Few days back I had written a poem on the Theme of 'Murukkan'(Betal Chewing). Many could identify the theme with their Grandfathers and grandmothers. Because it is part of our tradition, Our Paithrukam, to have Murukkan. This infact is one of the finest arts, you agree to it or not. In murukkal, we hold a thousand emotions, of fuedal land lords, of farming cherumies.... a thousand songs, of cherusseri or poonthanam, of ezhuthachan or kadammanitta....... and ofcourse few distict colours which unite to give a single uniform Red colour....
Murukkal is done as a custom in India from long back. I think it would obviously be extending to pre-vedic times in India. In the vedic and puranic scriptures, there are innumerable instances of betal chewing. In the Worships, Tamboolam is offered to please the diety. Similarly, Dakshina is always done with betal and arecanut along with Money. In Lalitha sahasranamam, Devi is described as "Thamboola Pooritha mukhee" - One who has mouthful of Thamboola(Murukkan)..:). Chewing 108 betals is a ritual during "Thiruvathira" festival in Kerala. Thamboolam is one of the prescribed routine to be followed in major ayurvedic texts. It prescribes chewing the betal after food for dental care and to avoid bad smell. It allows to use, locally available materials along with betal and arecanut like cardamom, pepper, etc. Once asked, one ayurvedic doctor said that Todacco also is explicitely mentioned amongst these. Tobacco is allowed as it avoids sleep and increases blood circulation and provides freshness to the user.
Murukkan is generally done using Betal leaf, arecanut and Lime. Betal leaf is now avaialable with many varieties. Kolkata, Benaras are the two varieties used to make beeda in the beeda shops. For Naadan murukkan(Done usually at houses), we take betal from the garden. Young leaves are usually taken. In kerala, the famous betal leaf is Karimpuzha vettila, which is a product from Palakkad. Also Salem betal leaf also is famous for its size. But normal karpoora vettila is the best for mouth freshening. The top of the leaf, is generally cut and thrown away, as it represents "Chetta Bhagavathy"(Or Jyeshta Bhagavathy - who represents ill-luck). The tail portion is cut and placed on the side of face, near to ear, as it represents the "Sree Bhagavathy" - The diety of luck and prosperity. Now you need to carefully remove the veins of the leaf with nail. It has to be made sure that the leaf doesn't tear out in this process. In my childhood, i was told by one of my naughty cousin that there is a deadly worm in those veins and that is why they are being removed. :)
After these preparations, you can paste lime paste(Chunnambu) on the leaf. The spread should be even and according to the requirement. Lower amounts will impact the effect of murukkan and higher levels obviously means you would burn your mouth. Chunnambu should again be wet and adequate water should be added in intervals to keep it wet. Usually, married and un-widowed ladies should not add water to lime.
Now the preparation of arecanut should be done. Infact it is better to prepare arecanut first and then once it is ready paste the lime. Arecanut is again of different types. Pazhukkadakka" - Ripe arecanut, with golden colour, is the best. People use "Neettadakka"(Alias "Naattadakka" -due to its weird smell) - the arecanuts which are kept in water for long so that they do not dry up and can be used for later purposes. "Kottadakka" - Dry arecanut is another version. But make sure to use "Vicco Vajradanthi" powder before you attempt to use it. Arecanut, again can be cut in many ways. You can either cut it directly into four pieces and takeout the useful nut from the outer covering, or you can remove the external parts adn get the round arecanut (and this is the standard method). In either cases you have to remove the outer skin on the nut, called as "Adakka Mori". It reduces the pleasure of murukkan. Mori should be carefully collected and dumped somewhere nobody touches, as it is considered unholy. Once mori also is removed and the nut is cut into small pieces, you can use it for murukkan.
Ladies use "Kaliyadakka" in olden times for murukkal. Kaliyadakka is prepared by cutting arecanut into small circular pieces and coating it with a specially prepared "kali" - A black mixture which has slight sweetness and many other ingrediants. Along with these you can add other items such as cardamom, cloves, pepper etc. "Iratti madhuram" is one of the best items I have tasted along with.
Murukkan explaine dtill now is actually not murukkan. It is called "Moonnum Koottal"(Referring to 3 ingredients) or Soundarya Murukk. One which is mainly done by ladies to make their lips red, or to have some energy after the heavy meals. "Murukkan" becomes "Murukkanby the adiition of one final ingredient, which makes "moonnum koottal" into "naalum koottal". It is the Tobacco.
Tobacco is carcenogenous, but boosts energy to a good extent by the effect of nicotin. And since it directly is in contact with the mouthskin, it is more dangerous. But none of these reduce the impact of murukkal. In the opinion of real "Murukkal Experts", chewing just the betal and others without tobacco is like the cow chewing the grass :). TObacco is the only ingredient which makes Murukkan from feminine to musculin gender. It symbolises the superiority, the majesty and the will of person using it. It if used in moderate ways will increase the efficiency of people and would check many dental problems. Tobacco is of innumerous types and qualities.
The best tobacco is said to be "Chappanam Pukayila" - the tobacco from Jafna(Sree Lanka). I have only heard about this but is said to be of highest purity. The traits by which the quality of tobacco is counted is the "kick" that it gives and the taste. Some tobaccos have bitter taste, which impact the fluency of murukkal. The tobacco in kerala is divided into "Vadakkan"(Nothern) and "Kaali". Kaali tobacco is the lowest quality, with very little traits expected from tobacco. It qould be light brownish in colour with dust over it. Vadakkan again is divided into various grades based on the quality. he top class amongst them is 'CheruKanni pukayila". It is the best to have taste and effect.
You first have to put in the initial 3 ingredients, chew for some time, spit the saliva and then put in the tobacco. The amount of tobacco is to be decide based on self capacity. NEVER should you swallow it. All of it has to spit away. If by any chance, you feel drowsy, spit everything and wash your face and drink lots of water. People may vomit a bit if the saliva enters throat after a heavy meal. But all those never lets the real fans of murukkan from going back.
It indeed is an art in itself. I know people who could sweep away murukkan to one side of mouth and drink tea or coffee :). It has a lot of colours and lot of memories associated with all of us. To revive this habit would be to revive all those good-old-times.