In a previous blog post I had written disapprovingly about attending a Gita Jayanti celebration and coming back without hearing a single sloka of Bhagavat Gita but with a stomach full of food. I liked the food though.
In many temples like the one I have mentioned about, elaborate dishes are prepared only on special occasions. But there are temples in Odisha where elaborate vegetarian meals are prepared on a daily basis as temple prasad. These preparations are best examples of what a satwik meal should be. Prepared sans onion and garlic, the dishes are so sumptuous, if there were any Michelin rating for satwik food, some of these temples would definitely get a three star rating. By the way, according to Michelin guide book, a three star rating means – “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey”.
The offering of a cooked meal, known as annaparsad, is a standard lunch time offering to the deities at most of the traditional Odisha Temples. At some places the annaprasad, after being offered to the deities, can feed one or two devotees where as at some places like the Puri Jagannath Temple it can feed thousands. Like everything of grandeur associated with the Puri Jagannath Temple, the food made available to the devotees is known as Mahaprasad – the grand blessing. After offering or dedicating to the Lord, food becomes prasad – which means blessing or his grace.
You may also read : God's East India abode
In Upanishads it is said – annam brahmam iti byajanat. We are supposed to partake food with the same veneration that we bestow upon brahman which is the ultimate underlying reality of everything. Respect towards food fosters a culture of gratefulness towards things we have got to sustain life.
Philosophy apart, let us focus on things more mundane yet associated with the divine. The lunchtime preparations of rice-lentil-vegetable-dessert mega combo at Puri Jagannath temple goes by the name of abadha. The dishes are prepared using traditional methods and recipes that have remained unchanged for centuries. Since cameras are strictly not allowed inside the temple premises, it is very difficult to get a glimpse of what goes on inside the temple unless you practically visit the temple. Some interesting facts about the mahaprasad and abadha of Puri Jagannath Temple are as follows:
- Everyday from morning to evening 56 varieties of food items are prepared and served to the lord.
- The kitchen is located inside the temple covering an area of one acre.
- Earthen pots containing the ingredients are stacked one atop another on wooden chullahs. As the legend goes, the ingredients on the topmost pots get cooked first
- The ingredients consist of vegetables ans other other items which were native to India thousands of years back. E.g. potato which is not of Indian origin is not included in any of the recipes.
- Usually ingredients are removed from the cooking vessels to utensils for offering to the lord. But here food is offered and later sold to the devotees along with the cooking vessel.
- The wood used in the kitchen comes from the chariots dismantled after the Rath yatra.
- In addition to being delicious, the food remains unspoiled for much longer duration than the usual cooked food.
There are free food systems at many temples in India. At some places these free meals may consist of only rice and dal or sambar and at some places along with rice or roti a few other side dishes are served. In most of the temples in India the regular paid prasad may consist of a few sweets or other snacks. But elaborate annaprasada with sumptuous side dishes are what makes these traditional temple foods unique. Of course there is no free meal system here. However, the cost is much much lower than what a Michelin rated meal could cost. At Anand Bazar, where the food is sold after offering to lord, one can have a full meal consisting of a varieties varieties of items for Rs. 60-100.
You may also read: Even for Gods one life is not enough
There is a mythical theory about why such sumptous elaborate annaprasad is unique to Puri. Rameswaram, Dwaraka, Puri and Badrinath are the primary chardhams or abode-quartets associated with Hindu Pilgrimage. It is said that Lord Vishnu takes his morning bath at Rameshwaram, Breakfsast at Dwaraka, Lunch at Puri and goes for night halt at Badrinath.
Another explanation has psychological connotations where in Lord Jagannath is considered a normal human being. It is said that when one is depressed one is likely to eat more. The cause of such divine depression – the Lord is homesick having been cut off from his native place of Brindaban. So watch out. If you are over eating and gaining weight, the underlying cause could be depression.
If you cannot make it to Puri, but find yourself in the capital city of Bhubaneswar, you can try the lunch time annaprasad at Ananta Basudeva temple which is located near the Lingaraja Temple.
Same way, in Cuttak too, one can have lunch time annaprasad at the Jagannath temple at Chandni Chowk. Non-vegetarians need not feel left out. They may head to the Cuttak Chandi Temple for a fish meal.
I still remember the day when as school boys we traveled 10 kms on foot just for the sake of tasting this unique sweet offered as prasad in the Narayana Temple at Narayana Patna near Kullada. The sweet, which somewhat looks like a rasagolla, is called medhaveda. I do not know whether the Narayana Temple still makes this sweet. By the way Narayana Patna is my mother’s birthplace and I used to spend a substantial portion of summer vacations there. My grandmother sometimes used to order the special thali of the temple. It consisted of rice and twenty five to thirty other items. Those days it used to cost twenty five rupees and one thali was big enough to feed a family of five.
Even though the temple has a glorious history, at present it is so self effacing that I had to spend considerable time searching over the net to extract the following image from a video.
I was a boarder at Upendra Bhanja High School, Bhanjanagar. Some of my fellow boarders were from the villages around Narayana Patna. Once while discussing about the temple someone mentioned about the sweet and we decided to visit the temple next weekend to taste the sweet. Even though due to my grandma’s grace I had tasted the thalli, I had never tasted the sweet. Those days the public transportation system available from Bhanjanagar to Kulada consisted of a government bus that plied only three to four times a day. Another alternate was a horse driven carriage whose charioteer babbled a lot being under the influence of bhang all the time. Luckily his horses remained sober and were mature enough to carry the passengers safely. Unluckily for us we got neither of these transports for escapade on the weekend.
Since we had made up our mind we made the to and fro journey by foot. And the sweet was worth our sweat.