Shoba Narayan and Rakesh Raghunathan on the myriad methods wherein temple meals are interlinked with life

When two individuals who have made it their life’s mission to doc meals historical past and custom meet, there’s lots for them to speak about. In a current Zoom interplay for The Hindu Weekend, creator Shoba Narayan and chef and TV host Rakesh Raghunathan in contrast notes on how spiritual, agricultural and social practices have been interlinked in numerous elements of India.

Narayan’s new ebook, Meals and Religion: A Pilgrim’s Journey Via India (HarperCollins), is an try to grasp her religion via the lens of temple prasadams. Calling herself a lapsed Hindu, who was first an atheist in her teenagers, then agnostic in her 20s, she says, “After having two children, religion was a method of going again to my roots, discovering which means. The journey of scripting this ebook additionally turned a type of pilgrimage.” Regardless of the present socio-political state of affairs within the nation, she refrains from linking religion to politics, and discusses faith in broad strokes. In her introduction, she maintains that the ebook is written by a “sceptical seeker” and is essentially about Hinduism, regardless that different religions make an look.

Shoba Narayan and Rakesh Raghunathan

Shoba Narayan and Rakesh Raghunathan  

Raghunathan suggests that there’s a stark distinction between temples within the South and Central/North India. “Right here, we’ve got a mediator who does the rituals, whereas even in Kashi Vishwanath Temple, we’re allowed inside [the sanctum sanctorum] to do the abhishegam [anointing of the deity],” he explains. Narayan, who additionally wrote The Cows of Bangalore (2018), agrees that the expertise at Kashi was “fairly overwhelming” for her. That’s the place prasadam is available in. “Meals is a really earthly strategy to strategy this religion,” she says. Her analysis included visiting and chatting with the clergymen and elders, and turning to historic sacred texts, in addition to works by Diana Eck (Banaras: Metropolis of Mild, and so forth).

Interlinked lives

Aside from being scrumptious treats one can stay up for whereas visiting temples, prasadams may also inform us lots in regards to the area and society that created it, says Narayan. A primary instance of agriculture and the way it influences temple meals is the present Tamil month of Margazhi, the place Vaishnavite temples serve ven pongal. “Hearty with rice and dal, with complete pepper for our ‘winter’ months and beneficiant addition of ghee for heat,” says Raghunathan. Each he and Narayan bemoan the lack of a whole lot of indigenous rice varieties that have been integral to regional cuisines. “Now, we uniformly have sona masoori,” sighs Narayan. But the custom continues in locations like Udupi’s Sri Krishna Matha. Consistent with the four-month quick known as Chaturmasya vrat, the place devotees hand over dairy, greens and different substances in flip, “round Navratri, they serve chitranna [lemon rice] for the devotees and in addition provide it to the gods”, she says, as that is the interval of the quick when lentils are averted.

(Clockwise from right) Bhog at Jagannath Temple in Puri; devotees at the Amritsar dargah; cooking in progress at Azhagar Kovil, Madurai; and a stall in the Palani temples

(Clockwise from proper) Bhog at Jagannath Temple in Puri; devotees on the Amritsar dargah; cooking in progress at Azhagar Kovil, Madurai; and a stall within the Palani temples  

Modernisation has crept into the temple kitchen as nicely, we’re instructed, as is the case of the Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple in Palani. The famed panchamirtham (the primary prasadam in Tamil Nadu to get a GI tag) now has totally automated manufacturing. “Which is nice in a post-pandemic state of affairs, the place we are able to have it shipped to us,” laughs Narayan. However she wonders what we’ve got misplaced within the course of, when it comes to the “devotees who would come and make the providing by hand, and current it to Murugan”. Raghunathan agrees, saying, “Throughout my travels, what I’ve seen is that essentially the most scrumptious meals can come out of the smallest, hole-in-the-wall locations.”

Prasadam picks

  • Paal Payasam from Ambalapuzha temple
  • Dosai from Azhagar Kovil, Madurai
  • Vadai from Hanuman temples
  • Bhog from Jagannath Puri Temple

Aside from Hindu temples, Narayan additionally talks about experiencing “the layers of custom” in a Goan Christmas, a dargah in Ajmer, the place there was qawwali and kesaria bhat, and being a part of a Jewish Rosh Hashanah, or New Yr with the Bene Israelis in Mumbai. “Every dish had which means: a bowl of pomegranate signified bounty, there was head of fish and goat…,” she remembers. (Within the ebook, she explains that the pageant is all about management, about being the top, and so the selection to serve these explicit parts.) The spotlight from the Jewish meal for her was the halva, a candy dish with coconut milk added for richness.

“Nevertheless, there’s lots I missed out on, together with the Thirupathi laddoo,” says Narayan (each within the ebook and on video), because it felt overexposed. She had researched Jain and Zoroastrian shrines too, which didn’t make it into the ebook attributable to area constraints. All of the extra purpose for a second version of Meals and Religion, then?

Meals and Religion: A Pilgrim’s Journey Via India (HarperCollins) obtainable in bookstores and on-line at ₹499

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