Chuda Ghasa: From breakfast to a Holy Prasad

Loved across generation, here’s what makes this delicious breakfast an absolute must-have during Rath Yatra?

By Madhulika Dash

Chuda Ghasa. Or as food curator Alka Jena explains, a hand rubbed treat of rice flakes (poha), jaggery, ghee and coconut. Ancient world’s ‘rabri’, Chuda Ghasa, which takes a more lavish form when served as a prasad in Jagannath Puri is one of the delicious, innovative instant breakfasts of Odisha that is both quickly made, easy to digest and extremely soul satisfying. In fact, for most Odias (and even non Odias living in the state), it is a quintessential bowl of morning comfort that not only a guilt-free indulgence but also one that personifies ‘happiness’ especially during pre-monsoon time.

Such is the love and popularity for this simple farmer’s meal that many often travel to the tiny, sleepy town of Chandanpur near Puri to have their fill of the typical serving of Chuda Ghasa and Dalma.

The reason behind this absolute love is twofold: one, the delicious composition of the palate warming ghee, jaggery and calming kapur (camphor), which tastes the best during the time (sort of Christmas and Cinnamon connect here); the other of course, is its association with Rath Yatra, one of the oldest, biggest chariot festival of Odisha (and Asia).

The Folklore
Legend has it that with the summer turning towards rainy season (usually that falls during the early weeks of June), Lord Jagannath goes for a ritualistic bathing with his siblings, Devi Subhadra, and Lord Balabhadra. It is said that Lord Jagannath enjoys the coolness of water so much that he refuses to leave the pond and continues bathing for a long time. Even today, the idols are bathed in 108 pitchers of herbal and aromatic water. By the time they are back to their temple, which many say is on full moon rise, the holy trinity falls ill and for nine days thereafter he lies in bed recuperating from fever. It is during this time that the meals are changed from the feast to simple fare with Chuda Kadamba, a lavish version of Chuda Ghasa, is one of the few things he loves eating, as a recurring dish. In fact, during the nine days he rests, this is the prasad that is also distributed to the devotees.

From a farmer’s meal to the Lord’s treat
But how did something so simple rise to be a beloved treat (and prasad) of a Dham? The answer lies in the brilliance of the composition which follows the essential principle of Rasayana that weighs every dish on three counts: first, the availability – each ingredient has to be easily accessible to everyone, from the king to the farmer; versatility – the dish should be able to take newer ingredients; and the last but most important, is its power to heal. It was vital that the dish not only plays to the palate but has enough properties to calm the mind, re-equate the circadian rhythm of the body, and provide enough energy to last till the next meal.

Incidentally, Chuda Ghasa excelled on all the counts. Made with rice flakes, jaggery and ghee as the main component, the ‘raw food’ delicacy gets its divine taste and texture to the technique of hand rubbing, which not only breaks the soaked poha into a melt in your mouth easiness but also coats it with enough ghee and jaggery so each bite seems like a little treat. The addition of coconut is for two reasons: to wash the palate and cut the slight bitterness of the jaggery and camphor. The brilliance of the dish is of course the addition of edible camphor. An Ayurveda and Charak Sahmita preferred first level antidote for cough, cold, spasm and other weather change related issues, camphor in this case not only gives it that typical aroma that can put an agitated mind to rest, but also works to revv up the digestive system. Which, according to nutritionist therapist Sveta Bhassin, “gets weak because of the seasonal change and often needs readjustment, which a combination of ghee, jaggery and camphor does.”

The Modern Relevance
Such was the popularity of this 5 AD-originating dish that it soon found its way into folklores and rituals – and in doing so eventually achieved timelessness as generation after generation continued to enjoy it with newer addition like sugar, banana and other fruits. In fact, in Baripada, the Rath Yatra time Chuda Ghassa is served with chunks of mangoes, likewise in Kendrapda where in some places it even has fresh chenna, sugar and a generous helping of grapes, ripened jackfruit if available and the quintessential banana. What doesn’t change is the effect – Chuda Ghasa, which is a bona fide kids meal too, remains a treat like no other.