Sivatattva Ratnakara - Part 1 Introduction
June 27.  2018

Sivatattva Ratnakara is an encyclopedic work in Sanskrit composed by Keladi Basavaraja, the scholarly king of Keladi, who ruled from 1694 to 1714 AD. It is a vast compendium containing an astonishing amount of knowledge and information gathered from various ancient texts, and the author makes extensive references to these works in the book. This absolute source book of traditional and region specific knowledge was published in 1699 AD.

The Keladi Dynasty
Nayakas of Keladi was an important ruling dynasty based in Keladi in post-medieval Karnataka. They initially ruled as a vassal of the famous Vijayanagara Empire. After the fall of the empire in 1565, they gained independence and ruled significant parts of southwestern India comprising of present-day Karnataka and parts of northern Kerala. In 1763 AD, with their defeat to Hyder Ali, they were absorbed into the Kingdom of Mysore. They played an important part in the history of Karnataka, during a time of confusion and fragmentation that generally prevailed in South India after the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire.

There were 18 rulers in this dynasty and they ruled from 1499 to 1763 AD. The Keladi rulers continued the noble traditions of Vijayanagara in government, administration and in patronizing and promoting various arts and sciences. Besides they were authors of several outstanding works in Sanskrit and Kannada. Basavappa Nayaka I, popularly known as Basavaraja, the author of Sivatattva Ratnakara, was the most renowned authors among them.

Sivatattva Ratnakara
First published in 1699 AD, Sivatattva Ratnakara is written in the form of a dialogue in Sanskrit. Somashekhara, a son of the king asks questions and the answers are provided by King Basavaraja. This conversational mode stimulates and maintains the interest and intellectual curiosity of the readers. There are very few books in Sanskrit that provide an encyclopedic coverage of various subjects of interest. It deals with all fields of knowledge prevalent during his times such as astrology, astronomy, ayurveda, planetary movements, eclipses, rainfall, clouds, education, devotion, architecture, science and technology, philosophy, polity and royal administration, warfare, economy, agriculture, history, geography, ethics, fine arts, entertainment, education, perfumes, gems, pearls, growth of crops, sculpture, drama, construction of gardens, divination of water and hydrology, musicology, dance, matrimony, domestic relations, food and cookery, rituals – the list goes on. It also contains a detailed history of the Keladi dynasty. This great work contains nine chapters called kallOla and each of these contains many subdivisions called tarangas.

A confusion about Sivatattva Ratnakara
All the Year Round was a Victorian weekly literary magazine founded and owned by Charles Dickens, and published between 1859 and 1895 in the United Kingdom. Edited by Dickens, it was the direct successor to his previous publication Household Words. In Volume XII dated from April 18, 1874 to October 10, 1874, (pages 130-133) Dickens wrote an article titled A Sanskrit Cookery Book. He wrote " It is interesting to see what was thought of the culinary art at the remote period when Sanskrit was a colloquial language. Eastern dates are not invariably to be relied on, and the author of a chapter on cookery in the ancient Sanskrit work entitled Basavarajeeyam, may have been coeval with Pericles, with Homer, or even with Achillos himself. Be this as it may, the earliest cookery book in any language has recently been rendered from the Sanskrit into Tamil, and then has been done into English by a band of Hindoo gentlemen, of whom four out of the five write B.A. after their names. This curious document takes the form of a dialogue between a king and his teacher."  Unfortunately Dickens appears to have misunderstood the name of the publication as Basavarajeeyam although the following pages the article is describing in detail the contents of Sivatattva Ratnakara.

Basavarajeeyam, according to K. Nishiteswar, Professor and Head of the Department of Dravyaguna, Gujarat Ayurved University, Gujarat, India, is a complete text book of Ayurveda in Sanskrit and Telugu language written and published in the 18th century. In the 2014 English translation of Basavarajeeyam, author Professor Dr. M.S. Krishnamurthy writes that the work was codified in the 17th to 18th century and was authored by a renowned ayurvedic physician Neelakanta Kotturu Basavaraja born in a noble family of physicians. It is a purely medicinal text and does not discuss food in detail except for its medicinal values. The name of the author of Sivatattva Ratnakara, published almost a century ago, was also Basavaraja. It is possible Dickens was confused about the names of the authors (Indian names can be quite confusing), but he was certainly describing the contents of Sivatattva Ratnakara in his article.

Dickens' writing appears often rather exaggerating. His statement that Basaverajeeyam is the earliest cookery book in any language is an example. Supashastra of Mangarasa was written around 1509, much earlier than Basavarajeeyam. Another example is "the author of the Indian work may have been coeval with Pericles, with Homer, or even with Achillos himself". Pericles was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during its Golden Age and dates back to c. 495 – 429 BC; Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey flourished in the 9th or 8th century B.C; and Achilles or Achilleus was a Greek hero of the Trojan War and the central character and greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.

Sivatattva Ratnakara remained unknown to many Sanskrit lovers until it was published in full may years later. In 1927 the first edition of "Sri Siva Tattva Ratnakara : a magnificent encyclopedia in Sanskrit verse" was published by B Rama Rau and Vidwan P Sundara Sastriar which included the original Sanskrit text with prefatory material in English. The second edition was published in 3 volumes in 1965, 1969 and 1984 with English prefaces by University of Mysore Oriental research Institute. Sivatattva Ratnakara of Keladi Basavaraja: a cultural study by Radha Krishnamurthy (Doctoral thesis) in English was published in 1985 by Keladi Museum and Historical Research Bureau. However, considering the details written by Dickens in his article there must have been an earlier translation that provided him with such detail. And the translation of this great work into Tamil and then to English by five "Hindoo" gentlemen Dickens refers to in this article remains a mystery.

Food in Sivatattva Ratnakara
What made Charles Dickens consider this work the earliest known cookery book in any language? Surprisingly we do not see a lot about food until we reach the sixth KallOla. It is an extensive chapter containing 27 subdivisions (tarangas). The taranga describing various types of royal enjoyments or upabhogas is an elaborate one and food is discussed here in detail. In addition, the chapter on Science, Medicine and Veterinary contains discussions about properties of milk and milk products and properties of cooked rice from a medicinal point of view. 

More on food and cookery in Sivatattva Ratnakara in the next segment Part 2