Madhupayasa is a sweetened, creamy rice pudding with a place in ancient history as the offering made by a girl named Sujata to Prince Siddhartha before he attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya (present day Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar). “Madhu” means “honey” and “payasa” means “milk” in Pali, an ancient language spoken over 2500 years ago in the Indian subcontinent. Pali is no longer spoken but it remains as the main liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism.
Nowadays, myriad variations of sweetened, milky puddings are widely consumed and are generally known throughout India as “kheer” खीर which means “rice pudding” in Hindi.
While recorded recipes of the original madhupayasa are difficult to encounter, it is general knowledge that the dish contained rice boiled in rich, thickened milk (most likely cow’s milk) and sweetened with honey. It is not clear whether spices such as cardamoms, dried fruit such as currants and nuts such as pistachios were added to madhupayasa in the early days as is common practice today when making kheer. The 2000-year-old bhath payasa recipe used by the kitchen at the Jagannatha Temple in Puri, India does feature these flavor enhancers suggesting it may have been used in early madhupayasa dishes as well. Traditionally Indians cooked their meals with earthen pots over charcoal fires, the combination of which added a subtle aroma and flavor to dishes such as madhupayasa. This recipe aims to offer a glimpse into the ancient madhupayasa that was consumed over 2000 years ago such as the one offered to Prince Siddhartha by Sujata.
- ½ cup Basmati rice
- 4 cups fresh cow’s milk (full fat)
- Honey as desired
- Currants as desired (optional)
- 2-3 green cardamom pods (optional) – pound in a pestle and mortar, discard husk retain crushed seeds.
- Toasted nuts as desired (optional)
Wash and soak the rice for about 15-20 minutes.
Drain and set aside.
Pour the milk into an earthen pot.
Bring the milk to a boil over low flame on hot charcoals (or ordinary stove if charcoals are unavailable).
Continue boiling the milk until the quantity reduces by half.
Add rice and stir well.
Reduce the flame and let the mixture simmer.
Continue simmering until rice is cooked then add honey and crushed cardamom seeds.
Cook till rice is very soft and the dish takes on a thick consistency. Use the spoon to mash the rice.
Stop flame and allow the madhupayasa to cool.
Once cooled give the madhupayasa a stir, transfer to serving bowls.
Garnish with currants and toasted nuts (if using).
Serve at room temperature or even warm (during cold, wintery days), or chilled (during hot, summer days).