History of Modhagam

Vinayaga Chakurthi and Modhagam are wonderful festival sweet combination. While many raise question if Vinayaga Chakurthi is Tamil festival, it is rest assured that at least Modhagam is truly Tamil Delicacy.  Here is history of Modhagam.

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Modhagam’s earliest available reference is in Madurai Kanchi.

நல் வரி இறாஅல் புரையும் மெல் அடை,

அயிர் உருப்பு உற்ற ஆடு அமை விசயம்       625

கவவொடு பிடித்த வகை அமை மோதகம்

தீம் சேற்றுக் கூவியர்

Adai with fine lines like honeycombs,

Modhagam which are shaped,inlayed and cooked

with abundant filling of

melted candied sugar (karkandu) together with jaggery,

sweet liquid (paagu) of the cooks/vendors


So where was this sold??

in Madurai and in

நொடை நவில் நெடுங்கடை

Big shops which announced loudly their price/sale.

So what were Modhakam filled with – nachinnarkiniyar (of around 14th century) says

பருப்பும் தேங்காயுமாகிய உள்ளீடு

Pulse and coconut infilling (mixed with jaggery and melterd kalkandu)

Maduraikkanci is poem by Mankuti Marutanar on Pandiyan King Neducheliyan’s Madurai. He describes life in the city through 24 hours. The above lines are used while describing the the second samam, the night where are sweet stalls are closed and cooks/vendors go to sleep. Maduraikkanci is the longest poem of Patthupaatu which belongs to Sangam era (300 BC to 300 AD).

The next reference of Madurai and Modhakam is available in Silapadikaram. Kovalan is about to enter Madurai and bards describe them about Madurai (full post here

அகல் அங்காடி
முட்டாக் கூவியர் மோதகப் புகையும்,

Smoke from the wide market full of vendors (cooking/steaming) modhakam

Above lines are the say aroma of Madurai has mix of the delicious modhakam.

Also we have reference in Puhar kandam (Kaveripattanam) where in sea port vendors sell Modhakam

காழியர் மோதகத்து ஊழ் உறு விளக்கமும்

Abundant lights of Vendors (who deal with pittu) selling Modhakam

Then in 10th century we have reference of Modhakam in fantasy Jaina short epic Soolamani

என்று தின்றனைபன் மோதக மென்ன
என்று தின்றனவு மல்ல வினிப்போய்ச்
சென்று தேவிகடி காவின் விழாவில்
நின்று தின்னலுறு கின்றன வென்றான்

Which roughly translates to

‘When did you eat the Modhakam oh king’ asked Tivittan, ‘not any time earlier- but in the (marriage) festival of Devi, I am going to consume it’

We come to know Modhakam was specialty in festivals.


So when was Modhakam associated with Pillayar??

In kandhapuranam by Kasiappa Civachariyar around 15th century he desrcibes the below myth of Ganesha and Kaviri:  Agastya has arrested Ponni river in his Kamendala. Narada meets Indra. Indra complains of his garden getting rotten due to lack of Ponni. Narada advises Indra to worship Ganesha. Indra offers neiveithiya and offers his prayers. Ganesha appears and promises to free Ponni. He turns into a crow and and overturns the kamandala of Agastaya free Ponni henceforth known as Ka viri (freed by the crow).

So what are the neiveithya given by Indra to Ganesha??

இக்கொடு தென்னங் காயும் ஏனலின் இடியும் தேனும்
முக்கனி பலவும் பாகும் மோதக முதல முற்றும்
தொக்குறு மதுர மூலத் தொடக்கமும் சுவைத் தீம்பாலும்
மிக்க பண்ணியமும் ஆக விருப்பு உற நிவேதித்தான் ஆல்

Roughly translated as below:

Sugar cane, coconut, millet flour, honey, abundant fruits (jack,banana,mango), sugar syrup, Modhakam all these assembled with tied tubers, sweet milk, abundant Panniyaram – all he likes given as Niveithiem (offerings)

So this is the first reference of Ganesha and Mothakam in Tamil literature.

So if we ever have a question of egg or chicken for Pillayar and Mothakam we can be rest assured that we have references of Mothakam much earlier than reference of Pillayar in Tamil literature. So even if Kalaingar TV doesn’t want to refer Vinayagar Chakurthi , they should at least term it as Modhaka thinam instead of vidumurai thinam!


Silapathikaram translation by  Alian Danielou

Silapathikaram translation by  Ramachandra Deekshithar

Lexicon of Tamil Litertaure by Kamil Zvelebil

Kandhapuranam (companion book) by Kamil Zvelebil

Soolamani urai by Po Ve Somasundaranar

Maduraikkanci urai by Nacchinarkku iniyar

Ten Tamil Idylls – IITS edition




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