Local Sikhs celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti’s birthday with a sweet


Chef Jasjit Kaur holds a bowl of karah prasad, a festive Indian sweet. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

For Jasjit Kaur, a chef and culinary instructor in Kitchener, Ontario, a dish made with three simple ingredients has a deeply spiritual meaning and at the same time evokes childhood memories.

“For me, Karah prasad is something very pious, very pure. When I have it, it takes me to a place where I try to connect with God. That’s how special it is for me,” Kaur says.

Kaur describes the milk chocolate-colored candy, prepared slowly on the stove with equal parts of ghee, sugar, attar flour and water, as something akin to rice pudding or halwa (a flour-based confectionery in Israeli, Tamil and North African cuisines).

Food plays an important role in Sikh traditions at the gurdwara, a place of gathering and worship. Served at the end of prayers in the gurdwara, Kaur says karah prasad is an important part of the celebration for the birthday of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469. The birthday is celebrated on November 8.

karah prasad
This delicacy is eaten in honor of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Honor Guru Nanak dev ji

Spiritual teacher, Guru Nanak taught ik Omkar: that God is one, and no matter your religion or caste, you belong to God.

“The celebration is a gurpurab that would include any of the ten gurus we have,” Kaur says. “But this week was the celebration of the first Guru.”

In gurdwaras around the world, celebrations include songs and hymns, prayers, readings and recitations of religious texts – and Kaur says karah prasad is always prepared for the sweet offering after prayers.

Everyone gathers in the gurdwara kitchen to cook the dishes together, Kaur says. Vegetarian food is plentiful, and preparation begins several weeks before D-Day.

“We celebrate with dhal, vegetables, salad, pickles, rice pudding. Snacks that are also served are samosas, chai tea and gulab jamun,” she says.

Kaur says she encourages “positive vibes” when she prepares the dish by reciting waheguru, which means “wonderful revealer”.

jasjit kaur
Chef Jasjit Kaur explains how karah prasad is prepared with love and prayers (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Made with love

If the preparation of karah prasad is part of a ritual, Kaur also describes it using the fast food slogan of the 1950s.

“In gurdwara, you cover yourself and bow your head to receive the sweet offering. You fold your two hands together like a bowl, and you eat with your hands. It is good to lick your fingers.”

She adds that karah prasad made in gurdwara is often the best – “because of love”.

“In gurdwara there are prayers, there is love. I make karah prasad for every celebration. When you cook it, you have to be patient and not over high heat. You will start to smell the aromas, and the neighbors will knock because there’s something good cooking!” she says.

Equality at the common meal in the gurdwara is paramount, according to Kaur, given the teachings of the guru.

“Everyone is sitting on the same level. It doesn’t matter if you’re a king or a [ordinary citizen]everyone gather.”

But the ritual significance of the sweet offering karah prasad also has the power to rekindle Kaur’s childhood memories.

“I remember at gurdwaras when I was a kid, I would queue three and four times for karah prasad because I just wanted more.”

The festive Guru Nanak dev ji birthday events continue this weekend at local gurdwaras.

karah prasad
Karah prasad consists of four ingredients, ghee, attar, white sugar and water. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Karah Prasad Recipe by Jasjit Kaur

Ingredients
1 cup ghee (clarified butter)
1 cup attar (or wheat flour)
1 cup white sugar
3 cups of water

Method
Heat the ghee in a saucepan. Add wheat flour or attar and cook gently until golden and aromatic. While you are cooking the flour and ghee, in a second pan boil the water and sugar together. Gently pour the water and sugar mixture into the ghee and flour mixture. Keep stirring until the karah prasad begins to separate from the ghee. Serve hot.

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