History Of Laddu – 5 Things You Probably Never Knew!

History of Laddu
Via Flickr / Rajesh Pamnani

History of laddu in India

The history of laddu in India dates back to several centuries and, even today, the laddu rules the roost when it comes to India’s preference for sweets. The long history of laddu in India explains the mind-boggling varieties as every region of India has its own take on laddus as dictated by the local availability of ingredients. There are only two things in common across all types of laddus you will find in India – They are all round and sweet!

Across India, the laddu is invariably an integral part of the wedding ceremony. Boxes of laddus get exchanged as soon as the engagement is announced, some wedding invitation comes with a box of laddus or laddus are served as a part of the wedding feast. But the culture of distributing laddus to express happiness goes beyond weddings. Birth of a baby, buying a new car, getting a promotion, you name any happy occasion and laddu immediately comes to your mind!

We unearthed five interesting stories on the history of laddu in India. Don’t read this article if you are a diabetic!

1. Laddus first came to be used as medicines!

This interesting article published by the Indian Express charts the transformation of Laddus from being used as a medicine to becoming the most popular sweet across India (arguably). Here are some extracts from this article that highlights interesting stories about the history of laddu (Believe these stories at your own risk!).

The origin of this laddoo was more because of the medicinal properties that the ingredients used proffered than as a sweet. It is said that these laddoos were given to teenage girls to keep their raging hormones under check. In fact, treatment, and not the indulgence led to the discovery of some of the popular laddoos including methi, makhana and sonth.

Eastern folklore often talks about the accidental discovery of the laddoo when a Ved’s (medicine man) assistant to cover up the extra ghee he poured in a mix turned them into small roundels that eventually took the shape of the smooth egg shape balls we see today. Was it the real way how laddoos were invented? While there no credible source that supports this story, Ayurvedic scripts are replete with recipes that can be considered the first iteration of the laddoos.

One of the earliest examples of this was of sesame seeds, jaggery, and peanuts, which we all know as til ke ladoo. It is said that around 4BC legendary surgeon Susruta The Elder began using this as an antiseptic to treat his surgical patients. For easier consumption, the sesame seeds were coated with jaggery or honey and shaped into a ball.

The ancient legend of Gilgamesh mentions Enkidu’s diet as consisting of, among other interesting things, worms, figs, cucumbers, honey and bread made of sesame flour, which was again made into a roundel or a laddoo so that he could have it with ease.

2. Laddu, Modaka, and Sanskrit

Here is an interesting tidbit from the book titled “Sweet Invention – A History of Dessert“. This goes beyond the history of laddu and instead dwells on mythology.

Lord Krishna’s mother had made an offering of modaka (steamed rice flour dumpling stuffed with jaggery/sugar and coconut shavings) for a Ganesha idol. Wary of her son’s thieving ways, she tied Krishna’s hands. Lord Ganesha did not like this at all! Apparently, the idol came to life and lifted the sweet with his trunk and fed baby Krishna!

History of Laddu

Now comes the confusion! According to another version of the story, Lord Ganesha actually fed laddus. In Sanskrit languages, modaka referred to what we know as laddu!

3. When did the Tirupati temple start selling laddus?

Any blog post on the history of laddu will be incomplete if it doesn’t include the famous Tirupati laddus! The Balaji Temple in Tirupati started offering Laddus as an offering to the God as early as August 2nd, 1715! That makes this famous offering over 300 years old!

Via Flickr
Via Flickr

Did you know, there are three types of laddus prepared by the temple?

Asthanam Laddu: This type of laddu is prepared for the high and the mighty (Aka politicians, and officials) Each laddu weighs 750 grammes and has liberal quantities of ghee (clarified butter), cashew, almonds, and saffron.

Kalyanotsavam Laddu: This laddu is distributed to those that take part in special religious ceremonies and cost Rs.100 per laddu.

Proktham Laddu: This is a small laddu that most pilgrims get and weighs about 175 grammes.

4. Tirupati laddus can be only made in Tirupati!

Who said God and commercial ventures aren’t compatible? Another landmark event in the history of laddu is the fact that the famous Tirupati laddu has acquired the Geographical Indication (GI) tag. The purpose of issuing the GI tag is to preserve collective community rights.

History of laddu

This was a controversial move as some people felt that the Tirupati laddu was a money spinner for the temple and was not made by the local community. However, the courts decided to grant the GI tag in early 2014 and the naysayers lost.

The argument that a GI tag on the Tirupati laddu is an example of commercialisation of divine affairs and would inspire other temples to follow the Tirupati example, and thus lead to “irrevocable damage to the values of society”, was rejected!

5. Ever heard of the pink laddu?

October 11, 2015, is not much of a history in term of time frame. However, it is a date from our recent past that brings to focus the role of laddus in gender equality.

The Pink Ladoo initiative was launched in the UK to coincide with the International day of the girl child. The initiative aims to bring in a sense of equality when a new baby is born. It is a South Asian custom to celebrate the birth of a baby boy by distributing laddus while there is no such practice to celebrate the birth of a baby girl.

The History of Laddu

So how does this initiative promote gender equality? They distribute pink laddus to celebrate the birth of a girl child.

PS: One of the reasons for the popularity of laddus is the versatility that its recipe offers. Motichoor laddu, besan laddu, rava laddu, sesame laddu, dry fruit laddu, bandar laddu are just some of the varieties!

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