by V. Jegatheesan
Fruit Parachu, or Parachu Buah Buahan as it is called in Malay, is the second form of ancestral worship that the Chitties observe in a year. The first is the Bhogi Parachu in January. This second Parachu is observed for a month between June 15th and July 15th. The time period is fixed and the individual can observe the Parachu anytime within this period. Many tend to observe it on a Sunday for convenience.
This article records a visit to Gajah Berang, Melaka, on 3rd July 2016 to observe the Fruit Parachu ceremony held in the home of Nadarajan Raja, an elder of the Chitty community.
The house was full of activity by the time we arrived at 2 pm. The ondeh ondeh was being prepared by Nadarajan’s wife and sister-in-law. Ondeh Ondeh is brown palm sugar wrapped in a rice paste coloured green from pandan (screwpine), then boiled and smothered with grated coconut. His brother, Raj, was preparing the chili to make the chili cucumber with onions. Others were frying fish, making the fish curry and the roe with belimbing (carambola). Those who finished some of these then started cutting the fruits. All this was done in a friendly atmosphere with a lot of bantering with each other. The main event, to call it that, is the making of the pulut tekan.
The preparation of the day usually starts with making the pulut tekan. This is a white glutinous rice cake pressed firm, parts of which are with a blue tint to form a design. The whole process can take some seven hours. The rice is first cooked. Then the coconut milk is added and the rice steamed. A portion of this rice will have a blue colouring added. This colouring is from the blue coloured bunga telang (blue pea or butterfly pea). The rice is continually tested for the right consistency and when the rice is steamed to the right softness, it is drained and pressed into a 10 cm deep wooden square box. It is spread out in layers between the white and the blue rice to give the desired design. The inside of the box is lined with banana leaves. A wooden cover is placed on top and weights are laid on the cover to slowly press the contents of the box into a hard cake. The usual weights are two grindstones.
When it is ready after some hours, the weights are removed and the box is taken and placed on the table. The hardness is tested and if not right, it is placed back under the weights. When ready, the top of the box is lifted off. The sides of the box are removed and this leaves the cake on the base. The banana leaves are then carefully removed.
An approximate 5 cm thick block has to be cut which will have a nice design of the white cake with blue colour. This is left to the individual, in this case, Shanmugam, another of Nadarajan’s brothers. The selected block of pulut is placed on a tray covered with a banana leaf cut to the shape of the tray. The blocks that are not used for the offering, are cut into smaller portions and placed in a bakul siah, a tiered lacquered wooden basket.
The seri kaya is also prepared earlier. This is coconut jam but a firmer type. A portion is cut and placed beside the pulut tekan for the offering. Another portion is placed in the bakul siah. A portion of the kuih ginggang, red and white layered cake is cut for the offering as well as a portion to be put in the bakul siah.
A few bakul siah are prepared in a similar way. The children then take these and present it to various close relatives or friends living in the neighbourhood. They, in turn, give some of their preparation if they are observing on the same day.
Nadarajan then got the front living room floor cleaned. One by one, Nadarajan and Shanmugam placed the various items on the floor.
The display is laid out on the left of the entrance of the house. Two red candles with a kuthu vilakku, (Indian oil lamp) in between are placed in the centre. On the centre of the oil lamp is a hibiscus flower for decoration. There is a brass bowl (chembu) with tulasi (holy basil) in between the candles. These are flanked by two young shaved coconuts with incense sticks stuck in as shown below.
In the front centre is a large banana leaf laid with the head on the right. The head is the top of the banana leaf, or the narrowing part. In the centre is a bowl of bunga rampai, scented flowers. There are also seven betel leaves lightly smeared with lime powder. In front on the left are seven cigarettes of tobacco wrapped in tobacco leaf and on the right are five modern cigarettes. This is seen below.
On the floor on the left, there is an arrangement of five cups and a teapot with tea. Next to this is a tumbuk (stone pestle and mortar) and an old wooden tepak sireh set (betel leaf and betel nut set). Three betel leaves are smeared with lime paste and wrapped with a piece of pekak. Pekak is a pink hard powder which turns red when eaten with the betel leaf. This wrap is then crushed in the tumbuk (mortar) and placed among these.
The fruits that Nadarajan prepared were jackfruit, mata kuching (related to the longan or soapberry), mangoes, dragon fruit, jambu air (water apple or water rose apple), salak, watermelon, durians, grapes, apples, oranges and pears. Local fruits are used as much as possible but nowadays, common foreign fruits are also added. This also depends on the availability of the fruits.
The variety of kuih served were, the pulut tekan, seri kaya, kuih ginggang and ondeh ondeh. Offerings included some additional kuih sent by neighbours. These were the same glutinous rice but the white and blue being separate, angku (red tortoise cake), wajih (glutinous rice with sugary syrup and other local kuih.
The fruits and other edible items are usually the favourites of the ancestors and are presented in odd amounts.
In front of these are a brass bowl of vibuthi (wood ash), a brass bowl of water, an earthenware holder for smouldering charcoal and benzoin resin. This latter gives off smoke. There are also two pieces of kidney shaped wood.
The ceremony starts when the nearby temple bell is sounded off at 6.30pm. Nadarajan as the head of the household, takes the earthenware holder and goes to the outside of the house. He holds the holder up and invites his parents and ancestors to come and partake in the offerings.
He then comes into the house and shows the holder to the items on the floor, circling over all the offerings. Next, he goes to the pictures of his father, his aunt and his grandfather and circles the pictures with the holder. These pictures are decorated with the jasmine flowers and incense sticks. He comes back to the living room and places the holder on the floor. His brothers and other male relatives or close friends will do the same. This is followed by the females in the family and close friends.
Finally, Nadarajan will cut the young coconut open. With this the ceremony is over.
The guests are then invited to dinner. Nadarajan served rice with fried fish, fish gravy, watercress, chili cucumber and fish roe with belimbing.
Despite Malacca being a small place, Chitty practices vary from which part they come from. Those at Gajah Berang and Bacang use milk rice while those from Tranquerah use nasi lemak.
The kuih here are referred to as wet cakes. Others prepare dry cakes, as in not oily, such as kuih bakul, kuih bahulu, kuih kacang soya etc. Admittedly, there is now a mix which includes Nyonya, Malay and perhaps Portuguese kuih as well. This is the result of the many years of assimilation and intermarriages between them. It must be remembered that these groups have been together for 500 years.
Generally speaking, one wonders about the origin and the reason behind the use of the various items. One simple reason is that these are the things most commonly found in the vicinity. Some have magical or mystical properties ascribed to them from so long ago that the meaning or reason is lost today.
There must be some explanation as to why rituals are being performed and certainly not simply for the sake of doing something. Again the routine has caused the significance to be eroded with time. After all, the Hindu religion has been practised for thousands of years and the Chitties have been performing these for some 500 years. Many rituals have been performed by the temple priests only, as only they were educated in these matters. The ordinary folk followed and believed in what was done.
But now we live in an age where education levels have vastly increased resulting in individual thinking and questioning or in fact, re-inventing all things. While we continue to perform and believe in these rituals, it is now left to the current generation to study the religion, history and reintroduce the rituals so that when these are performed, it is done with a greater understanding and this in turn reinforces the faith.