The history of the famed Udupi Mattu Gulla brinjal can be traced back to the time of the great saint and philosopher, Sri Vadirajatirtharu of Sode Matha. It is said that in the early 1500s, Sri Vadirajatirtharu had the practice of making the daily offering of a sweet dish called hoorana or hoorana kadabu to Lord Hayagreeva. Such was his devotion to the Lord, that a horse would manifest from the idol and partake the prasada daily. Now, Swamiji used to do this behind closed doors and would return the empty vessel only after the Lord had eaten. The other disciples were first curious and then became either jealous or angry at this practice. One day, they mixed poison with the prasada and gave it to Swamiji to offer it to the Lord thinking that Swamiji was in fact eating the prasada behind closed doors. Much to their astonishment, the same routine followed with Swamiji returning the empty vessel to them.
When they entered the sanctum sanctorum, they found the idol of Lord Hayagreeva turning blue in colour. They immediately felt remorseful and ashamed of themselves and begged for forgiveness from the Lord and Swamiji. Swamiji using his spiritual powers had foreseen the events and gave some seeds of brinjal (some devotees say he gave a handful of sand) to the Brahmins of Mattu village to sow. The brinjal was thereafter offered to Lord Hayagreeva and Lord Krishna as naivedhya. The blue tinge in the idol slowly began to vanish.
As the seeds of this brinjal was given by a saintly person, people consider this crop to be sacred and dishes prepared from this brinjal variety like sambhar and others are served during Paryaya held at every alternate year in the famous Udupi Sri Krishna Temple. This practice of offering Mattu Gulla brinjal is followed even today.
Mattu Gulla brinjal is largely grown in Mattu village and surrounding villages of Kote, Innanje, Kaipunjal, Pangala and Uliargoli. Mattu Gulla also known as Vadiraja Gulla is an excellent case for conservation of genetic purity. This indigenous brinjal is cultivated in about 300 plus acres by about 100 families. It is estimated that the average annual yield is around 1000 to 1200 tonnes.
Mattu Gulla brinjal is large in size, ovoid or round in shape, green in colour with light green or white stripes, with a thorned juttu, thin skin, thick pulp and white seeds. This seasonal vegetable is grown as a single crop between September to October right after the harvesting of the paddy crop. As this village is quite close to the seashore, the well-drained, loam and clay soil of acidic nature is conducive for growing this type of brinjal.
A unique practice that the farmers adopt is the use of fish manure along with green leaves collected from the forest. Fish manure with a local fish variety called bhuthai is used for growing this crop. Earlier, people used to bury this local fish variety, bhuthai in the land where the plants would be grown for a month. The fish would degrade by the time of planting and become good manure. This practice has been used for more than 450 years while cultivating this crop. Fish manure acts as a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent and helps to fix the atmospheric nitrogen in the soil.
The skin of this variety is quite thin and gets dissolved on boiling. The pulp retains its firmness after cooking, is smooth without any fiber and lends a special taste to the local delicacies. This brinjal is rich in iron and has medicinal and curative properties.
Recently, Mattu Gulla Belegarara Sangha, NABARD and School of Management, Manipal University decided to put a sticker of Sri Vadirajatirtharu on this variety to help differentiate it from other varieties.
This native crop was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2011.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)