”Divine” Dishes

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Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Every one of us is extremely partial to some item of food or the other. For some of us, it is mostly generic, with a liking, say, for sweets in any shape or form. Some with an extremely sweet tooth, for instance, would consume even raw sugar. Some others’ fascination is confined to a specific sweet, say, for instance, the MysorepAk. Their infatuation doesn’t extend to other preparations. Yet others can’t stand sweets in any form and prefer savoury preparations instead. These likes and dislikes extend to specific items of food too, with some hanging their tongues out in anticipation of the veN Pongal that is served as prasAdam during Margazhi, while some can’t stand the sight of the Brinjal (egg plant). These attractions and aversions are formed during childhood itself, with our developing taste and distaste for specific items of food or “BhakshaNam”. I remember a person who used to travel miles to have a taste of my mother’s “Paruppu usili”—such is the extent to which we let our palates rule us.

At times I wonder whether we are a race who delight in consuming sweets and savouries by the tonne, on the pretext of celebrating various festivals. If only we turn our thoughts to it, we would find that all our festivities invariably end in a sumptuous treat to the stomach. Be it secular festivals or those based on a specific divine event like the birthday of the Lord in His various forms, they are invariably accompanied by tasty preparations. The best of the lot, of course, is Sri Jayanti, for which 18 different types of BhakshaNam are prepared. As children, we used to look forward to Sri Jayanti so much, for the opportunity it afforded for us to gorge ourselves with our favourite dishes. This was next in popularity only to Deepavali, which had the added attraction of crackers new clothes.

Are we such gluttons to feast ourselves on various delicacies at the slightest excuse, or does the practice stem from other reasons than our own partiality for food in any and every form?

As in other matters, here too the Scripture comes to our rescue with a ready answer.

It is because the Lord likes these gourmet items that we prepare them and, after offering the same to Him, consume them as His prasAdam. This is not a specious excuse to indulge our fancy for food, but the gospel truth as enunciated by Azhwars. We find that the Lord does have favourite items of food and snacks, which His mothers, devotees and acolytes have offered Him traditionally. In many of His avataras, the Lord has displayed partiality to certain items of food and drink, which has been faithfully chronicled by the Scripture.

Let us take Sri Krishna first—for, whenever we think of eating, drinking and being merry, it is the Kutti Krishna who comes to our mind. The gallons of milk and curds He must have consumed and the tonnes of butter He must have stolen and partaken of in the boisterous company of His cohorts, would indeed defy quantification.

“pottha uralai kavizhtthu adan mEl Eri
tittittha pAlum tadAvinil veNNaiyum
mettha tiru vayirAra vizhungiya
attan vandu ennai puram pulguvAn EmpirAn ennai puram pulguvAn”

Says His biographer Sri PeriyAzhwar, telling us how the Boy Wonder used to reach vessels of milk, curds and butter hung up high from the ceilings and fill His capacious stomach with these dairy products.

Apart from an insatiable appetite for milk and its derivatives, Sri Krishna is also a gourmet, with a taste for choice delicacies, if Azhwar is to be believed. He is extremely fond of “appam”, which Sri Yasoda uses as a bait for enticing the Divine Toddler to have His ears pierced—

“pErtthum periya appam taruvan PirAnE!….nee ingE vArAi”

Not any common appam, but a big one is what Sri Krishna likes—“periya appam”. And another type of appam the Lord is fond of is the one boiled in sweet milk—

“appam kalanda chittruNdi akkAram pAlil kalandu
soppada nAn suttu vaitthEn tinnal urudiyEl Nambi!”

It can be observed that Azhwar speaks of “ChittruruNdai”, known today as the “Seeyan”.

One more delicacy the Lord is extremely fond of is the “Seedai”, the small balls of flour mixed with butter and fried in oil, which provide Him a nice change from His staple food of sweets. Even this item, the Lord likes in two forms, one the “uppu seedai” which is a savoury and the other, the “Vella seedai”, a sweet.

