Bhagavathi Sevai Payasam by Meera Balasubramanian Print

Sweet, Kerala

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Meera Balasubramanian

Meera was born and brought up in Madras, Tamil Nadu. She graduated from Stella Maris College with a BA in Sociology, and got her MBA from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila. She has enjoyed living in Manila, Istanbul and Hong Kong, and currently lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two sons.

My parents, Brahmins from Palghat, Kerala, were great devotees of Goddess Durga. In the 1970s, they often conducted Bhagavathi Sevai, a special puja for Goddess Durga, at our home in Madras on Friday evenings. I fondly remember the excitement of the preparations as well as the hustle and bustle of the extended family.

My father conferred with the vadhyar (priest) to prepare for the veneration. My mother went to the Mylapore market to buy the fruits and vegetables, flowers, banana leaves, cotton wicks, camphor, kumkum and rose garlands. She hired a cook to help prepare the elaborate evening meal, while her brother, Raasha mama, made the Bhagavthi payasam, also called nei payasam, the traditional sweet offering (prasadam) in the Kerela Durga temples.

An uruli – a brass utensil used in Kerala

The nei payasam was made on the kumutti (a charcoal grill) in an uruli - a heavy brass utensil used in Kerala.

Raasha mama spent his entire evening stirring and slow cooking it in our back yard, smoking irreverently as he toiled.

As the puja came to an end, the priest would offer vethalai paaku (betel leaves and nut), pazham (fruit) and the delectable nei payasam to the Goddess. Then we would get to eat it!

Nei Payasam, very sweet and filled with ghee, is meant to be eaten in small quantities. Serves 7-10.


  • 1 cup Rice
  • 6 cups Jaggery (gur गुड़)
  • 1 to 1½ cups Ghee
  • Cashew pieces
  • Small chopped pieces of coconut (fresh or dry)



Cook the rice such that the grains are separate, not over-cooked or sticky.

Chop up the jaggery. Place it in a heavy bottomed utensil and add enough water to cover it. Cook on medium heat until the jaggery melts.

Add the cooked rice to the jaggery syrup. Continue cooking on low heat. Keep the mixture lubricated by adding the ghee at frequent intervals. Keep stirring as the water evaporates and the bubbles splatter furiously.

The payasam is done when it slides off easily from the ladle. Remove from heat, and watch a thin layer of ghee float to the top when you stop stirring.

In another pan, fry the cashew and coconut pieces in ghee, and add to the payasam.

Serve hot.

© Meera Balasubramanian, USA, 2008

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Butch Cassidy   |2009-08-21
The first step is the tricky one. Otherwise it becomes a risotto, overly sweet
at that.
I G Sangameswar   |2012-01-08
Good one - reminds me of bhagwat sevai in my parents house.
P V Ananthanarayanan   |2012-11-28
I remember my younger days in Pallipuram agrahaaram in Palakkad.
I cannot
forget Krishna Vadhyar (priest)doing the pooja. And nei payasam.
Rema   |2012-02-09
3 cups jaggery is sufficient for 1 cup rice..I tried out with this measure and
came out well.
raji ramakrishnan   |2012-12-25
1 cup means is it 1/4 kg as i have to make the same for the pooja at my
brother's place on 21.7.12
Jaya   |2013-09-21
Post your comments here.
I cannot forget my younger days in
thichoor', reminds me of bagvaths seva in mothers plays I cannot forget. Ambi
vadiars pooja
Rachael   |2013-10-11
My parents did bhagavathi Sevai in the month of Aadi every year. My mother was
responsible for making the vadai and choondal, and my dad was the one who made
nei payasam. It was sooooooooo many years ago, The last one was in 1983 at my
parents house and once in my in-laws house in 1992 and I made the payasam under
my mom's guidance. I love this payasam. I have seen this being performed where
ever we live, Palghat, chennai, mumbai, Trivandrum, kanpur. (my dad's job took
us all these places but appa would get the vadhiyar for this puja some how.
Nice memories, of my young life
sunder   |2014-06-01
Post your comments here.
i like meera's receipe for the deviPayasam and
will send it to my dughter in NC,USA.
sunder,mandavelli. !!!!
sunder   |2014-06-27
"Asai mugam marundha poche "
shobitha   |2015-06-25
Good recipe.Will try it too.
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