Food for the Gods

Temple platter

Food for the Gods

India is a land of multiple cuisines – emanating not just from different regions but varied times and traditions as well.

Even within the gastronomic diversity displayed by our various States, runs a common thread of pure satvik food prepared in our Hindu temples. Food, made solely out of the local and seasonal produce with utmost love and devotion, is first offered to the presiding deities and then to the devotees as bhog prasad. 

An exploration of the same, which would take multiple journeys across the length of India, not to mention years altogether, was made easy by a spiritually-inclined couple of Delhi recently. In view of their newly released book Bhog – Temple food of India, Geeta and Arun Budhiraja organised a mass ‘Basant Panchami Bhog Prasad’ on the outskirts of Delhi. 

On a breezy spring afternoon, cooks brought in especially from the ancient temples of Manipur and Nathdwara in Rajasthan, fed the visitors an exquisite brunch of chhappan Bhog (56 food items) as served to the gods.

The visitors were first greeted with a range of six drinks – popular in temple cities as well given as prasad. These included Munakke ka sharbat, Bilsaru Anar, Bilsaru Petha, Santhe ka ras, Pokharo and thandai. Arun informed us, “Pokharo is a rice gruel flavoured with citrus leaves, fruits and jeera served at Jagannath Puri in Orissa. On the other hand, Thandai – which has freshly ground dry fruits and kesar mixed in milk – is a speciality of Nathdwara.”

This was followed by a Krishna arati and then mass bhog. Over 200 people seated in rows, exactly as they would in a temple lunch, were provided large banana leaves with the cooks doling out 56 items one by one. A specially designed menu card placed alongside each patra read: Dhania ghatia, Long ki sev, Adrak ki bati, Kamal kakdi achar, Shinghu (Manipuri salad), Shuktani (bitter-sweet chutney), boiled vegetables, Anoiba (banana trunk item), Arbi uti, white urad dal, khichdi, palak puri, kadhi pakori, raita, Black rice kheer, Kilwe ki barfi, paan beeda and so on.

Geeta explained, “In Hindu temples, a day is divided into eight prahars. At 3 am, the lord is first woken up for the mangla bhog (pre-dawn meal of sweets), then comes the shringar bhog (milk items), gwal bhog (just before the lord steps out), raj bhog (a heavy lunch after he returns), uthappan (fruits post his afternoon nap), sandhya bhog (drinks) and lastly shayan bhog (dinner with lots of black pepper for proper digestion). These are further diversified based on the six ritu (seasons) of India.”

“Though every temple in the country has most unique bhog items based on their local and seasonal produce, we found Nathdwara and Manipur’s temple food most interesting. Nathdwara bhog is the most elaborate of all, and Manipur temples make use of exotic herbs found only in the North-east. They are not only good to taste but a sheer beauty to behold.”

The courteous temple cooks, who prepared and served the meals, took care to also seek feedback from the visitors and invite each to their land of Gods, “Hamare Nathdwar zaroor aaiyega.”

For the visitors it couldn’t be a more wholesome experience. Ravi Bhoothalingam expressed, “I didn’t even realise till I was told that the food had no onion or garlic. It was tastier than any food I have had. I am sure we could replicate the temple food in our own kitchens as well, not just for religious reasons, but health purposes as well.”

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