As I hurry home battling the rush hour traffic in the evening, I see a queue in front of the gates of the local mosque. Men in white skull caps, women clad in saris and burkas, young children with school bags on their backs — all are waiting with containers in their hands for a share of the nombu kanji. Mosques in the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala distribute the kanji, a lightly spiced rice and lentil porridge, before the sunset prayers during the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts Friday evening.
During her pre-Ramadan shopping, Shahida Khalique from Tiruppur, a town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, buys extra rice, lentils, spices and other items for making nombu kanji. She distributes the additional provisions among four women who work for her.
“I give them enough ingredients to make the nombu kanji for 15 days,” she says. “On the days I add meat to my kanji, I give them a portion so that they, too, can cook their kanji with meat that day.” Her sister-in-law, who employs the same set of women, provides the supplies for the next 15 days.
Photo: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images Caption: Young Indian children sit with bowls of porridge (nombu kanji) as they prepare to break the fast with the Iftar meal during the Islamic month of Ramadan at The Wallajah Big Mosque in Chennai last July.
The Ramnamis are a small hindu sect from central India. As leather-workers they are on the lowest rung of the caste-system, because they process the skins of dead cows and are considered ‘untouchable’. Traditionally this status meant that they were prevented from entering Hindu temples along with the other castes. So, in an expression of their own proud religious convictions, the Ramnamis began the practice of tattooing the name of the god, (Ram) all over their faces and bodies. In this way they wished to show that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and that they have no need of temples to confess their faith. Today the Ramnami tradition continues with its own strand of Hindu belief and outdoor prayer areas, and its members hold their heads high in the knowledge of their devotion to their faith.