It would appear that anything mixed with jaggery or sugar is pleasing to Sri Krishna—even mere grains of sesame. Thus “eLLurundai” or balls of sesame dipped in jaggery syrup, are His favourites. For those who don’t believe the aforesaid about the “Seedai” and “eLLurundai”, here are the lines from Sri Vishnuchitta’s pasuram, incorporating Sri Yasoda’s bid to woo Sri Krishna with promises of these delicacies—

“Kannalil attuvatthOdu seedai kAr eLLin uNdai kalatthilittu
ennagam endru nAn vaitthu pOndEn ivan pukku avattrai perutthi pOndAn”

Who said that Sri Krishna stole only milk and butter? No item of food, especially the tasty tidbits, is proof from pinching or pilfering by the Lord, as is evident from the aforesaid pasuram.

After a sumptuous partaking of various types of “BhakshaNam”, what does the Lord have for dessert? Fruits of different hues and tastes, of course. Of the latter variety, the Jack Fruit is His one of His favourites. We get to know this from Sri Yasoda’s offer of the fruit to Sri Krishna, as an incentive for His consenting to have His ears pierced—

“Ik kadippu ittAl iniya palA pazham tandu kaNa nandraNi mulai uNna taruvan”

The “nAval pazham” is another of His favourites, says Sri Periyazhwar—

“nAval pazham koNdu vaitthEn”.

Also, it would appear that the more sour the fruits, the greater is the Lord’s liking for them—the product of the Tamarind Tree (“PuLiyam pinju”), the fruit of the Cane tree (“Pirappam pazham”), the “KaLAkkAi”—all of these are indeed tasty tidbits for the Lord.

It is all these items, which, till today, form the offering to the Lord on His birthday—the Krishna Jayanti. It is the culinary traditions set by Sri Yasoda, as confirmed by Sri Periyazhwar, that we follow till date, in deciding what delicacies are to be offered to Him. Thus the “Murukku”, “tEn kuzhal”, “atirasam”, Vella Seedai”, “uppu Seedai”, “ManOharam”, “ManOnbu”, “SOmAsi”, “Tattai”, “laddu”, “appam”, “Seeyan”, various uruNdais from “poruviLangA urundai”, “Ravai uruNdai”, “Payattha uruNdai” etc.—all these eighteen types of preparations form the menu for the Lord’s feast on Sri Jayanti till today, in conformity with the hoary traditions set by Yasoda Piraatti. And, to ensure that the Kutti Krishnan doesn’t develop indigestion from all these culinary marvels, we also offer Him “Chukku vellam” as a digestive pill. This is indeed laughable, for, would the Lord who swallows and houses all the worlds in His spacious stomach during the Cosmic Deluge (“Pralayam”), develop indigestion merely due to a few sweets and snacks? It is Yasoda’s motherly love and not the Lord’s need for a digestive enzyme, that makes Her offer “Chukku Vellam” to the “ulagam uNda peru vAyan”.

In comparison with Sri Krishna, who appears to be a gourmet and connoisseur, Sri Rama seems to have been an Emperuman with fairly simple tastes. He appears to have been extremely satisfied with the common jungle fruits offered with love by Sri Sabhari and the millets, honey etc. submitted with devotion by Sri Guha Perumal. It is true that Sri BharadvAja Maharshi treated Him to a sumptuous feast at the end of His vanavAsam, but throughout His fourteen years in the forest, Sri Raghunandana appears to have eaten little but fruits and roots. This is perhaps the reason for the extremely simple traditional offering of diluted butter milk (“neer more”) “pAnakam” and “vadai paruppu” on the day of Sri Rama Navami. Considering the relatively simple fare that is offered to Sri Rama, don’t you think it is a misnomer to call a person fond of food as “SAppAttu Raman”?

The favourite drink of Sri Nrsimha appears to be water mixed with jaggery—“PAnakam”. Whichever sannidhi we go to, we find this Lion God propitiated with “PAnakam”. Till today, there is the tradition of offering this sweetened water every evening to Sri MAlOla, at the Sri Ahobila Matham. And you must have heard of the “PAnaka Nrisimhan” in Andhra Pradesh, who, irrespective of the quantity of “PAnakam” poured into His cavernous mouth, accepts half the offering and returns the other half as prAsadam, signifying His insatiable appetite for this drink.

