Temple food – purity in itself!

I have been so busy of late that there is not even enough time for reminiscence for the events of the past few days. However, 29th of July this year was more memorable than it normally is. We celebrated my daughter Kriti’s and my dear friend Rajeev’s birthday in office with a small havan. What better way to wish someone on their birthday than with the blessings of the almighty. It was such a refreshing experience to surrender yourself to God for those few hours. What followed next was the prashad. My mother and Rajeev’s wife prepared some great halwa which reminded me of the Kada Prashad you get at a Gurudwara in Mumbai. This then got me thinking about the role of food in our religious ceremonies.
Right from celebrating festivals, births, marriage or mourning a loss – any event in our lives is incomplete without food. Can you imagine the number of rites, rituals and food ceremonies that are performed to appease and please the 33 million gods and goddesses we speak about in Hindu mythology! No visit to the temple is complete without an offering on behalf of the devotee and the giving of prasad on behalf of the priest.
The offering made by devotees to god is known as ‘Prasada’ in Sanskrit, and primarily consists of rice, vegetables, sweets and fruits. It is usual in a Hindu temple to prepare foods that are first offered to the deities and left in their presence for a while which thereafter becomes a sanctified Prasad. The prasad is then distributed to devotees. Each temple has its own special prasad established over a long period of time and the quantities cooked daily at the popular temples are enormous. These temples often have huge dining areas to serve food to pilgrims. Thanks to the nature of my work I get the opportunity to travel and have had the joy of visiting some great temples in India and sampling theprashad that they offer to us humble devotees.
Years ago when I visited the Golden Temple and tasted the Kada Prasahad over there I felt a kind of divine intervention. The halwa was so tasty and had been made with the simplest recipe ever. The taste probably had everything to do with the fact that it was made and served with purity and love. It is said that it was given to the soldiers before they embarked on their journey to the battlefield. The goodness of the kada prashad should ensure a sweet victory.
Another famous temple is the Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai. On any given Tuesday the temple is flooded with devotees who come here to attend the magnificient aarti that takes place around 5am. After the prayers what makes you more spiritual is the prasad of modak and sugar coated coconut pieces that you get at the exit gates.
Jagannath temple in Puri undoubtedly has the most fascinating cooking procedure. The kitchen area is magnanimous and everything from cutting to cooking to serving is done on a humungous scale. Even the procedure of cooking the food is unique – Vessels are placed one of top of the other and interestingly the top vessel is cooked first. Rice and vegetables are cooked together this way. The secret to this method of cooking has never been revealed and remains a mystery to worshippers across the country till date. The entire process of preparing and distributing the prasadamhas been carried out so efficiently and with such great dedication and devotion for years now. The food prepared in the Jagannath Puri temple feeds hundreds of tourists, locals and pilgrims every day.
Another interesting place I visited last year was the Govindev temple in Imphal where I was blessed with the sight of thousands of people dressed in white – worshipers are encouraged to visit the temple in white dhotis or kurta-payjamafor men and white sari or salwar-kameez for women. The wonderful thing about the bhog in Manipur uses fresh herbs and spices. Chillies – both green and red and tomatoes are used in liberal quantities unlike in other where they are shunned. While it is difficult to choose a favorite from the entire bhog but one which touched my heart was the fruitrasa – a piquant sweet and sour dish of haibong (sour fruit) served over plain rice. I was pleasantly surprised as I felt a burst of flavours as I had the first bite of this divine and different bhog.
Hinduism believes in eating right kind of food since whatever we eat influences the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas andTamasSatvic food promotes longevity, heath, purity, strength and cheerfulness. Rajsic causes pain, grief and disease and Tamsic promotes slothfulness, cruelty and evil nature. Hence the prasad in most temples and most religious rituals is usually vegetarian. However this was not the case with the Kali Bari Mandir back when I had a chance to visit it. The temple used to serve lamb. I was a bit surprised by this, but then I found out that it’s because goats were sacrificed to the Gods as part of a religious ritual. Now however the sacrifices have been stopped, but the Kali Bari mandir still continues to have an extremely interesting prasad story. There are no restrictions when it comes to theprasad and bhog offered in this age old temple – it could be anything from chocolates to wafers to fruits and even cola. Anything that is offered to the goddess by her devotees is then given back as prasad. The idea behind this is to pass on the message that all the worshippers are treated equally in the eyes of god.
Preparing food for the bhog is considered an honour and undertaken with loving tenderness. Preparation for cookingbhog is as important as the actual process of cooking and there are strict rules that have to be observed. Every temple has its traditions but there are some general guidelines that are followed. Bathing before entering the kitchen is mandatory. The kitchen has to be washed and wiped dry before preparing bhog. The Brahmin cooks wearing a freshly washed single piece of clothing tied around the body loosely to facilitate movement. Most temples kitchens discourage whistle cooking and often are required to wear a thin mask covering the mouth and nose to maintain purity and hygiene.
These and several other rules must be observed during the process of making, offering and distributing the prasad. However the most sacramental of all these virtues is the seva bhaav that the bhakt has for God. It is believed that the taste of the bhog is as much dependent on the hand that prepares it and the emotion while cooking as on the ingredients used. The crux of a bhog is based on the bhaav with which it is made. Maybe this is why temple food is always good to eat. It doesn’t just fulfill your hunger but also satisfies something more within you.
It is food for the soul not the stomach!
Try some of these recipes before the festive pooja season begins!
Chana Puri
Raghavdas Laddoo
Kada Prashad

