The painter Raja Ravi Varma would know more about ‘Princesses’.


Back when there was Royalty, he was born ‘Koil Thampuran’ of Kilimanoor at the Kilimanoor palace in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore into an aristocratic family that for over 200 years produced consorts for the princesses of the matrilineal Travancore royal family.

And back in 2005 I was enamoured with Ayurveda, Ravi Varma and his art. More importantly his depiction of women in his paintings.

It sounded strange that Ayurveda claimed a 5000 year old heritage and Raja Ravi Varma just over a 100 years.

So started my story that eventually ended in the launch of a whole package on Ayurveda beauty treatments at a renowned 5 Star property in South Goa where we were contracted to operate the ‘Ayurveda Spa’ as well as its Beauty Salon.

I happened to be heading what looked to be an almost impossible project.

Ayurvedic practitioners from Kerala then would scoff at the idea of taking its skills, people, strange oils, stranger herbs, salts and therapy equipment out of Kerala state and operate within the ‘many tangled maze of a 5 Star property’ bang on the fringes of a never ending, South Goa Beach front with pristine white sand.
But we somehow pulled it off.

Must be our prayers to the natural elements air, sunshine, water and ether.
Somebody listened.

You must be wondering what has Ravi Varma and Ayurvedic beauty practices got to do with Kichdi and Kozhi curry. Every dish has a story, I guess.

Anyways, I had one.

Back at the beach resort we took on the High Season that year head on.

All the Ayurvedic treatments went like clockwork from 7.00 in the morning to 11.00 p.m at night in 8 therapy rooms in the Spa block, curtain shaded bamboo cottages scattered around the property and head and foot treatments by the infinity pool complete with an artificial waterfall keeping the air wet and moist around the pool side. The 25 odd staff and Ayurveda doctors worked in 2 shifts like silent, well-oiled machines and slowly got in complete sync with the hotel operations and employees. To our happy surprise we ended up being the highest revenue earning unit in the property at the end of the season.

Blame it on the Russians who partied in Goa’s discos late into the morning and spend the rest of the day at the Ayurveda Spa. The guys hit the gym while the women glided into the spa.

The Russian women contributed to the bulk of our billing though there were other tourists too, including Indians.

They said they’ll be back for sure the following year as they posed for pictures with the therapists and doctors smiling with ‘that natural glow’ they seemed to exude.

We wondered how to give these Russian women ‘that something special’ in the coming season.

And finally it was Raja Ravi Varma’s women in various stages of making themselves up in front of mirrors who got us working on the idea.

The Vaidyans from the family in Kerala, the Ayurveda docs who studied in universities rather than Gurukuls and the seasoned therapists trained by the family got together.

We needed to create a complete beauty package fit for a princess.
We became a team on a mission.

All Ayurvedic and natural.

And like a Ravi Varma painting taking shape, we started with the hair, face, body, skin, back, spine, knees, ankles, palms and soles right down to the fingernails. After a month of practice on women therapists and doctors alike, we had cracked the beauty package.

‘The Royal Princess Makeover’ it was called. Inspired by Raja Ravi Varma.
5 hours of continuous therapies.
It was created keeping a Princess in mind.
A Ravi Varma Princess.
The first of the therapies started in the Beauty salon. Two women therapists would work on her hair, face and hands while two others simultaneously worked on her feet.
Manicure and Pedicure.
But what they did to her face was what mattered.

Small bundles of herbs (we used to call it miniature kizhis), wrapped in cotton cloth, dipped in opened tender coconut halves filled with fresh coconut oil. We had to cart the coconut oil from Kerala by train. Two therapists swirling the kizhis around the face in slow motion.

Dip, swirl, repeat till all the coconut oil was absorbed into her facial skin. Meanwhile the nails on her fingers and feet were manicured and pedicured, nails dipped in Himalayan rock salt mixed in fresh Goa water.

The scalp was massaged with coconut oil treated with flowers, and the head wrapped up in cotton cloth.

The woman was then led into one of the therapy rooms and massaged, scrubbed and then ‘masked’ with fresh banana leaves (whole banana leaves). For all of 3 hours.
The last hour was what killed it.

