For  ‘Rosh Hashanah’ or celebration the Jewish new year, which is a a wonderful tradition, people prepare special rice made yellow with a pinch of turmeric or saffron.

(7)   Narenj Palao of Afghanistan is a sweet rice dish made with saffron. Pieces of orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken are also added to this yellow rice. Further,  lamb Kebab with yellow saffron rice is a popular Afghan food.
(8)   Dami Baghali -turmeric rice with yellow Fava beans and caramelized onions is a popular Iranian food.

(9)    People in  Indonesia, celebrate their auspicious occasions by preparing Tumpeng or yellow rice surrounded by an assortment of local dishes. The rice is made yellow by boiling it in turmeric or saffron. This Tumpeng is cooked for cheerful and happy festivities and celebrations, such as birth, engagement, marriage, Eid, Christmas, etc.

(10) People in Bali, Indonesia prepare yellow rice known as Ketan for religious ceremonies. They also offer this rice to gods and deities. Bali is an island and a province of Indonesia and home to most of the Indonesia's Hindu minority.

(Avtar Mota )

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