Life & Style

Preserving the sacred facts of native South Indian cuisine

Rakesh Raghunathan’s temple food cooking workshop was peppered with stories, song and buried facts about native South Indian cuisine

The evening began with a story of a childless couple in Udupi who were told by a holy man that they would have a son who would be brought up in the nearby Sodhe Vadhiraja Mutt.

The boy grew up to be a writer, philosopher-monk or teertha called Vadhiraja. Every day, he would feed prasad to Lord Hayagreeva in the form of a white horse. The horse would leave the last of it for the saint to eat.

But the other mutt inmates didn’t believe that Lord Hayagreeva would actually come and eat the prasadam. They thought it was the teertha who was eating it all up inside the room.

And so one day, they poisoned the food. That particular day the lord didn’t leave the customary mouthful for Vadhiraja to eat. The teertha was furious and dismayed. Later that night, Hayagreeva appeared in his dream and told him why.

The prasad itself is called the Hayagreeva Maddi, as Rakesh Raghunathan demonstrated in his workshop on temple food titled ‘Sacred Offerings – A culinary work shop covering the unique recipes, mythology and music from temples of South India’. Rakesh is the co-founder of Puliyogare Travels and is a food traveller and raconteur.

The other prasadams he demonstrated are the Kanchipuram idli, made with black urad dhal and rice; and served at the Kanchipuram Varadharaja Perumal temple; Thirukoshtiyur Thirumaalai Chambai, made with rice, tamarind and local vegetables as an offering to Lord Soumyanarayana Perumal in Thirukoshtiyur; and Akkaraaadisil, made with sweet rice and green gram dhal as a specialty of Srivilliputhut Andal temple/Sri Rangam.

The workshop, which featured a live cooking demonstration, was conducted at the Highway Star, a highway stop for travellers on the Kolar route on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Rakesh, who is also a musician, typically interweaves music, associated with each of the temples and its prasadams, into each of his demonstrations.

The first recipe he chose to demonstrate that day was this Karnataka speciality. The Hayagreeva Maddi is a simple dish made with channa dal and jaggery with grated coconut, raisins, cashew nuts, cardamom, nutmeg powder and saffron.

“People in those days worked with local produce. As a child, when I used to visit my relatives in the interiors of the state, they would welcome us with a glass of warm water and a piece of jaggery. Today, it is known to be something that balances the body salts and energises the body, especially if it is dehydrated,” says Rakesh.

“South Indian food is not just about idli, dosa and sambar. Idli, in fact, is known to have originated from Indonesia, when Hindu kings there came to India to seek brides. Until then, as Chinese travellers observed, there was no concept of steaming in India.”

Certain foods, that we think are native, are not even indigenous, he observed. “Coconuts, for example, are known to have come to India from Papua New Guinea. If you observe the food that is observed in shraadh ceremonies, it doesn’t have toor dal or hing (asafoetida). These are ingredients that came in much later. They use indigenous vegetables such as pumpkin and ridge gourd, and no coconut.”

Why does he choose to work on temple food? “Temple food has a long standing history. There is so much culture and art around it. Some of the inscriptions on the walls of temples in places like Tirupati and Srirangam feature recipes, that are as precise as standard operating procedures followed in restaurants. If you want to sample a slice of history today, you can do it through the temple food because they still make it in the traditional way.”

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 10:04:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/preserving-the-sacred/article22403382.ece

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