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Showing posts with label Jaganaath Dham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jaganaath Dham. Show all posts

Monday, December 27, 2021

Mahaprasad: The Art and Science of Cooking

Much has been said about the Mahaprasad. The origin, the use of 'Óld World' ingredients, and age-old recipes, socio-cultural significance, and the spiritual journey. But hardly anyone talks about the 'cooking' itself. Ok, maybe an article or two mention something about the four kinds of ovens, the nine pots stacked one upon the other, or even the mystery of the ingredients in the topmost pot cooking faster than the ones below it. 

But cooking itself is a deeply spiritual activity. And the food is a metaphor for energy. We draw our life energy from food. Hence it becomes important that this energy, which gets stamped all over our food, is at its purest. A fact reiterated by the way food is cooked at the temple kitchen. And more so at Jagannath Puri, the 'Dham' or 'Divine dwelling' where Lord Vishnu is believed to take his meals which are cooked by his wife, Goddess Lakshmi. 

The rules are sacrosanct. The temple cooks or 'Suaras' have to take a bath and wear fresh clothes before venturing into the kitchen. In addition, they never enter the kitchen on an empty stomach. Quite a contrast when one superimposes this image with the that of sleepy folks stumbling into the kitchen in their nightclothes for cooking and packing a lunchbox. The difference in energies is striking. 

In addition to following the rules of hygiene, the 'Suaras', who are not permitted to grow beards or mustaches, have cast aside their egos and act as mere apprentices to Maa Lakshmi as it is believed that the food is actually cooked by her. Their 'Aham' is not allowed to seep into the food and pollute it. The spiritual aspect of the Mahaprasad is further highlighted by the frequent usage of the term 'Upachara' along with 'Bhoga'.  While the latter means enjoyment which food should ideally provide,  the former refers to treatment or nourishment. And that is probably why foreign ingredients were not allowed in the kitchen. Probably, they hadn't been around for long enough for the local medicine men to study the long-term effects on the body. 

The cooking of the Mahaprasad is structured to put one in a meditative state. The 'Suaras' are not permitted to indulge in banter when doing their job. Rather they are encouraged to chant the Lord's name. No ladles or spatulas are used, curbing unnecessary fiddling or poking into the contents of the pot.

While some would justify this practice as 'not meddling with Maa Lakshmi' as she carries out her job, most seasoned cooks would relate it to the heightened state of awareness experienced by them. The change in the sounds emanating from the pots and the smells easily betray the state of the contents. It is easier to experience when working in a quiet kitchen all by yourself, but to experience the same within the crowded confines of the 'Rosha-ghara' requires alertness and a certain sense of detachment from the surroundings. Isn't spiritualism all about getting in touch with that inner self! 

Taking a collective view of the rules and procedures that are followed in cooking the Mahaprasad, I often marvel at the delegation of duties and the very 'process driven' approach followed to get a 'controlled outcome'. No wonder the Mahaprasad almost always tastes the same. 

On a personal note,  I sometimes marvel how the Mahaprasad with 'sauribidhi' at it's core become ensconced within these layers and layers of spiritual leanings and so-called modern methodologies.

For any Odia soul, the Mahaprasad is a symbolic representation of Jagannath himself. Eating Mahaprasad is held equivalent to having a glimpse of the Lord himself. Hence the gesture of picking up a few grains and touching them to our forehead before consuming the Mahaprasad. A sign of reverence for those tiny morsels which have the power to create. And they do create those hundreds and thousands of cells that build, repair, and sustain all life. Their 'life force' is the energy that merely gets transformed as mortals traverse through the cycle of life and death.

'Anna' is synonymous with rice in the Jagannath lexicon. The bounty of rice dishes on the menu respects and reiterates the role of this grain in sustaining life. Especially in Odisha, which happens to be a land of rice cultivators, rice is revered and a majority of our festivals follow the agricultural cycle.

While the Mahaprasad itself consists of a vast array of dishes, it can still be broken down to the lowest common denominator. 'Anna-Dali'/'bhata-dali'/'dal-chawal' is the basic meal for most of us and not surprisingly it finds a place in the Mahaprasad menu. A few years back a writer had described the Mahaprasad as 'simple', not realizing the intricacies that go beyond the obvious. 

Our 'Jaga' is the people's God. He relishes 'Pakhala', falls sick, fights with his wife, and even renounces his body at regular intervals. 'Naba-Kalebara' is the ultimate reminder of the transient nature of things even as it hides a deeper layer of meaning which I have recently realized. Along with an understanding that 'Jagannath Mahima' will reveal itself only when one is spiritually prepared for it. 

