Koka Bali is the Gods’ and the people’s sweet of choice in Kada, Uttar Pradesh.
To appease a Hindu deity used to be no mean task. Legends have it that the true believers and seekers used to sit or stand still as a rock, assuming in some cases elaborate even torturous positions- one leg folded and balancing the body on the tip of the toe for years and years at a stretch. No food would be consumed and some would even forget to breathe. The divine quest was all that sustained them as they prayed into the heavens.
That was not all. If the Gods were tickled by these mere mortals they would send down distractions to break the meditations usually in the form of a voluptuous maiden or if mood be, a veritable hurricane. Only the most steadfast devotee would stand unmoved- their hair outgrown till they become like roots entrenched in the earth and the ants working around these still bodies entombing them in sepulchral anthills. Once the deity got over the inclination for mischief and felt reasonably appeased he would appear in front of his devotee and be in magnanimous state of mind, more than willing to grant a favour. This cheery condition of the Gods was known as ‘prasad’.
Over the years, the word began to accommodate more connotations and in its most popular avatar, it is used to denote offerings of food, usually sweet, made to the idols of the Gods which the devotees can partake in later, after the supreme ones are assumed to have had their full. Some gods tend to be particularly choosy when it comes to taste and the forms of prasad are as diverse as the full Hindu pantheon.
In temple town of Kada, resident deity Sitaladevi has a predilection for a mouth watering, amorphous sweet known as Koka Bali. Available only in and around Kada, Koka Bali is a culinary curiosity. It is made from lotus seeds, which is later mixed with milk thickened by heating in large open iron pan. It has an overpowering milk flavour and goes down with a pleasant after-taste that can be attributed to the lotus seeds. The prasad of choice for the pilgrims who come to Kada, it is surprisingly unheard of practically anywhere else. The sweetshop owners however believe that increasing sales of the local delight bodes well and are sure that its unique flavour will travel.
“I have been making Koka Bali for the last fifty years,” says the shopkeeper,” It is my passion and I am proud of it. It is an essential part of the culture of this Kada. My customers are initially surprised by the flavour of the sweet but they love it. They always come back to me to buy more Koka Bali for their relatives and friends back home.”
If one finds oneself in Kada and aims to appease Sitaladevi, the path to enlightenment is along the sweet milky aroma beckoning you the neighbourhood seller of sweets.