The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, December 23, 2001

All the great foodies of the past
Review by Kavita Chauhan

by P. Arundhati. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 108.
Rs 200.

THE book under review is a collection of articles written and lectures delivered by the author on different occasions. The title of the book "Annapurna"is very misleading, basically the book is about the life and culture of ancient India. The articles cover a wide range of subjects like nourishment, medicine, ecology, psychology, chemistry and petrology.

The book is a rich contribution to ideological studies. The author talks about various concepts that flourished under different dynasties in ancient India. The essay "Annapurna" is about the spiritual significance given to annam (food) in Hinduism. The term "annam"is derived from the Sanskrit root "ad" to eat, has its origin in food and nourishment. The Aranyakas state that the jiva is covered by five kosas (sheaths) – namely, annamayakosa, pranamayakosa, manomyakosa, vigynanamayakosa and anandamayakosa and is nourished by means of annam in sukshma and sthulakosas. Thus the Brahman who is the form of jiva is to be worshiped by offering annam.

The people of ancient India recognised the spiritual significance of annam and held that it forms one of the sheaths annamayakosa that the being of a person. Since annam is the main source of life, in Hindu mythology there is a goddess associated with food, who is known as Annapurna. Goddess Annapurna is the presiding deity of Kashi, the most sacred place in India. Though very few temples are dedicated to her; most of them are found in South India only. The cult of Mother Goddess is expressed in different forms in Indian literature: Aditi, Prithvi, Sita and Gauri are the Goddesses mentioned in the Vedas.


Some of the essays are centred around Andhra Pradesh during the Satvahana and Chalukya rule. The Nanaghat, Nashik and Talgunda inscriptions left behind by the Satvahana dynasty show that Vedism, Saivism, Bhagvatism and other Brahmanical cults and traditions flourished during this period. The archaeological findings and literary sources like Gathasaptasathi testifies this. The village folk of ancient Andhra Pradesh was free from the domination of the priestly class and complicated rituals. Their way of worship was very simple. The path of bhakti occupied a higher place in the hearts of people. Gathasaptsathi gives a detailed description of the village life of the Satvahana dynasty.

In ancient India dietics is a subject intimately connected with the welfare of the kings. King Somadeva describes in his "Yasastilaka" that king Yasogarh listens to an exposition of sound dietics by his royal physician as a part of his daily activities. Somadeva discusses the medicinal values of food with reference to the nature of human body and changing environment. According to the ayurvedic system of medicine, the human body consists of panchamahabhutas or the five elements — namely, earth, water, fire, wind and ether. These five elements are to be substituted in the body by means of food and drinks. The imbalance of these elements results in disease. This is the reason why Somadeva like other ancient scholars and philosophers, laid emphasis on sound dietics and exercise for the welfare of the king; since the welfare of the whole country is the summum bonum of his life.

The kings used to enjoy their leisure time listening to different kathas. King Somesvara of the Chalukya dynasty gives a detailed description of kathavinoda in his treatise "Mansollasa."

Bharata’s Natya Sastra is the earliest and systematic treatise on aesthetics. The concept of eight rasas propounded by Bharata influenced king Somesvara. It is stated that kathas are of four types ekvartrika, divivarika, chaturmuka and bahupurusa depending upon the number of singers. The one whose voice is full of life, well versed in all ragas, eloquent, capable of reading the passages clearly, possesses knowledge of tala (beat), gita (lyric), and the katha (story) should be invited by the king to sing kathas.

The Chalukyas of Kalyani who ruled over the present Karnataka and Andhra during the 11th and 12th centuries were great patrons of painting besides architecture. The temples of Kolpaka, Paccalasomeswara, Allahdurgh are some of silent witness of their love for art. The technique of vajralepa is unique in the history of Indian paintings. The vajralepa is used for the preparation of the ground for the painting. King Somesvara gives a method of preparation of the lepan. The skin of a buffalo is cooked in milk till it becomes a soft paste like butter. White clay and other dhatus called naga is mixed with vajralepa and coated smoothly and evenly on the wall three times before painting. The use of leather and milk in the art of painting has been found in other countries like Egypt, Rome, etc. even in modern period.

The author, as a Registering Officer in the Archaeological Survey of India, discovered several sites and temples of archaeological significance. The book offers interesting reading for those who are into ideological studies. The articles reflect the strength and vitality of Indian culture.