The woman was led by the lady therapists into a private jacucci fiilled with a mix of fresh milk, butter milk and rose petals. The lighted diyas just added to the magic. The therapists then move away after gently removing her wraps leaving the woman in a tub with just her skin meeting the milk mix. And the fixed aroma candles adding to the aromas just as the floating candles bob up and down.

After an hour or earlier, the woman signals the therapists who seem to appear from the shadows. They wrap her up like a Princess in a bath robe and escort her to the reception of the spa.

Believe it or not, every woman who took the ‘The Royal Princess Makeover’ package was glowing all over at the end of it all. That year we ended up bagging the award for ‘The best beauty treatment in an Indian Spa’.

The Royal Princess Makeover became a brand in Ayurvedic Beauty treatments.
But it was a Malyalee woman who made the Ravi Varma connection. After her makeover she casually remarked ‘ I feel like a Princess in a Ravi Varma painting’ thanking the therapists. It was during a brief chat with her that I enquired what she was having for lunch as she was simultaneously on our ‘Ayurvedic Weight Loss’ plan too. And then she said ‘Kichdi. The chef insisted.’

And then as an afterthought she joked ‘Back home in Kerala, I would definitely have it with a Kozhi Curry!’

Kichdi – a combination of rice and dal with little veggies was the comfort food of India. In the South we call it Pongal or Bise Bele Baat but in the North, West and East everyone loves their Kichdi. In Bihar, they serve it to children who had upset stomachs. Kichdi was even the first ever solid food that babies were given. If ever India needs a national vegetarian dish, the humble Kichdi will stake its claim.

So, I washed and drained 1 and a half cup of rice and three fourth cup of moong dal and cooked it in a pressure cooker (4 whistles) adding 3 cups of water and salt to taste.

In the meantime, sauté a spoonful of mustard seeds, jeera seeds and 2 pinches of asafetida/Hing in oil.

When done add sliced onions, carrots, beans and chillies. Add in a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a pinch of garam masala and stir well with half a cup of water till the veggies are cooked.

Now mix in the cooked rice and dal combo into these cooked veggies and mix well till thoroughly blended.

Serve with onion and tomato raitha.

Me being a ‘Pure Non-Vegetarian’ thought of cooking up a Kerala Kozhi curry to go with the Kichdi like the plucky Mallu woman reminisced after her ‘ Royal Princess Makeover’ beauty package.

Remember to use Curry cut chicken with skin for this curry. Marinate the cut chicken with a teaspoon of turmeric powder and salt for about 30 minutes.

In a vessel sauté a spoon of mustard seeds and jeera seeds with coconut oil. Add 5-6 cloves and 2 inches of cinnamon well crushed along with 2 large bay leaves. Toss in the crushed garlic and ginger hand pounded in a mortar. About 2 tablespoons. Saute well.

Then add sliced onions (4 nos) and sauté till browned.

Here is the most important step.

In a pan heat about 4 tablespoons of coconut oil on low flame. Add in 1 table spoon of Kashmiri chilli powder, 2 tablespoons of Coriander powder and 1 tablespoon of crushed pepper powder. Stir gently without burning till the masala turns a deep brown. Add this to the browned onions and stir well for about 2 minutes. Now add in the marinated chicken pieces, mix well. Initially cook on high flame stirring continuously for 3-4 minutes. Then reduce flame to lowest and cook for about 40 minutes or till done. Add water according to your requirement.

Serve the Kichdi topped with ghee, roasted Kozhi curry and a raitha.

This meal is guaranteed to make you feel like royalty.

Blame it on the princely painter Raja Ravi Varma and to all the women in his paintings who got ‘The Royal Princess Makeover’.

About the Author

Monu Danesh Surendran
Monu Danesh Surendran works for a retail organization in Bangalore and heads it online and branding division. He is a foodie by passion and therefore tries his hand at stuff in his home kitchen. While not dabbling in cooking during his days off he likes his music and of course trying out food. He prefers home cooked cuisine though restaurant fare guarantees a good outing with friends.


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