down memory lane Society

Djinns have a sweet tooth!

SCENT OF THE SPIRIT Sadia Dehlvi   | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

Does the aroma of food and jasmine flowers intoxicate djinns too? Sadia Dehlvi draws some such comparisons in her “Jasmine & Jinns” treatise on Indian cuisine. In the 14th Century, Amir Khusrau wrote that the meal spread (dastarkhan) of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq consisted of about 200 dishes. The royal kitchen fed 20,000 people daily. In his famous epic poem that later came to be known as “Mathnavi dar Sifat-e-Delhi” on Delhi culture, Khusrau wrote, “The royal feast included sherbet labgir, naan-e-tanduri, sambusak, pulao and halwa.” They drank wine and ate tambul after dinner. Khusrau also mentions delicious dishes such as sparrow and quail curry.

The Moorish traveller Ibn Battuta describes a royal meal at the table of Muhammad’s father, Sultan Ghiyasuddin at Tughlaqabad as a lavish spread comprising thin round bread cakes; large slabs of sheep mutton; round dough cakes made with ghee and stuffed with almond paste and honey; meat cooked with onions and ginger; sambusak that were triangular pastries made of hashed meat with almonds, walnuts, pistachios, onions, and spices placed inside apiece of thin bread fried in ghee, much like the samosa of today; rice with chicken topping; sweet cakes and sweetmeat for dessert. The meal ended with paan.

From survival to sophistication

Sadia says earlier for the 12th Century Sultans, who belonged to warrior clans of Central Asia, food was more about survival than sophistication. “The refinement in their cuisine came through interaction with Indian communities and the abundance of fruits, vegetables and spices available here. The tables of Qutbuddin Aibak, Iltutmish and Razia Sultan consisted of meat dishes, dairy products, fresh fruits and local vegetables.” It was only late that Feroz Shah’s Kotla began to be haunted by djinns. The arrival of the Mughals in the 16th Century added more aroma and colour to Delhi’s culinary range. However the founder of the dynasty, Babur complains about the lack of musk melons, grapes and other fruits plentiful in his Afghan homeland. His son Humayun is credited with bringing refined Persian influence to Delhi’s cuisine after years spent in exile in Persia following his defeat by Sher Shah Suri. “The fusion of Indian and Persian styles of cooking came to be known as ‘Mughal cuisine’.”

In Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazl, Emperor Akbar’s courtier, mentions that cooks from Persia and various parts of India would serve in the royal kitchen. This led to the merging of Turkish, Afghan, Indian and Persian styles of cooking, Abul Fazl states that more than 400 cooks from Persia formed the large kitchen establishment that had head cooks, official tasters and numerous other staff. He mentions rice from different regions, duck and waterfowl from Kashmir and special breeds of chicken raised for banquets, handfed with pellets flavoured with saffron and rosewater. Beef was rarely eaten, and pork was forbidden.

During the rule of Shah Jahan exquisite architecture, extravagance and luxury came to define Delhi’s royal court. The cooks continued to be trained in Persian, Indian and Afghan cuisine. Despite political decline in later centuries, the Mughals maintained their lavish lifestyle. “The indulgent tables of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar are legendary. The Mughals faded away, but left Delhi with a cuisine that remains an integral part of the city’s cultural heritage.”

In Sadia’s ancestral home wafted the fragrance of chameli or jasmine flowers. Each evening the terrace was hand sprayed with water. Small bunches of jasmine were put on the cots of the elders. But were taboo for young girls. “The djinns are attracted to the fragrance of jasmine and if they smelled it on an unmarried girl they could become her ashiq, possessive lover. This would ruin their chances of getting married to a human being.”

Everyone in the author’s Shama Kothi believed that jinns also inhabited it after midnight, when strange sounds would be heard. “These resembled the creaking noise made when heavy furniture is moved. God created djinns from fire and human beings from clay. Djinns belong to different faiths with both good and bad among them. They love sweets and bought them from Agra’s Mithai-ka-Pul.”

“Ammi,” says Sadia, “remembers taps and doors opening on their own in the house where she spent her childhood. This was attributed to Muslim djinns doing their wazu, ablutions, before offering prayers. It is also said that one should never close a taq niche in the wall, because it blocks the passage for the jinns and angers them. The djinn population is believed to be more than that of humans. During qawaalis at dargah courtyards a wide space is always left empty for the jinns. It is said that they are extremely fond of Sufi music. Under their influence women go into the state of ‘haal’ or ecstasy. Believe it or not even Queen Victoria went into haal on hearing Sufiana Kalaam. Did the jinns influence her also? Incidentally they tried to do so with Akbar, two of whose sons, Hassan and Hussain died as the jinns resented the emperor’s decision to build Agra Fort on the ruins of a fortress haunted by them. But Akbar managed to cope with the menace.”

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 8:56:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/djinns-have-a-sweet-tooth/article19948582.ece

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