Their mere identity enough to grant them a status in supremacy in all celebrations of life across every sphere of existence no matter how deeply humble or how exquisitely flamboyant, sweets are the ultimate culinary delight that present a flavour of their own. No wonder festivals all over, whether of religious nature or involving cultural notations as well as observations and occasions of as myriad hues and essences all essentially assert their singular identity with at least one trademark sweet dish of their own exclusive, or sometimes even shared leanings. So if it is cakes for Christmas and candies for Halloween in one part of the spectrum, it is halwa for Eid and jalebis for Durga Puja in the eastern part of our world. And with so many sweet preparations to cater to the as many numbers and varieties of festivals specifically in the Indian context, one can be rest assured that there would at least be one such sinful dose of sugary sumptuousness necessarily lending its all to that particular domain of celebration with which it has come to be inextricably linked, whether out of tradition, as part of customs or simply as furthering of a popular culture not necessarily deep steeped in the fore of either culture or history or reverence.
As bearers of such profound significance in essence of what makes celebrations of any kind all the more worthwhile a dive into all good things of life, the platter of sweets is what occupies centerstage at every festive table. In their rich, luscious bites of decadence or spoonfuls of saccharine bliss or perhaps slices of hearty indeed relishing of life’s simplest but sweetest joys, these elements of the gastronomic tend therefore to be identifiers indeed of entire sagas of revelry and carousing. The festival might be one of yuletide or it might be of deep devotion instead, and the premise across which they span might well spell out as being the festival of colors or one imbued by the glowing goodness of the lights but they all converge in this common point of inducing veritably the sugar rush in one and all. Dousing spirits with the sweetest of realisations in all joy and fun and delivering the beauties of life in as sweet manners of them as possible, sweetmeats and sweet dishes are as integral components of festivals as the very festive spirit itself. It though isn’t just the delectable nature of them that make sweets as fancied a part of every special celebration entailed out of life, carrying as they do even in their optimum sized servings of happiness without compromising the hearty health of all such essence that itself stems from not a singular course of assertion. Even in their exploring of heritages and cultures of history or alluding instead to the utterly heavenly link with the divine, the sweets that characterise festivals tend also to be as pertinent in their resonance with the ambient feels availed out of the state of nature in which they present themselves into the picture. And thus ensues a universal connect between food and festivals in general and amongst sweets and carnivals in particular that only further assert the obviously and essentially sweet nature of either in their zesting up the living of lives.
So essentially intertwined is this bond of sweets and celebrations and in very definite measures of them as well, that we instantly conjure up visions of the irresistible circles of jalebi upon every mention of Durga Puja or drool over sugar dipping mounds of malpuas that necessarily accompany the festival of Diwali even as we find instead our fancies fleeting from one pitha to the other or from one laru to the next whenever we reside in the realisation of the Bihu vibes immediately dawning over us. And continuing the legacy of such inseparable connection of the sweet stuff with the festive fun is the current doing of the rounds by gujiya as the quintessential favorite of the Holi celebrations. In fact gujiya might be as essential to Holi in its starring in the festive platter as is gulaal in its mandatory seating upon the paletter pertaining to this festival of the colors. And even when gujiya is not by any means exclusively an entailing out of the colorful celebration that sum up the substance of this springtime celebration in immense delight, extending as it does its gracious presence to rev up also a number of other festivals and that too in different assertions of appearance and distinct evoking of essence as well, this rather simple but hearty still serving of deep fried deliciousness is most encompassing of the Holi spirit. This versatility of the gujiya means therefore that it exists in as many variations and versions of it as possible, whether it be its emergence from the rich repertoire of native cuisines or taking instead the contemporary route riddles with a good many number twists and tweaks, but there’s nothing that beats the most traditional preparation of this half moon shaped sweet when it comes to its relishing drowned indeed in the immense fun and excitement of what characterise the Holi festivities.