For today, I am sharing a divine recipe that is cooked as part of the 'Mahaprasad'. 'Mahura', a preparation that uses assorted vegetables, derives its name from 'Panamahuri' or fennel which is the dominant spice used in this recipe. 

Mahura Recipe -

Ingredients -
  • 3 cups cubed vegetables (pumpkin/ pointed gourd/ spine gourd/ yam/ taro/ plantain/ radish)
  • 2/3 cup fresh coconut paste
  • 1/4 cup desi chana/ brown chickpeas (half cooked)
  • 3-4 tsp bata masala (fennel+cumin+blackpepper+coriander in ratio 3:1:1:1)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt (adjust a per taste)
  • 1/4 cup Nadi badi
  • 1 tbsp jaggery
  • 1/4 tsp asafoetida (dissolved in water)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp ghee
Preparation - Take an earthen pot. Add the vegetables, coconut paste, chickpeas, bata masala, turmeric, and salt to the pot. Mix everything by gently tossing them together. Sprinkle 1/4 cup water. Put the vessel on a low flame and cover it. 

Open the lid after 15 mins and check if the veggies are cooked. When the veggies are about 80 percent done, add the jaggery and asafoetida dissolved in a little water. 

Fry the Nadi badi in ghee and add to the pot. Add a little hot water if the contents are looking too dry.

Once the Mahura is ready and all the water is absorbed, sprinkle some cumin and mustard seeds on top. Pour the hot ghee over the contents, garnish with some freshly grated coconut and cover with a lid. 
Let it stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Manabasa Gurubar : Breaking caste barriers

The story behind Manabasa Gurubar. Taken from a 15th-century text, namely 'Laxmi Purana', that is read in almost every Odia home on Thursdays during the Hindu month of Margashira. 

A story that is helmed by the two protagonists, Maa Lakshmi and Sriya Chandaluni. One woman who supports another in the garb of a Goddess who blesses her disciplined and hardworking devotee irrespective of the latter's social standing. Cleanliness (or rather being industrious) is the key to appeasing the Goddess we are told.

Next is the character of Lord Balabhadra ( Jaganaath's elder brother). He epitomizes the high-handedness of a patriarchal society meting out unjust punishment to women for crossing their boundaries. In this case, by visiting the adobe of a 'Chandala' or social outcaste.

Lastly, the character of Lord Jagannath, Maa Lakshmi's husband who fails to stand up for her. He is torn between his elder brother and his wife. 

The transgression is followed by the banishment of the Goddess from her home. Then begins the 'Lakshmi-chawda' ( roughly translated into one abandoned by Lakshmi) phase of Princes who are turned into paupers. In a dramatic turn of events, the siblings are even denied food and water as the elements of nature conspire with the Goddess to bring the former to their senses. A beautifully narrated episode that establishes the Goddess's all-encompassing role as the center of the Universe.

The final redemption of the siblings is when they hungrily partake food at another 'Chandala' home (a test devised by Maa Lakshmi) thereby completing the cycle and vindicating the Goddess's stance. Food is positioned as the common denominator in this story. No one is above it. Hence to this date, people from all castes are allowed to partake in the 'Mahaprasad' from the same pot at the Jagannath Dham in Puri. The concept of 'Makara' or 'Sangata' seems to have evolved from the same philosophy. 

It's a story that seems to be quite ahead of its time. Sadly the Lakshmi Purana has been turned into just another 'holy book' that is read for the sake of it. While it does have its share of clichés and parts of it may not be relevant in today's date, it is a timeless tale. And the feminist and socialist tone is in sync with the period during which it was written. 

Jau / Jukha

'Jau' or rice from the season's harvest cooked with a trickle of milk, a dash of sugar and a single Annapurna(Pandan) leaf is one of the most important 'bhoga' or offerings made by my mother on Manabasa Gurubar. This is not 'kheer' or dessert but something which can be eaten as a main dish. 

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup new rice (aromatic is preferred)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2-3 tsp sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1-2 Pandan leaves
  • 5-6 cups water

Method - Bring the water to a boil in a thick-bottomed vessel. Wash the rice thoroughly and drain it. Add to the boiling water and stir it so that it doesn't catch at the bottom.

Add the salt. Lower the flame and let it cook till the rice is cooked. Add the Pandan leaves and cook for 15-20 mins longer so that the grains start to disintegrate. Top with more hot water if required.

Add 1/4 cup milk, 2-3 tsp sugar and a pinch of salt. Remove from flame and eat warm with a simple fry (or 'bhaja') or just by itself.