Till I write again.

Sanjeev Kapoor

Mothers Day is every day!

 

MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

The celebration of Mother’s day on the 2nd Sunday in the month of May, is a relatively new concept in India but celebrating our mothers is not. Just one day to celebrate our beloved maa just seems very unfair for those of us who owe everything we have to our moms. It is indeed a time to reflect and rejoice the presence of a mother in our lives and to honor mothers, motherhood and the influence they have on our society and we must do that with great gusto!

A woman can endure pain and hardships – both mental and physical far more than men can and a mother even more. A mother is someone who will have more good wishes, love, aspirations and hope for you, than even you have for yourself. Only mothers can have that rare combination of being extremely loving and yet strict whenever needed. There is so much that they get done in a short time of 24 hours and so multitasking comes naturally to them. Being a mother is a full time job with the salary being smiles on the faces of her children.

My mother is my world. I have been extremely close to her since I was a child. She has always been the problem solver in my life. Every time I find myself in a scrape I go to my mother for reassurance. She doesn’t always have a solution to the problem, but just talking to her makes things better. She is the guiding force in my life and I can be sure of her love and support through thick and thin. Not only has she raised me and my siblings with a lot of love and affection but also taught us morals and values that we proudly follow to date. My mother is a great cook and I must give her plenty of credit for my cooking prowess. Watching her prepare various delicacies right from my childhood is probably what instilled the love for cooking and food in me. I may have carved a name for myself in the world but I will always be proud to say that I am Mrs Urmil Kapoor’s son.

In India, we put our mothers on the same pedestal as God. You touch your mother’s feet before every important occasion. According to the Hindu mythology, there are 8 incarnations of a mother in the form of goddesses. Each of them signifies different virtues that we must imbibe in our lives.

Parvati: Power to detach and withdraw
Parvati is life giving and sacred. She teaches us that you can only live a full filling life once you learn how to detach yourself from the negatives and people around you and the things that are pulling you down. Once you rise above that it becomes easy to be joyful and in turn keep others content. Her symbol is a cow, which is considered sacred and life giving.

Durga: Power to let go
Let go off all the negativity and vices in your life. Letting go of things isn’t easy and it does require a lot of strength. Durga maa is also known as shakti and she sits on a lion. Let go off your old habits and forgive those who may have wronged you.

Jagdamba: Power to Tolerate
Jadgamba means mother to all, she considers everyone her child. Tolerance is natural and not negative. You don’t get hurt when you tolerate. She gives out a message of unconditional love and purity. It is important to love and mother your own self first, only then will it be possible to mother others. Nurture and heal yourself.

Santoshi: Power to Accept
Acceptance has always been difficult for mankind. Santoshi maa teaches us the power to accept. Like in a bowl of rice, every person is different from the other, yet we must accept them as they are and treat everyone as equals without putting forth any conditions.

Gayatri: Power to Discern
She teaches us to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong and to discriminate. The spinning chakra behind her head symbolizes self realization. The conch shell that she has teaches us that the right words must be spoken at the right time. The swan she sits on symbolizes love.

Saraswati: Power to Decide
Saraswati maa is the goddess of knowledge and music. The sitar in her hand tells you to create your own music, the scriptures she holds depict accurate decisions and the rosary or the jaap mala tells us that decisions are independent, but should be made keeping others in mind.

Kali: Power to face
She is fearless and teaches us that once we overcome our fears, including the fear of death, we can perform our actions with more conviction. We don’t need to face people but overcome our own weakness instead. Don’t accept weakness, kill that demon.

