If we were to crown the king of Indian sweets… Laddu would win the title hands down. Across India, Laddus are associated with Lord Ganesha, celebrations and of course now with the kids’ favourite cartoon character—Chota Bheem. Marriage or birth, purchase of property or other assets, promotion or new job, nothing is complete without exchange of laddus! The name laddu, ushers in an array of images from nani ke haath ka besan ka laddu, moti choor ka laddu, coconut laddu, til ka laddu, tirupathi prasadam laddu , Shaadi ka laddu or the notorious Thaggu ke laddu (of Kanpur, U.P.). Let’s spare a thought today on how this famous Indian sweet came into being.
As long as we remember, they have adorned the sweet meat shops, glistening like mound of gold, decorated with a film of silver vark (foil). The origin of laddu is debatable and there are plenty a stories retold about the laddu’s history, without much authentication though. We too, arguably take a peek into the genesis of Laddu.
LADDU definitely dates from antiquity, it is often said that it was accidentally discovered by the erstwhile doctors aka the hakim/vaid. They used the laddu to guise in bitter jadi- booti concoction to be tendered to patients.
The legendary sage surgeon Susruta, proffered the antiseptic medication to his operated patients in form of roundels for easy consumption and apportioning the dosage. One can see the mention of small roundels coated with jaggery or honey /sesame, peanuts, ginger powder, carom seeds, fenugreek seeds, lotus seeds in the Ayurveda scriptures.
A fable from the East highlands claims the origin of Laddu, when an on-the-job trainee assistant to a vaid accidentally poured ghee more than required, created small round balls and gave those as a dose. This came into practice as it made life simpler for the patient and the vaids themselves.
The southerners claim their share of fame to the creation of laddu, the coconut laddu, called the Nariyal Nakru, finds its mention during the Chola reign, when coconut goaded nakru’s /laddus were packed for the travellers or soldiers heading for a journey or war for good luck.
The ingredients of laddu made in each region were predominantly made with local available resource or produce. The Persian invasions brought with them the Shahi Laddu, which profusely used figs, dates, seeds like magaz, and dried fruits like cashews and almonds.