As a culinary historian, a passionate cook and my never ending desire to document cuisine, it is my constant endeavor to discover the often forgotten recipes of our rich & varied heritage. During my quest to discover such cuisine and people who strive to keep these alive ended up in finding one culinary maestro hidden in Pondicherry in the form of Ramaa Shankar who is a chef, tarot card reader and healer.
During the course of my interaction with Ramaa, I realized that the wonderful temple cuisine of south India was probably not as celebrated as it should have been in mainstream India and globally, obviously due to lack of exposure of the simple, yet delicious and healthy fare. I am indeed delighted to have been able to persuade Ramaa to share her considerable wealth of such temple recipes with the world in the form of a book that will be accessible to the many lovers of gastronomy. Interestingly, the book starts with a description of the many temples of the south and goes on to explain and connect the dishes with the festivals and ceremonies marked at each of these temples.
We are what we eat. The food for the Gods, as it were, is a great illustration of the inherent beliefs & traditions of the people and their unshakeable faith, as expressed through food offerings. The dishes also reflect the firmly- followed practices of sharing the food, as “Prasad” – both a religious as well as a social gesture. More than anything, temple food stresses the underlying principle of pleasuring the palate, healing the body and satiating the soul. The saintliness of the act of cooking & eating simply cannot be denied. The act of distributing “Prasad” emphasizes the belief in ensuring good karma through feeding all, or at least all in the vicinity. There are rarities like the yam vegetable dish that we are introduced to, and many dishes are enhanced due to the style of cooking in earthen pots. Despite all the cognizable influences of the invading races, the unique flavors of the divine shine forth in these recipes.
I am confident that this book will be of great interest to its readers, & encourage the outreach of the delectable temple cuisine of the south. The recipes consisting of starters, main course and desert, are not just easy to follow, but also are made with easily available ingredients, thus lessening the gap between reading them and trying them out in your own kitchens.
It has given me immense happiness and bliss to put together the first cook book of food prepared as an offering to the Divine. This journey has taken me to various temples and lesser known spiritual spaces to investigate, researches and document. This book is dedicated to all of you.
The most interesting thing is that, unlike our belief, India has more non-vegetable than vegetarians, but when it comes to “Prasad” food, it is mostly vegetarian, except amongst the Christians and Muslims. The food of the Syrian Christians and the Konkan Christians have both been influenced by the invading Portuguese and Dutch, the Muslim invaders, as in the Malabar paranthaand biryani. Konkani Christians and Muslims are influenced by the Portuguese, and traditions of south Kanara and all the invaders.
I have taken the festival dishes and famous heritage dishes of these places to bring to you. According to the Vedas, the one who does annadanam to devotees attains heaven (Punya Loka) in this Universe (Brahmanda) itself. In this whole Universe, the creation and its progression depends on food. Hence, giving food to the devotees is more than attaining heaven. Most of the holy “Prasad” which I have researched on and used in my book are from Suyembu temples and holy places, meaning that here the original status was not man-made but believed to have materialized on its own. Udipi Krishna, Sri Balaji, Manavinayakular, Kamakshi amman, Moogambika devi, Palani Murugan are just a few that can be named… Later on, these status have been crafted again; the energy in these old heritage temples is considered very powerful and the “Prasad” eaten here is supposed to cure all ailments. Each “Prasad” has a special meaning and significance, which I will deal with in details in my second book. Similarly, the Santhome church, Naagur dargah, Velankanni church, Cochin synagogue or Bidar Nnak jira have very powerful historical, spiritual significance. Most of them have come up due to the spiritual presence of the Divine or divine being. One or two stories on how these temples came up are included to validate the significance of them.
We also trace the influence of food, by not only invading countries like the French on Pondicherry, the Portuguese on Goa and Chennai, the British on a major part of India, but also the Greeks, the Mughals, the Afghans, the Turks, and the Persians to name a few more. However, it was the ruling dynasties of India, like the Chola, Pandava, Mauryan, Gupta, Maratha, Mughal dynasties and the Delhi Sultanate, and various small kingdoms, which influenced food to a large extent, especially as offerings to the gods.
We start our journey in South India. The emphasis on the kind of food cooked here is as offerings for festivals. Celebrations and as “Prasad” All these places boast of spiritual recipes, thousands of years old, and the “Prasad” and food was influence by the rich heritage of kingdoms who ruled it, be it the Pandavas, Cholas, Muryas or Hoysalas. Most of these places of worship date back to the early 14th century when food started being influenced by the spice trade and other outside influences. Now you can cook the very dishes you’ve wanted to have more of by following the recipes collected meticulously by the Budhirajas. Namboodiris, Iyers and priest. One such is the Guruvayoor’s unforgettable Pal payasam-800 litters of milk that is cooked daily in a massive brass cauldron, over a raging coconut husk fire to make this smoky delicacy in the temple. And of course, there’s Kheer in leaf cups served as “Prasad” in major temple.
Bhog / Naivedyam introduce us to rarities such as the urundaikoambu/lentil ball kadi, served at the historic Vaitheeswaran temple in Tanjore. Harbi or yam- vegetable of the goddess-acquires a different dimension in taste, (maybe because of the earthen pots in which it is cooked) in Tamil Nadu.
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