Atreyapuram village, a part of the Atreyapuram Mandal, is located in the East Godavari district of the state of Andhra Pradesh. The one thing that has made Atreyapuram famous in India and worldwide is a South Indian dessert known as Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets). Though India offers a wide variety of sweet treats, people with a sweet tooth should not miss tasting this delicacy made with a lot of love and skill by the people of the village. Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets), also spelt as Putharekulu, is one of the Indian sweets which was originated a few centuries ago. People across India and around the world also refer it to as "Paper sweets".
What Exactly is Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets), and How is it Made?
By now, you must have understood that Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) is an Andhra special sweet dish. It is a light dessert packed with delightful flavours to entice your palate. It is a traditional sweet which is now a classic of Atreyapuram, and there is a rich history behind it. In olden times, Pootharekulu was one of the desserts prepared for royal families on special occasions. It was considered a specialty, and even today, no special event like religious festivals, important occasions, or weddings of the Telugu-speaking community in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is complete without serving these delicious sweets to the guests.
Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) sweet has its name derived from two words – Pootha and Rekulu. Pootha means coating, and Rekulu means sheet. The sweet is made with rice flour or gram flour. A special variety of rice is used for making this sweet. First, the rice is soaked in water for a few hours and then ground for some time. The rice batter is then brought to a consistency enough to form a thin film on an inverted mud pot. Next, a mud pot is fired at the bottom by placing wood logs, which imparts a characteristic taste and smokiness to the rice sheets. A cloth is immersed in the batter, and with a quick swipe, a thin layer is formed on the pot. It is then left undisturbed to cook till it becomes nice and crisp. The crispy rice sheet is then carefully removed from the pot and stored securely.
The next step of assembling Andhra paper sweet is an art in itself. First, the rice sheets are laid down and drizzled with a sufficient amount of clarified butter/ buffalo ghee to add the flavour and soften the sheets a little bit. Then comes the addition of other flavourful items like jaggery or sugar to add in the sweetness. Followed by a generous sprinkle of dry fruits like almonds, cashews, dates, etc. Once the fillings are in place, the rice paper sheets are gently folded into rectangles without breaking them to get a delightfully tasty piece of Andhra's famous sweet, Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets).
Varieties of Atreyapuram Pootharekulu(Paper Sweet)
Traditionally, Atreyapuram sweet Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) is stuffed with either sugar or jaggery. There are plain Pootharekulu available for a melt-in-the-mouth experience. Those who like to enjoy nutty and crunchy sweets can dive into Pootharekulu filled with an assortment of crushed dried fruits. The four classic varieties of Atreyapuram Pootharekulu are -
• Plain Sugar Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets)
• Sugar Dry Fruit Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets)
• Plain Jaggery Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets)
• Jaggery or Bellam Dry Fruit Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets)
For catering to people who love to relish unconventional tastes, this Atreyapuram sweet is also made with some variations. Samosa Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) is one such variation in which the classic rectangles shape of the sweet is altered into the shape of a samosa. Then there is Chocolate Pootharekulu for chocolate lovers. To cater to the taste buds of diabetics and people who are not much into sweets, Karam Pootharekulu or Spicy Putharekulu is also available so that no one is left from tasting this paper-thin goodness.
How Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) is Promoting Women's Empowerment in Atreyapuram
Women empowerment is very important, especially for the development of rural India. By having opportunities to do business by manufacturing products and selling them to generate income, women also contribute to boosting the country's economy. A classic example of women's empowerment in rural India is Atreyapurum.
Women of Atreyapuram are the prime makers of Pootharekulu (Paper Sweets). They are the ones who have learned the art from their ancestors and are using their skills to earn a livelihood. Making the sweet has therefore become one of the largest cottage industries in the state of Andhra Pradesh. To prepare this delicacy, women make the sweets in their free time or take time out every day out of their daily schedules. Over 400 families residing in Atreyapuram are dependent on Pootharekulu as their source of income.
Women in the village typically make around 400 - 600 Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) every day. Men can make more, but they are mostly involved in marketing and selling the sweets to buyers. Women also prepare and sell rice sheets to sweet shop owners in different parts of the state. Typically, women sell these sweets at ₹20 for 100 pieces. Over 150 women's self-help groups support women in selling their products and work for the upliftment and empowerment of women in Atreyapuram.
Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) is not only famous in the southern states of India, but its demand internationally is also growing day by day. With more Indian people choosing to live in other countries, the demand for Indian supplies has also grown. Women in Atreyapuram are also getting this advantage as Pootharekulu is now being exported to various parts of the world, thereby giving them a chance to earn more profits through their home-based business.
The turnover of this cottage industry is expected to be around 3 crores every year. However, experts believe that the business's full potential is yet to be tapped, and many improvements are necessary so that women in Atreyapuram can get what they truly deserve. For example, a little help from the government, like subsidised sugar and other materials required to make Pootharekulu(Paper Sweets) will help women in the village become independent. It will empower them to reach their full potential and enhance their self-worth to bring about a positive change for themselves and their families.