The ‘khaja’ of Puri is as legendary as the Lord Himself is. Or for that matter, the beaches of the holy town are. Since the beginning of Jagannath culture, ‘khaja’, a sweet item, has found place as one of the major ‘prasad’ of the three deities of the Jagannath Temple also known as Shree Mandir. And the love of ‘khaja’ or the aura around it has not diminished one bit, despite a sea change in the likes of people in general. Rather, day by day, the craze of ‘khaja’ has grown among the local people and tourists.
In earlier days, it was freely distributed among the devotees but gradually it started to be sold. Now-a-days, it has almost turned into an industry in Puri as locals have taken it up as a vocation and depend on it for their livelihood.
Although this sweet dish is available all around the state, in most of the places, it is known as ‘pheni’. However, ‘khaja’ owes its origin to Puri and its quality is far better in the pilgrim city compared to other places. We take a look at the ‘khaja’ culture of Puri.
The Puri Shree Mandir is known for housing the world’s biggest kitchen that can feed millions in a single day. The ‘mahaprasad’ served to the deities and later distributed among the devotees is symbolic of a bond between the devotees and the Divine.
Generally, two kinds of ‘prasad’ is prepared and served to the residing deities of the temple. Sankhudibhog or the cooked prasad includes a variety of rice, lentils, curries, kheer and many other preparations without using onion and garlic. Similarly, sukhilabhog or dry prasad includes different kinds of dry and sweet confectionaries like khaja, magajaladdu and a dozen of more choices.
As history has it, the sweet and crunchy ‘khaja’ prepared from refined flour and sugar used to be prepared in large quantities and distributed among the devotees after being served to Lord Jagannath and other deities.
However, after the responsibility of the temple’s management was transferred to a more organised administrative committee, the temple administration decided to sell the bhog and utilise the funds for the temple’s welfare.
According to Hindu mythology, ‘mahaprashad’ is considered as sacred. Hindus usually carry back the prasad for their dear ones. Khaja, being dry, remains fresh for a few days and is therefore the most convenient option for the tourists to carry. In fact, the popularity of ‘khaja’ grew with time not only for its taste but also for its easy preserving properties.
Madhabi Tilak, a tourist from Raipur whom we caught up with at Puri tells us that he makes sure to carry a packet of ‘khaja’ for his family whenever he visits the holy city. “My family is a staunch believer in Lord Jagannath and we all feel that the prasad from Puri brings the Lord’s blessings and good luck for us. Even the taste is great.”
As per custom, the ‘prasad’ which is offered to the deities can be sold only at Ananda Bazaar, where one can also buy pure and authentic ‘khaja’. Although many shops outside the temple also sell it, one can easily notice the difference in the taste. In fact, most of these shops prepare the ‘khaja’ using oil instead of ghee. At Ananda Bazaar, there is uniformity in the taste and price of ‘khaja’ across all counters. However, in the open market, since the prices may be lower, the quality gets compromised.
There around 25 to 30 families, who have been given the exclusive responsibility (seva) to make ‘khaja’ for Lord Jagannath. But for business purpose, there are around 200 to 250 shops in the city that sell this popular delicacy. As a result, there is a KhajaNijog (association) to monitor these outlets and the pricing concerns.
While in Ananda Bazaar, the khaja is sold per piece with the rate varying from Rs. 3 to Rs. 10 per piece depending on its size and quality, in the open market, it is sold per kg with the price varying from Rs. 75 to Rs. 80 per kg.
Talking about the current market demand for khaja, SamasundaraPratihari, who has been in the business for a long time tells MCL that the ‘khaja’ industry has been growing like anything in the last few years. “The ‘khaja’ industry has literally witnessed a boom in the last six to seven years. Today, the demand is more than supply. When we started, the business was hardly Rs. 10 lakh per day but today it is over Rs. 50 lakh,” he says.
“In fact, now we are also taking orders from places like Kolkata and Chhattisgarh. Although we have also been approached to deliver ‘khaja’ abroad, due to lack of government facilities, it has not materialsed so far. Of course, foreigners do take huge orders from us, making their own arrangements. Indeed, there is no doubt that the khaja business has expanded in a big way but if government can supportus, we can distribute ‘khaja’ all across the globe and make it popular worldwide,” he sums it up.
By Sheela Pattanayak Vol4Issue2