Nourishing the soul

The priest gave a fistful of almonds as prasadam which triggered my hunger pangs.

On a recent visit to the US, my son suggested we go to a temple.   Though not a frequent temple-goer, I agreed when assured that it would be a nice weekend outing. Parking our car at a far end, we walked up to the temple built on a hillock, in biting cold. Standing before the magnificent idol of Lord Balaji adorned in the finest of jewellery, I felt I was in Tirupati. The priest gave a fistful of almonds as prasadam which triggered my hunger pangs.

As we went into the next building, the aroma of puliyogare (tamarind rice) wafted through and my legs automatically led me to the temple canteen. The big dining area was full and a long queue had formed in front of the self-service counters. I was amazed at the array of south Indian delicacies on offer. A friend of my son who bumped into us suggested going in for puliyogare, pongal and vada. We dutifully obeyed him.

He brought his parents to meet us and during lunch, we were told that they had come to the temple to look for a bride. When I expressed my surprise, they informed me that the temple had seen many wedding engagements, marriages and also naming ceremonies. Looking around, I saw many young girls wearing traditional Indian-wear towing their mothers dressed in Kanjeevarams.

The food we ate was, indeed, divine! I was told that cost-wise, it was very reasonable too. My daughter-in-law bought a number of items as take-away saying, “Appa, you can enjoy this for the next two days.” I nodded in agreement.

The very next weekend, I suggested that we visit the Balaji temple again. My son smiled and said that he would take me to another temple. This time, we went to Sri Rama Temple. Sensing that my mind was more on food, I was led to the canteen at the basement. I met a volunteer, a Kannadiga, who was serving food. She suggested I eat idli-vada and masala dosa – the specialties there.

Soon, she joined us and told me that a lot of families visit the temple for the sole purpose of having their weekend brunch and the canteen is kept open till 3 pm. She added that while the canteen at Balaji temple is like MTR, the one we were in was like Vidyarthi Bhavan! She also said that the temple ran music classes on weekends to keep our culture alive. She, however, agreed that more than the deity, it is the canteen that attracts visitors, both Indians and Americans.

There was only one more week left for us to get back to India. My wife wanted to eat chaat, and a friend suggested that we go to the Swamynarayan Mandir. The visit was truly exhilarating. The canteen, too, didn’t belie our expectation. We had samosas, dhoklas, kachories and different types of sweets.

While on our way back to Bangalore, I remarked that never in my life had I visited so many temples in three weeks.  My wife retorted, “It is because the temples nourished your belly more than your soul”. I asked, “Don’t we consider food as God?”

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