A Sweet Welcome to the New Year!

A sweet dish popular in Karnataka, but not too well-known in other parts of the country, is Hayagreeva. Intensely sweet and very rich, the major ingredients are ghee, chana dal and jaggery. How can you go wrong with that?

One should indulge a bit in the New Year, so here is urging everyone to make it during the week (before guilt catches up!).  I shall leave the recipe for you to look up—it is easily available (as what is not, these days?).

I would rather get into the Who, How, Why?

Few of us would associate the name ‘Hayagreeva’ with a sweet. Let alone the sweet, in fact not many may even be aware of Hayagreeva the god. So let’s start at the very beginning.

 Hayagreeva is an avatar of Vishnu. Hayagreeva means the ‘horse-necked one’, and that is how this avatar is depicted, with a human body and a horse’s head, and a brilliant white in colour. He is shown clothed in white garments and seated on a white lotus. Hayagreeva represents knowledge and wisdom, and the triumph of knowledge over the evil forces of passion and darkness. He is shown as having four hands. One of these is in the gyana mudra—giving of knowledge, while another holds books. The third and fourth hold a conch and discus, the traditional items associated with Vishnu.

So how does the transition from the name of a God to the name of a sweet happen? Many centuries ago there was a devout disciple of Hayagreeva called Vadiraja Thirtha (1480 to 1600 AD). He was a renowned philosopher and a great scholar, who translated many works of Madhavacharya from Sanskrit to Kannada. He served as the pontiff of the Sodhe Mutt in Karnataka. He was particularly devoted to the Hayagreeva avatar of Vishnu.

It is said that Vadiraja Thirtha would make a sweet by cooking chana dal and jaggery (the two items most beloved to horses) in ghee, and place the dish on a tray on his head. The Lord Hayagreeva would emerge out of his statue in the temple in the form of a horse, and partake of the prasaada. He would spend time playing and dancing for his bhakt, and then go back into the idol.

And thus the tradition of hayagreeva as an offering to the gods was born.

There is another interesting story associated with Hayagreeva. It is said that a goldsmith was once trying to make a statuette of Ganesha. But every time he did this, the head kept taking the shape of the head of a horse. The artisan tried many times, but it was always thus. The goldsmith got frustrated and started to hit the statue with a hammer to break it. But however hard he tried, he could inflict no damage to the idol. That night, in his dream, Lord Hayagreeva himself appeared, and told him to give the statue to a holy man whom he would meet the next day.

And sure enough, Vadiraja Thirtha met the goldsmith the next day. Lo and behold, he knew about the statue and asked the goldsmith about it. He of course gave it to him, and Shri Vadiraja consecrated it and started worshipping it.

May your New Year be as sweet as the hayagreeva!

–Meena

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