Food in ancient India was considered akin to divinity. It was considered inseparable from Brahma-the supreme cosmic truth. Food, it was understood, was the basis of all life and deeply influenced all its aspects. Over millennia a unique culinary philosophy evolved on the subcontinent, one that continues to provide brilliant insights into the subject. What we eat not only provides sustenance for the body but also ensure that the mind and soul are adequately nourished. What Hindu Soul Recipes seeks to do is to reclaim and unveil this priceless legacy: the distilled essence of ancient dietary wisdom, spanning the entire range from therapeutics to aesthetics.
Opening one's mind to Hindu-to-Hindu Soul Recipes is to embark on an ecstatic odyssey. Preparing soul-stirring meals each good health and celebrate the miracle of life.
About the Author
Pushpesh Pant, born in Nainital in 1946 and educated in Nainital and Delhi, is Professor of Diplomacy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has studied ancient Indian history, international relations, law and ayurveda. A regular columnist for national newspapers and magazines he is also a frequent contributor to radio and television. He writes in both Hindi and English and produces documentaries for television.
He is a well-known authority on culinary matters and has published Buddhist Peace Recipes and Food Path: Cuisine along the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata, both published by Roli Books. He lives in Delhi with his son, daughter-in-law, granddaughters and a German shepherd, Khampa.
Recipes for Life
Hindu Sages Who Have Expounded their philosophy in the Upanishads make no distinction between the atman (the individual soul) and the Brahman (the supreme cosmic reality). It is clearly stated tat tvam asi (thou art that)! Interestingly an even more ancient Vedic mantra states that annam vai brahma, annam vai rasah (anna translated as cereals and food is brahma). It is anna that is the sap or essence of existence. In other words, Hindu soul recipes are recipes for life.
Divinity of food was well recognized in ancient India and the act of imbibing and digesting food was well recognized in ancient India and the act of imbibing and digesting food was treated akin to performing an agnihom ( a fire sacrifice). Indeed, imbibing food is like performing the daily agnihotra and we can understand why this fascinated our ancestors. Digestion converts matter into energy and this miraculous transformation dramatically unveils the essential unity of matter and energy. Food for the body is unveiled as nourishment for the soul. Confusing dualities can no longer impede us on our journey to liberation from worldly bondage.
Food, especially prepared and partaken, is an integral part of various rites of passage throughout an individual's life. A few months after the birth of a child the ceremony of annaprashan is performed when the infant is given the first taste of cooked food weaning him away from mother's milk. The food keeps company of the departed soul even after physical death. Another Upanishadic verse tells us evocatively: nacha vittein tarpaniyo manushyah (material riches cannot ensure the deliverance of the soul). It is only the pinda (a lump of food) that liberates the soul demolishing maya (the illusory web) woven by ignorance that separates the atma from the brahma.
In Maitri Upanishad there are some beautiful lines that illuminate the theme of food: food is verily the highest form of self, truly this life consists of food. If one does not eat his ebbs, he becomes a non seer, non speaker and finally, as the vital breath departs, non existent. Food truly
is the source of this world and the time of food is the time of the sun, the source of time. Let all men, therefore, revere food.
Traditional knowledge preserved in the texts of ayurveda has elaborated on this philosophic basis. Modern medicinal researches have validated many of ayurveda's claims. Many of the ingredients of Hindu soul recipes have proven to have therapeutic value. But, it needs to be reiterated that the beauty of ayurveda is to blend harmoniously the therapeutic with the aesthetic.
Foods, like men, are classified into three types- satvik, rajasik and tamasik translated as essential/subtle; resplendent/heroic, and gross/inert. Srimad Bhagvad Gita-more commonly known as the Gita-the 'Song Celestial' the encapsulates Sri Krishna's exhortations to the Pandava prince Arjuna, the hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata on the mythological battlefield of Kurukshetra, has an entire canto devoted to the ayurvedic dietary precepts and correlates these with corresponding personality types.
Swabhava-natural inclination, personal temperament and taste; and prakriti- the nature without time and place, the cycle of seasons-are the key concepts that relate food to specific body types and psychological temperament and also establish a correspondence between Man and Nature. Guna-inherent properties of ingredients of food- aggravate or sooth the basic humors in our boyd-kapha, pitta, and vata corresponding to phlegm, bile and wind. Six basic flavours-shadrasa or tastes have specific properties and influence the guna-dosha. These are madhur (sweet), amla (sour), katu (bitter), tikshna (pungent), kashaya (astringent) and lavana (salty). Each of these flavours is essential for good health and dining pleasure. The six basic flavours are often compared with the seven basic notes of music and seven hues in the spectrum of colours that may be combined in myriad imaginative ways to create a symphony for the senses.
The cycle of seasons has a remarkable impact on the kapha-pitta-vata balance. The classic Sanskrit poem by Kalidasa, the Ritusamhara evokes the appropriate mood for a particular season with references to ripening crops and to delicacies associated with specific barahmasa (months). The barahmasa series of songs mirrors this practice, as do the miniature paintings of the Rajput and Pahari kalam (school). Interestingly, these testify to the percolation of ayurvedic wisdom to the grassroots. In summer, light foods, coolants, and rehydrants are preferred and are on display; in winters, we encounter richer and tonic ingredients that soup up the metabolism.
The dietary wisdom of ayurveda manifests even greater refinement. Systematic observation over generations resulted in accumulation of valuable scientific knowledge. Vaidyas (the traditional physicians) learnt from experience that inherent properties of items of food changed with seasons and due to the treatment they received (cooking processes for instance or combining with complimentary or competing ingredients). Ayurvedic lore makes a clear distinction between the 'taste' that our palate discerns and the 'taste' that our body feels after food is digested. Guna, swada, vipaka, virya and prabhava are five categories through which the metabolic effect of what we eat is finally registered.
Therapeutic is just one dimension of ayurvedic cuisine. No less significant is the aesthetic aspect. Never does ayurveda leave sight of the overarching umbrella of rasa-essence of any substance-epitomizing the 'sap of life'. Rasa by extension is what is essential to any sensual delight- music and dance, paining and sculpture, and literature all derive their emotive charge from invoking a particular mindset- a mood engendered by permanent and transient emotions. This is the seminal contribution made by the ancient sage Bharat in his famous treatise Natyashatra. It is not difficult to appreciate how food is the ultimate mood manipulator. It may be bare nutrition, tonic or intoxicant even toxic at times. It can tranquilize or excite. Ignorance is certainly not bliss in this context.
Of course, ayurveda has many recipes for 'Food of Ecstacy' (aphrodisiacs, restoratives, tonices). The story of Chyavan rishi, who invented chyavanprash to enjoy conjugal bliss in ripe old age, is well-known. But, these are not all.
One of the most famous teachings of the Upanishads-compilations of sublime metaphysical speculation in ancient India- is atmanam viddhi (Know Thyself): one who intends to embark on the ayurvedic dietary course should follow this precept literally. One must look into the mirror with detachment and candour. Ask the question: Who am I? What is my swabhav and prakriti? Am I aware of the time and place that I live in? Am I suggestive to the balance or imbalance of kapha-pitta-vata in my body? Do I know how the food I imbibe is going to influence my body and mind? Only after these questions have been answered honestly can one begin. The idea is to invite the readers to compose a culinary symphony comprising different harmonious notes to enhance the sensual delight while dining.
Opening one's mind to Hindu soul recipes is to embark on an ecstatic odyssey. Preparing soul-stirring meal each day akin to a culinary symphony resonating harmonious notes ensures that you enjoy continuing good health and celebrate the miracle of life.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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