Various kinds of Pitha are also an important part of the Manabasa bhoga. Usually, a different kind is made every 'Manabasa pali' or Thursday. Kakara Pitha (image below) made with rice flour and stuffed with coconut jaggery is one of the mandatory pithas made in our home.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Memorable Puri Trip

I am back from a short trip to Puri. While it is difficult to skip a visit on every trip back home (Bhubaneshwar), this was the first time we stayed there overnight. And it turned out to be quite happening (though not in the sense that we normally use it). And as an added bonus it was not as crowded as usual . The Phailin scare seems to have driven/kepy away many of the tourists who throng Puri every year (mostly during December).

As the new developed stretch of road connecting Bhubaneshwar-Puri is almost complete, we travelled by this route which sadly bypassed the Pipili village. While this village is famous for its applique work and a treat for the eyes, we later discovered that the same stuff can be bought at cheaper rates on the Puri beach /beachfront stalls. It took us a little more than an hour to reach Puri with no stops in between. However foodies can make a pit stop at Chandanpur and refuel themselves on the local specialty, Chudaghasa- Dalma. For the religiously inclined, a stop at the Bata-Mangala temple is a must.

Once we reached there by noon, we directly headed for the holiday home where we were booked. After a quick round of refreshments and a hour long nap, we headed for the beach. Rows of shops selling Khaja/Pheni jostled for space with the ones selling Sambalpuri sarees/bedsheets/kurtas/kurtis. As we inched closer to the beach, these were replaced with shops selling all varieties of junk jewelry and show pieces made from conch/shells.

[The above picture was taken at Bada Danda. One can see rows of make-shift stalls selling Khaja, the primary prasad of the residing deity Lord Jaganaath.]

[ Shops like this selling a variety of chenna (cottage cheese) sweets are to be found all over Puri, especially near the Jaganaath temple. One can spot Rasagulla, Rabdi, Rasabaali, Chenna jhili , Chenna Poda and last but not least, the eminently unforgettable Khira. Tender cheese balls that have been soaking in Rabdi, these just taste out of this world. I know that I have been sprouting a lot about eating healthy stuff, but am making an exception on this vacation ;)]

On reaching the beachfront, one was greeted with the sight of tourists frolicking among the waves. The nice golden sands felt warm but just a little bit dirty. Hence we settled down on one of the many benches near to a tea stall ( One can also rent/lease a chair for rupees 10, but be sure to ask the price beforehand). Within a span of half an hour, we had been approached by vendors selling myriad stuff. From religious books, handbags, show pieces, pearls to edibles like Jhal Mudhi and Chana Jhal, everything could be bought for a small price. Last but not the least, the animal rides also deserve a mention. Nicely decorated camels and horses are a hit with most of the children ( OK OK...I make an exception for those adults who have kept alive the child in them ).

[ People lounging on the beach. The long shadows on the sand indicate a late afternoon, the time of the day when this snap was taken.]

After a good two hours on the beach, we headed back to our room for a change and some snacks. The latter accomplished (around eight in the evening ), we marched towards the Jaganaath Temple-Bada Danda. Now this is one stretch that witnesses a sea of humanity ( and our ubiquitous holy cows too!! ) at any time of the day (and till very late in the night too). This is the right place to buy brass stuff (decorative and functional both) and images of Balabhadra-Subhadra-Jaganaath. If you like to sample some fresh chenna, head to one of the many vendors squatting on the road and selling pots of still warm chenna.

Once we entered the temple premises, we duly made the rounds of all the deities. Apart from the siblings Jaganaath-Balabhadra-Subhadra, Bimala, Mahalaxmi, Sakhi gopala, Nilamadhaba and Kanchi Ganesh all have temples dedicated to them. After visting all these temples, we made our way to the Anda Bazaar, the market where all kinds of prasad is sold. This is where we discovered the 'Tanka Torani', a delicious mix of rice water, lemon juice, curry leaves, ginger, green chilli and salt.
( With no cameras being allowed inside the complex, I was unable to capture any of the above mentioned places )

This was the discovery of the day. Matar-Pani or a steaming hot hot hot yellow peas soup. A strictly no onion no garlic preparation, the watery gravy of the yellow peas is flavoured with lots of green chillis, tamarind, coriander leaves, mint leaves and the black salt. Check the photo below to see the loads of green chillis (near the vendor's left hand) that go into this.

Once we returned to our home stay, we were welcomed with hot 'Abhada'. This is the special prasadam that is offered to Lord Jaganaath. Check the Arwa anna, dali, besara and saaga tarkari in the earthen pots below. A special thanks to our caretaker for making the arrangements.

This kind of meal has that special element that is so typical of Oriya food. It is made to satiate both the body and the soul. Tired with all the travel and walking around, it had an immediate soporific effect on us. Hence we retired for the day to recharge ourselves for more exploration/shopping on the second day.

[ To be continued......]

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