The Legend Behind Payasam

- August 14, 2020

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazrah

Payasam, kheer, phirni, payasa; call it by any name, it tastes equally delicious. Prepared from just three basic ingredients i.e. milk, sugar, and rice, payasam is a type of rice pudding which is relished as a sweet dish in India. It is also offered to the presiding deity in many temples, especially in the temple of Krishna. Here’s why.

Krishna, in the form of an old sage, challenged the king of Ambalapuzha (in modern-day Kerala) to a game of chess. The prize, if he won, would be one grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second, four on the third and so on, doubling the amount on the previous square. The king brashly agreed.

Krishna, of course, won the game. The king started placing the rice grains and was shocked to see their number grow exponentially. By the end, he owed Krishna trillions of tons of rice!

Amused at the king’s confusion, Krishna revealed himself and said,

You don’t have to give it all today. Just provide payasam to every pilgrim who comes to my temple here, in search of comfort.”

Krishna’s wish is honoured even today and payasam is served freely to all who visit the Ambalapuzha Krishna temple in Kerala’s Alapuzha district.

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