Finding faith in sacred meals: Shoba Narayan and Rakesh Raghunathan in conversation about her new book, Food and Faith

Shoba Narayan and Rakesh Raghunathan on the myriad methods in which 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 a lot for them to speak about. In a latest 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 had been interlinked in numerous components of India.

Narayan’s new e book, Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey By India (HarperCollins), is an try to grasp her faith by means of 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 youngsters, faith was a means of going again to my roots, discovering which means. The journey of penning this e book additionally turned a form of pilgrimage.” Regardless of the present socio-political state of affairs in the nation, she refrains from linking faith to politics, and discusses faith in broad strokes. In her introduction, she maintains that the e book is written by a “sceptical seeker” and is basically about Hinduism, though different religions make an look.

Shoba Narayan and Rakesh Raghunathan  

Raghunathan suggests that there’s a stark distinction between temples in the South and Central/North India. “Right here, we now have 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 comes in. “Food is a really earthly strategy to method this faith,” she says. Her analysis included visiting and chatting with the clergymen and elders, and turning to historical sacred texts, in addition to works by Diana Eck (Banaras: Metropolis of Mild, and many others).

Interlinked lives

Aside from being scrumptious treats one can look ahead to whereas visiting temples, prasadams may also inform us loads about the area and society that created it, says Narayan. A major 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 bunch of indigenous rice varieties that had 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. In line with the four-month quick referred to as Chaturmasya vrat, the place devotees surrender dairy, greens and different elements in flip, “round Navratri, they serve chitranna [lemon rice] for the devotees and additionally provide it to the gods”, she says, as that is the interval of the quick when lentils are prevented.

(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 in the Palani temples  

Modernisation has crept into the temple kitchen as nicely, we’re advised, 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 absolutely automated manufacturing. “Which is nice in a post-pandemic state of affairs, the place we will have it shipped to us,” laughs Narayan. However she wonders what we now have misplaced in the method, in phrases of 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 probably 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 e book, she explains that the competition is all about management, about being the pinnacle, and so the selection to serve these specific parts.) The spotlight from the Jewish meal for her was the halva, a candy dish with coconut milk added for richness.

“Nonetheless, there’s a lot I missed out on, together with the Thirupathi laddoo,” says Narayan (each in the e book and on video), because it felt overexposed. She had researched Jain and Zoroastrian shrines too, which didn’t make it into the e book on account of house constraints. All of the extra cause for a second version of Food and Faith, then?

Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey By India (HarperCollins) accessible in bookstores and on-line at ₹499

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