Five Foods for Divine Consumption

Hinduism and related works are a veritable treasure trove of information on many aspects of our existence, including life, death, food, medicine, the physical, metaphysical and more.

The following pointers come from Anushasana Parva, which is book #13 of 18 that comprise the entire Mahabharatha. Known as the “Book of Instructions” or “Book of Precepts”, this book discusses the duties of a ruler among other related aspects. [2] The version I have with me is a translation by Pratap Chandra Roy (1842 – 1895) [3], and book XI of the series.

As per this sub-section of the undeniably epic Mahabharatha, the following five foods must never be cooked for oneself, but always offered to the deities. [1]

  1. Samyava
  2. Krisara
  3. Meat
  4. Sashkuli
  5. Payasa

Samyava is described as following by different sources as being

  1. Patties made of wheat flour, mixed with milk, and fried in ghee. [5]
  2. A thin cake of unleavened bread, fried with ghee, pounded and again made up into an oblong form with fresh bread, sugar and spices, and again fried with ghee [2]

Two, slightly more elaborate explanation, almost recipes, are as follows [4]:

Refined wheat flour, fried with ghee, then mixed with sugar and marica followed by infusion with the powders of ela, lavanga and karpura, stored in a crucible of kneaded, refined wheat flour and again fried in ghee. Finally this fried food should be soaked in sugar syrup, at which point it is called Samyava.

Refined wheat flour, kneaded with honey and milk, fried in ghee, soaked in sugar syrup, sprinkled over with powders of marica, ela, subhra and karpura. This is called Samyava, which is like ambrosia.

Krisara, described in the book as a “liquid food made of milk, sesame, rice, sugar and spices” [1], sounding quite like what we know as kheer, though in the context of Ayurveda, it’s also described as a “thick paste gruel” [6].

Meat, here I assume refers to any fish, meat or poultry dish.

Sashkuly, is described in the Srimad Bhagwatam as a large, ear-shaped cake made of rice flour, sugar and sesame, and fried in ghee [7] and as “a kind of pie” in the Mahabharatha [1].

Finally, Payasa, apparently the simplest of the lot, appears to be the closest to a simple kheer, being “rice boiled in sugar and milk.

My Interpretation

We live in an age of self-indulgence, plying ourselves with all manner of treats and indulgences, both culinary and otherwise sensory. My constant takeaway with all manner of ancient books is the depth to which the authors were acquainted with the human psyche, which doesn’t appear to have changed very much in the last few thousand years.

Given our propensity towards self destruction through self indulgence, and the authors’ certainty of that probability, I believe the purpose of these foods being accorded special status was to keep them away from regular use by regular people, thus keeping said people healthier through a religious system of regulated self-denial.

In the case of meat, especially with the same book saying that “One should never eat the flesh of animals not slain in sacrifices” [1], I believe the intent was to promote conservation in addition to moderation.

What do you think?

References:

  1. The Mahabharatha in 12 Volumes
  2. Anushasana Parva
  3. Kisari Mohan Ganguli and Pratap Chandra Roy
  4. Materia Medica of Ayurveda: Based on: Madanapala’s Nighantu By Vaidya Bhagwan Dash
  5. Student Britannica India
  6. Role of Pathya Aahara Kalpana (Diet) In Maintenance of Healthy Lifestyle
  7. ?B 11.27.34

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.