Essentially a flour dumpling filled with a rich and sweet mawa and dry fruits filling, deep fried in the aromatic essence of the Indian favorite ghee and rendered even sweeter by sometimes dipping them in a thick sugar syrup to leave them all glazed and glistened in the utter luxuriousness of all that heady infusion of sweetness and taste, and asserting as delightfully crisp and flaky on the outside while moist and crumbly on the inside to present a fusion of textures as impeccable as the perfect coming together of taste reflecting of tradition and continuing in celebration, is this basically north Indian sweetmeat that supposedly originated in the then Bundelkhand region of India. And while there exist alternative theories that seek to liken this cosmopolitan sweet to the globally fancied Turkish dishing of the baklava instead or interpret it instead as a sweet cousin of the popularly Indian but definitely non Indian snack of the savoury samosa, this crescent cover wrapping within a stuffing of definite celebratory charm has managed to present itself as an addictive indulgence of pan Indian popularity to veritably assert its definite Indianness in leanings. Dating back to at least the 13th century when it tended instead to be a sun dried sweet made out of wheat flour and filled with a healthier honey and jaggery mix has been the gujiya of a prominence as Indian as it could get. Either it be as its most common interpretation of indeed the north Indian gujiya or instead the western assertion of the karanji, the Bihari delicacy pedakiya shaping up as definitely moonshapedly an offering to the Sun Good during the festival of chatth or the even versatile nevri marking the Goan celebrations of both Ganesh Chaturthi and Christmas, with such fillings and flavours as common as dry fruits and mawa to as regional as coconut based and even cheese based as well, this still determinedly Holi staple rules indeed the roost when it comes to Indian festivals, being as ubiquitous an indulgence readily taken to during the lit times of the festival of lights for instance. Beyond its essence and even in its appearance of rather ordinary but more than appealing still irresistibleness, the gujiya is as harbouring of a definite identity of its own, whether in be in its half moon form, its glistening indeed glow of the sugary sumptuousness and indeed its remarkable working out of the ridges along its edge to securely seal inside the delicious stuffing, the shape and structure of this festive sweet is as special a sight as it is an experience in the sinful savoring of it. And with a garnish that also comes across as as distinct in the pretty green and white slivers of some pistachios and almonds over the enticingly golden brown crust, the gujiya truly is a delight across the aesthetics of its every bite.
Evoking indeed memories and nostalgia in ample amounts of them, as one bites into the layers of sweetness making up this delicacy in inimitability, deciphering different levels of the sweet serving itself from the sugarly sticky ones instantly delivering the definitely festive dosage of the saccharines to the unglazed gujiya instead allowing for a gradual dive into the sweetness that ultimately makes it the immensely loved and relished festive treat that it is, making for in either case though a medley of the melt in the mouth musings that douse indeed every inch of the being in a certain experience of bliss, entailed out of the trails of the epicurean no doubt but serving the deeper desires of the soul to churn out every single time an enriching experience overflowing with the carousing cheer of the panoply of colors that one incorporates into their lives by virtue of their very partaking of the Holi spirit. No less evoking of the ties with this festival titillating of the senses in every tint and shade of bearing is the gujiya that finds exquisite expression in very religious terms correlating to the cultural ambit as well with the Ram Raja Temple in the city of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh and definitely the many temples dedicated to Lord Krishna in his own city of Braj. Most associated with the Holi legend in being the land of Lord Krishna, the land of Braj has seen this humble but divine still sweet as a part of the daily offering to the deity for more than 500 years now establishing it therefore as even distinguishing a component of the Holi tradition. Orchha though stands out in its take on the gujiya in as ingenious makings of it as possible, offering four different variants of it and in such assertions that even emerge to be catering to the gluten free guidings of current times! Versatile therefore not just in its ambling along the route of a eight hundred year old history but also as much in its surprising scope in sweetened sprawl satiating appetites and filling hearts with contentment but faltering when it comes to being ultimately a sweet preparation best relished in moderation, because that’s indeed the very infectious vibe characterising of this sweet in massive celebratory significance, the gujiya is more than just a Holi favorite- it surely is the holy grail of all festive sweets and in all striking shades of sweet prominence as well.