Manasollasa: Refresher of the Mind by King Somesvara III (1129 A.D.)

November 5, 2012

Manasollasa - Part One:
During the early medieval period south India witnessed the emergence and development of regional kingdoms and languages and Kings as well as temples were decisive shapers of regional cultures. Literature enjoyed generous royal support and patronage during the reign of western Chalukya kings.

King Jayasimha II, (patron of Chavundaraya II, composer of Lokopakara) was succeed by his son Somesvara I who was one of the greatest rulers of Western Chalukya Dynasty. Somesvara-I preferred his second son Vikramaditya as his successor, but the latter declined the honor in favor of the elder Somesvara-II. Vikramaditya conquered Cholas, Keralas, and Ceylon as an army leader of his brother. Somesvara-II soon fell into evil ways and lost the loyalty of his brother. Vikramaditya ruled the southern part of the kingdom independently. Vikramaditya also received submission from the ruler of Konkan. In 1076, Vikramaditya ascended the throne of western Chalukya kingdom as Vikramaditya-VI.  His son Someswara III who reigned from 1126 to 1138 AD was the author of Manasollasa. A king more interested in literature, Someshvara III had to face the invasion of the Hoysalas and Vengi Chalukyas. But he was able to maintain most of the vast empire left behind by his famous father. Very little is known of his personal history. Few inscriptions were recorded during his reign and it is difficult to determine his religious preference.  Somesvara III displayed the usual liberalism and religious tolerance of Indian monarchs and supported both Hinduism and Jainism.

Manasollasa (the refresher of the mind), also called Abhilaṣitartha Cintamaṇi (the magical stone that fulfills desires), is a great multi-dimensional and voluminous work in Sanskrit attributed to Somesvara III. This encyclopedic work is valuable as a record of the state of knowledge on many topics at that time, and draws from many older treatises on medicine, magic, veterinary science, the valuation of precious stones and pearls, fortifications, painting and music, culinary art, games and amusements and the many other subjects. Manasollasa is written in poetry form with occasional prose passages introduced in the middle. The work gives the maximum information in the minimum space. It is divided into five vimsathis (sections), each containing twenty adhyayas (chapters) of equal length, with some chapters again including subsections.  Each chapter is dedicated to a specific topic. The ninth sloka in Manasollasa attributes the authorship to Chalukya king Someswara III. Opinion of scholars is that perhaps the book was composed in his court by a scholar (or scholars) well acquainted with the royal household royal necessities and royal whims.

The first vimsathi, Rajyapraptikaraṇa Viṁśati, describes the means of obtaining a kingdom and the required qualifications for a king.  The second, Rajuasya stirya karana vimsasti, describes the ways of maintaining a king’s position strong and stable.  This section mentions different officers of the state, along with their requisite qualifications. One of the required qualifications for the royal cook is asambhedya - one who cannot be bought over by the king’s enemies; in essence loyalty. Another is krtannasya pariskara or the ability to carefully examine the food served to the king so that it is healthy and not poisoned.  The following Upabhogasya Viṁsati describes how a king must enjoy a comfortable life. In this section two chapters are dedicated to annabhoga or enjoyment of food and jala or paniyabhoga enjoyment of drinking water and juices. The next Vinoda vimsathi describes how a king should amuse himself. The last section Krida vimsathi describes various recreations. 

 

Upabhoga Vimsathi - Annabhoga

The third section of Manasollasa called upabgogasya vimsathi details twenty kinds of upabhogas or enjoyments. The chapter on annabhoga describes how various recipes are prepared as well as how they should be served to the king. “A century before cookbook writing began in medieval Europe king Somesvara III described the dishes cooked in the palace kitchens at his capital Kalyana, India. With regal authority he instructed his cooks that even though food preparations served in earthen vessels taste well, kings must be served in vessels made of gold” wrote Mary Ellen Snodgrass, award-winning American author of textbooks and reference works in her book Encyclopedia of kitchen history.

Cooking was done on wood burning stoves and common cooking methods used were boiling, pan frying, and deep frying. An impressive assortment of vegetables, meats, spices, flavoring and souring agents as well as culinary techniques were used in the preparation of dishes. Spices, mostly native to India (or those that arrive very early on) such as black pepper, long pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, asafetida, fenugreek, and saffron were used in spicing meats and vegetables. Spices that arrived much later such as chili pepper, nutmeg and mace are absent. Spices were used in different ways- as whole, or powdered or fried in ghee or mixed and tied as bouquet garni. Yogurt, Indian lemons, tamarind, pomegranate and mango were used as souring agents. Fermentation of milk was a familiar technique and yogurt and ghee were made. Ghee and sesame oil were the fats used.

Recipes and culinary techniques described in Manasollasa will follow in the
next segment.

Resources

Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Arundhati, P. Royal Life in Manasollasa. Sundeep Prakashan, Delhi 1994
Chattopadhyaya, D.P. (general editor) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization Volume V, Part I History of Agriculture in India up to c.1200 A.D. (edited by Lallanji Gopal and V.C. Srivastava) Center for Studies in civilizations, New Delhi 2008
Joshi, Mahadev N.and Hebbai B.S. Manasollasa and Ayurveda. Sharade Pulishing House Delhi 2004

Map of Western Chalukya Kingdom
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AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN