‘A giant food cycle’ Absolute

Food shapes human consciousness, says VIVECA KAIWAR

While lying on a bed of arrows in Kurukshetra, awaiting a propitious moment for his death, the slain Bhishma Pitamah was, at the Pandavas’ request, instructing them in Dharma. Draupadi wondered where this wisdom had been when she was being shamelessly disrobed in Dhritrashtra’s court. Bhishma acknowledges that he had not made the right decision then because he had been eating Duryodhana’s unrighteous food. After Arjun’s arrows had let out all that bad blood, his purified consciousness had made his understanding of dharma keener. This telling incident highlights the Hindu belief that food is not merely a means of satisfying hunger but is an essential ingredient in the shaping of human consciousness. Hindu texts describe the whole of creation as a giant food cycle.The Gita relates how from food,life springs,how by food it is sustained, and in food it merges when life departs.

Lessons in cooking were very much a part of the curriculum of ancient gurukuls. Even today, in the initial stages of their brahmarcharya days, archaryas learn how and how much to cook from principles laid down in the Upanishads and in the Sutras, of mitahar mit, moderate and ahara, food.The Samhitas guide them about what and when certain foods are suitable; ayurveda elaborates on the medicinal properties of natural foods. Eating of food is seen not as a sensory indulgence,but as a duty to be conducted with viveka, discriminating intelligence. That is not to say that food prepared according to Sanatana Dharma is tasteless; on the contrary, it is light, nutritious, fresh, fulfilling and energy-giving, and bereft of staleness and intoxicants. Moreover, not only is God’s bounty shared reverentially as prashad, but knowledge of it and its concomitants, agriculture,procurement and storage, is made freely available to all.A cerebral culture which can ‘patent’ any food, as has been seen in the case of turmeric in the west, remains alien to the true glory of food.

The tamasic, rajasic and sattvic traits of human character are understood as the effects of corresponding types of food.What is today know as genetic alteration was undertaken by our ancients by regulating their diets over long periods of time lasting several years and even generations. It was believed that the uttaradhikari, worthy heir, did not just fall from the skies. He was a deliberate creation, the result of severe fasts and dietary disciplines as seen in the case of the first parents, Manu and Shatrupa, who, reborn as Dashratha and Kaushalya, conceived Rama. Many in pursuit of spiritual excellence have found it imperative to place food at the centrestage of their lives.His ‘experiments with truth,’ notwithstanding, Gandhi’s life was also one of endless experiments with food.Taking a vow of asvadh,food eaten not for taste but for its effects on the body,he wrote several books on simple and earthy preparations of it.The ideal of ahimsa, nonviolence,guided not just Gandhi in the choice of vegetarianism, but has, throughout history, similarly inspired Pythagoras,Buddha,Mahavira,Leonardo da Vinci,G B Shaw,and Einstein.All believed that ‘we are what we eat’ or jaisa bhojan,waisa bhajan, jaisa anh,waisa manh, jaisa paani, waisi vaani. However, our tradition of ‘glorious food’ is steadily losing its raison d’ etre in its race to become ‘popular food’.Focusing only on taste with scant regard to local and seasonal availability of ingredients, clean cooking habits and methodologies which save on nutrients and fuel, is certainly not the hallmark of good cooking. One for whom daily cooking is a privilege not a drudgery, an occasion for working up creative juices, is our guardian angel, encouraging our sattvikta.¦

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.