Can Maha Visuba Sankranti be complete without ‘Bela pana’ ?

Bhubaneswar: ‘Maha Vishuba Sankranti’, the new year day of Hindus in Odisha, is considered incomplete without the customary ‘Bela pana’ or drink made out of  wood apple offered to the deities and later consumed by all. The sweet pulpy drink has a concoction of various elements to make it taste good and palatable.

Though the city streets are flooded with cool drink vendors who sell traditional drinks like lassi, coolers, cold beverages and smoothies, the juice made from bel (wood apple) remains an all time favourite for its taste as much as medicinal properties, more so on a day like the sankranti. The wood apple, in fact, is only available during this period of the year in its actual flavour, taste and colour.

What excites most about the drink is the intoxicating aroma of the fruit. The  delicious shorbet generally has other ingredients like mashed ripe banana, pieces of grated coconut, sweet bundi, black pepper, mashed rasogolla, sugar, curd, black pepper powder, green cardamom powder and water mixed together. All these ingredients are mixed with the scooped out and filtered pulp of wood apple or ‘bela’. Some suggest the addition of coconut milk to give it a creamier texture. Finally the concoction gets stored in the refrigerator to be served cool.

The celebrations of sankranti remain incomplete without the drink being made and drunk in many households. However, there are certain areas of the capital city that are famous to serve the drink in many variations like in Old Town area of Lingaraj temple. Every corner has a stall dedicated to the sale of the drink throughout the day.

Doctors say, wood apples help to balance blood sugar and regulate insulin. The health benefits of bel fruit include relief from constipation, indigestion, peptic ulcer, piles, respiratory problems, diarrhoea, and dysentery. It also boosts the immune system, fights off bacterial and viral infections, reduces inflammation and various inflammatory conditions, prevent cancer, increases milk production for nursing mothers, cures diabetes, increases ocular health, and helps prevent various sexual dysfunctions.