Akin to their counterparts in the Vibhava avatArAs, many of the moorthies in the arcchAvatAra, reigning splendorously at the numerous sannidhis, have predilections for certain types of food, snacks or drinks.

We thus come to know of Sri TirumAlirum SOlai azhagar’s liking for “akkAra adisil”, from Sri Andal’s pasuram—

“nAru narum pozhil Malirum sOlai nambikku nAn
nooru tadA nirainda akkAra adisil sonnEn”

Tradition has it that though Sri Andal spoke of offering a hundred cauldrons full of this delicacy to the azhagar PirAn, it was Sri Ramanuja who actually made it a reality.

The moment we think of Tirumala, whether Srinivasa comes to our mind or not, it is the “laddu” and “vadai” (principally the former) which spring to our thoughts. By the vast quantities of “laddu” that is offered as prasAdam to the thousands of devotees visiting Tirumala, it is obvious that this Lord is extremely enamoured of this delicacy. It doesn’t need a gourmet to discern the extraordinary taste and delight that only the Tirupati laddu can afford to our taste buds. You may make the “laddu” at home with the costliest and choicest of high-quality ingredients, but its taste would never equal that of the Tirumala product, the difference being due to the latter being Bhagavat PrasAdam while the former is merely a product of our kitchen.

Similarly, Sri Parthasarathi of TiruvallikkENi appears to be fond of Sakkarai Pongal. Devotees who have tasted this delicacy at this Sannidhi would attest to its conforming to the standards set for the same by Sri KOdai Naachiar—“pAl sOru mooda nei peidu muzhangai vazhi vAra”. And it is a hoary tradition to offer the Lord Sakkarai Pongal on the days in MArgazhi on which the pAsurams “nAyakanAi nindra nandagOpan” and “KoodArai vellum seer GovindA!” are recited.

The TiruppullANi Emperuman’s favourite dish is the “pAl pAyasam”, a milk-based preparation with a divine taste indeed.

SriSowmiyaNarayana

Sri Sowmya nArayaNa PerumAL of TirukkOshithiyUr likes “KalkaNdu sAdam”, which is a rare delicacy to be offered only to this Emperuman, especially during His TeppOtsavam during MAsi mAsam.

In tune with His preeminence, the Sleeping Lord of Srirangam consumes daily an astonishing variety of “BhakshaNams”, including the rather strange one of “ROti”, the latter as a concession to the Tulukka NachiAr, the Muslim princess who became one of His Consorts, reflecting the universal appeal, cutting across faiths, that the boundless beauty and auspicious attributes of Sri Ranganatha have. Sri Ranga nAcchiAr likes “Putu”, as is evident from the frequency with which it is offered to Her.

Salt is supposed to be the basic seasoning for all eatables, without which food tastes flat and insipid. So much so that the adage tells us that anything without salt is fit only to be consigned to the dustbin—“uppillA paNdam kuppayilE”. However, at TiruviNnagaram, the Lord likes all His offerings without a grain of salt. Thus, “oppiliyappan” also doubles as “uppili appan”, consuming all the paNiyArams without a single grain of salt. Miraculously, even to those of us who have extremely sensitive taste buds, the prasAdams of this Emperuman, when tasted within the temple precincts, do not appear to be lacking in any way and are indeed a delicious treat.

This predilection for particular delicacies doesn’t stop with the Lord—it extends to His devotees too, whom we venerate equally. Sri GaruthmAn of nAcchiAr KOil, for instance, is offered “amrita kalasam”, a delicacy prepared from grated coconut, jaggery etc. If Periya Tiruvadi likes these, then Siriya Tiruvadi is not far behind, with a weakness for “Vadai”—he likes “Vadai” so much that he even wears a hundred of them around his neck as a garland—“Vadai mAlai”. Sri Hanuman is also rumoured to like “Dadhyannam” or “Tayir sAdam”.

Considering all this, is it any wonder that our SampradAyam is known as the “MadaippaLLi SampradAyam” or the “YatIsvara MahAnasa SampradAyam”?

Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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