Laxmi: Power to Cooperate
She teaches us to co operate with others instead of competing with them. The lotus that she sits on symbolizes how it’s possible to be pure even amidst muck. The gold coins that she drops from her hands signify detachment. The more you give the more you get. She teaches us to give without any expectations.

These are all the qualities that we find in a mother. A cow is called “gaay mata” because they are nourishing and loving and peaceful and provide us with everything that we need. We call our country “Bharat maa” for the same reason. Anything associated with the word maa is automatically special and sacred. Remember your mom’s was the 1st finger you held, she helped you take your 1st step, she sent you to school, bought you new clothes for each birthday, chased you around the house so you could drink that one glass of milk, she was the person who stayed awake with you during your exams, Maybe scolded you for your mistakes but always forgave you for them, she is there by you even when adversity takes over prosperity. Let’s just sum it all up by saying that – God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.

Love her, Cherish her and Respect her!

Here are a few recipes from my book called “Cooking with love”. This book is a compilation of recipes from my mothers’ kitchen. Try these out and I am sure you will love them for more you can log on to sanjeevkapoor.com

Till I write again.
Sanjeev Kapoor

Of karma and dharma this Gudi Padwa!

IPL has taken the entire nation by storm again. Last night’s match between SRH and RCB was so gripping, especially the super over! It is not every day that we get to see one of the world’s finest batsman, Chris Gayle facing the world’s fastest bowler, Dale Steyn! Hope the match on April 11, between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders is as interesting, because I will be flying to Bengaluru to present the prize to the winning team. Quite exhilarating, I must say! The 11th also happens to be Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year. This year, however it will be a South Indian celebration of New Year for me. Here in Karnataka this day is celebrated as Ugadi.

Something about the festival – Gudi Padwa, the first day of chaitra, marks the beginning of the spring season for the Maharashtrians. An upturned silver or gold kalash called the gudi is placed on top of a stick and covered with bright coloured cloth and other decorations and hung outside the house. A paste of neem leaves, jaggery, tamarind and ajwain is made and eaten first thing in the morning on this day. The age old reason behind eating this bitter sweet mixture is so significant in our lives today! It indicates that life is a mixture of good and bad, happiness and sorrow. It is important that we gracefully accept everything that it has in store for us, because you never know the importance of light until you have been in darkness. In the Maharashtrian tradition, Gudi Padwa is one of the four most auspicious days of the year to celebrate weddings, house-warmings and inaugurations of business ventures and for buying gold, silver or property.

India is rightly called the “land of festivals” which is very true, as I really feel that there is a festival to celebrate in each month and the festivities just go on for the entire year! Be it a Gujarati, a Punjabi, a Bengali or for that matter a person belonging to any religion, one or the other festival is there to give a reason to be happy, eat, drink and be merry! But, have you ever given it a thought as to why these days have just become an excuse to get a holiday or a day-off from work? This is when dharma and karma come into the picture. Even the Bhagvad Gita teaches us that we should keep doing our karma without thinking of the results, but the trend with humans is that, they make dharma a reason to shirk away from their karma (work). I am definitely not against any religion, festivals or the traditional celebrations that happen during these, all I’m trying to say is that we should take these festivals in the right spirit and not just blindly follow the rituals and symbolisms associated with them. These are created by humans only, even the Gods did not preach about any of them – so, this year, let’s all together promise that we will follow the inherent message of Gudi Padwa, by being true and dedicated to our work (karma) which earns us our breads because by doing so our dharma will automatically get pleased and we will be happy forever! And then, some masti, here and there, is always a part of life and if we are happy on the whole, we will be able to enjoy it even more!

While I’ll be in Bengaluru enjoying some palate tickling Karnataka cuisine, I would recommend you all to try out some joints like Prakash and Aswadh in Dadar with their authentic Maharashtrian thalis along with the ever-favourite dishes like sabudana vadas, masala bhaat, shrikhand; special amrakhands at Samant Brothers in Vile Parle (E); puran polis at Diva Maharashtra in Andheri (W) and Mahim and delightful ukdiche modaks at Modakam in Prabhadevi and a lot more Gudi Padwa specialities that are available at these places, alternatively you could also try making some dishes at home.

Also, try your hands on some of the most popular recipes associated with this festival:

         

Let me know how the recipes turned out.

Here’s wishing all a very Happy Gudi Padwa. God bless.

Till I write again.
Sanjeev Kapoor