Dodol is no doddle | Daily News

Dodol is no doddle

Dodol can be bought outside the temple
Dodol can be bought outside the temple

Sitting on Dimuthu’s kitchen floor at a social distance fully masked is lots of fun, while grating the required five coconuts and then pouring water onto the grated pieces and squeezing them through, for their milk.

It is however, no doddle to make this confectionery delight that contains coconut milk, sugar, jaggery and rice flour. The ingredients, except for the jaggery are put in a giant wok and stirred continuously outside in the garden over an open wood fire for around four hours, fanned by peacock feathers, until the contents are reduced by at least half. Of course the kids will try to taste test it for their grandmother, so quite a bit goes missing in the making.

The liquid is hand turned over and over until the concoction is truly sticky, thick, sweet and no longer sticks to your fingers when touching it. This can, if done in a big batch, take between four to nine hours to make, depending on the size of the batch. So only a few villagers have specialised in producing this ancient sweet, given as gifts on festival days, or as special offerings, at Kataragama and in the past bought by Sri Lankan Royal family and to this day given as a special gift at a wedding.

Dodol undoubtedly came with the traders, who were looking for spices, and its unique formula has been developed over time, changing from village to village, each adding things to the basic ingredients, from cashews to broken peanuts even dried raisons. Today, it is commonly served during the Avurudu festival – Sinhalese and Hindu New Year, also during weddings, and festivals, such as Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as sweet treats that all the children enjoy.

The history of using palm sugar, a traditional natural sweetener made from the sap of the Arena pinnata plant, goes back hundreds of years and, as a result, is one of the oldest indigenous sweets developed across the maritime base of South East Asia.

The authentic art of making dodol is a highlight of the area. Some attribute it to the Portuguese, who occupied parts of the country during the 16th and 17th centuries and others to traders from India and Malaysia. Over the centuries, several dodol recipes developed in Sri Lanka, such as kalu dodol and cashew nut dodol. In reality talking to the dodol makers it is a bit of everything including trying new things they have seen on line. A truly fusion sweet that keeps on evolving.

After twenty minutes of stirring and adding coconut shells to the fire under the wok, we added the jaggery, which turned the mix into a lovely syrupy brown colour. Then Dimuthu’s mother Somaseeli and wife Malkanthi, took over turning the liquid, whilst we explored the area. Our first stop was the kade stall where we tried the temple’s dodol and also bought a puja to take to Wedahiti- kanda, a holy place 1,400 ft up a mountain that required us to climb 1,355 steep steps, to prepare ones inner self for a special blessing and a fascinating mix of Hindu and Buddhist midday prayers. The lady cutting the slab of dodol into slices at the base of Wedahitikanda Temple was surprised by our not wanting to buy any dodol to give us energy for the climb. We didn’t because it tasted too much like a rubbery blob of gelatine than the sweet stuff Dimuthu’s family love to hand make.

We did, however, buy offerings in the form of puja for Rs 1,000 from the stall opposite and, in return, the seller washed and cleaned all the fruit, adding a box of joss sticks, and a holy garland for blessing, which she placed on a silver platter covered with leaves.

We headed into the temple complex with lots of water and our donation of food, in fruit basket known as a Puja Wattiya, which simply means donation container, carried on my son’s head. Inside the temple, we saw pilgrims taking off their shoes in order to start the holy climb or buying a Rs 350 ticket to take the vehicle on a twenty minute hair-raising drive, which requires holding on for dear life and, as one pilgrim put it, the closest shave you are ever likely to have with God.

Inside the 1,500-year-old temple, the bare-chested priests dressed in simple red sarongs and sporting red dots on their foreheads, greeted us and took our offerings, bestow us with special prayers, uttering our names up to the gods. The place filled up with people and the smell of incense swirls around our heads as the bells started to clang and the midday service commenced.

The pilgrims put their hands together in prayer as water is sprinkled in the air and a holy man walked past the religious tridents tied with wishes, wrapped, with a coin, in red or other colourful sari materials. The bells tolled as the head priest carried what looked like a giant drum, taking the jewellery of the god out of the inner sanctum to a special place, during the puja. People touched it with both hands as it passed them, hoping it would bestow good fortune on them and all their families. The bells, as if sending a string of messages to the god, became louder as another priest came out with his nose and mouth covered with a red cloth, to stop any human saliva contaminating the food given up for the god’s pleasure and, as he moved, fire shot out in all directions, casting out bad spirits. His ceremonial dance is all in aid of showing people the light and the right path to follow. There were no visible statues in front of the flames, only a banner showing God Kataragama with 12 hands, and two wives, one is Valli amma from Sri Lanka; daughter of the Vedas Chieftan, and Thevanai amma from India.

The fire ritual became more fren-zied and then it was replaced with an Aladdin like lamp and fervent chanting that, on reaching its heady height, resulted in bells jangling and three priests walking round the two lines of pilgrims handing out holy pirit water. This was placed in each of our hands, followed by putting bindis, both white and red, on our foreheads and then given sacred sweet rice, placed on Bo leaves, for all of us to eat.

Our puja fruit bowl was then returned to the inner sanctum, with some of the fruit kept back for the people who work and live in the temple. We ate a small piece each and then shared it with the other people in the temple.

The monkeys, seen as the guardians of this historically fascinating spot, feasted alongside us, with blessed donations. We followed the crowd outside to admire the beauty of the views from Wadahitikanda and watched women putting small wooden crates on a tree to wish for a baby, and good health, while others lit joss sticks or cracked coconuts on a simple stone altar while making a wish. Everywhere, there was a buzz of happy pilgrim families admiring the view and feeling good that there is still a place where everyone can be at one with nature and each other. One little girl handed me some pol toffee (coconut sweets) and I laughed when I saw even the monkeys share the blessed food.

We returned like a bullet, down the spiralling hill top, in an open pilgrim truck, religiously following the regulations with only a handful of people holding on for dear life as we slid ever closer to the edge, but the gods were on our side and as we alighted safely at the bottom I said a prayer while a serpent eagle, a portent of good luck, circled overhead. From here, we headed, full of blessings and good cheer, to Kasingama pottery village that makes curd pots from local river mud and had a demonstration from the Sumanadasa family, who then let us have a go at making one.

After lots of muddy fun and a few cracks at it, I finally had two successful pots that would sell for about Rs 17 each. Flushed with success, we headed back to Dimuthus for the final stage of making the dodol.

“You can add nuts to the mix,” explained his wife to me, and then she placed it on newspaper and left it to cool down, before cutting it into square slices for me to try with a cup of milk tea. Wow! It was amazing how different this was from the temple shop dodol. It was so good we could not stop eating it and although I have tried making it at home since it has never tasted so good. I now realise it is no doddle to make dodol as it requires a combination of passion and just the right number of stirs to make it the delicious sweet Yala is so famous for.


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