Manasollasa- Refresher of the Mind Part III - Dining Traditions

December 30, 2012

After my last post about recipes in Manasollasa, some of my blogger friends wanted to know more about food combinations, especially the ones fit for the king. For my final post of 2012, I decided to write about “foods fit for a king”.
The chapter on annabhoga not only describes how various recipes are prepared, it also details what types of foods should be served to a king and how they should be served.

King should dine in the company of his sons, grandsons and great grandsons. His relatives, commanders, servants, dependents, invited guests as well as those who are well versed in music, musical instruments, and dance also should be served food at the same time. King should sit down facing the east to ensure longevity. If he faces the west he will get wealth, if he faces south he will enjoy the comforts of life and if he sits facing north he will be bestowed with good health and truthful talk.

He should sit on a cushioned seat and spread a white cloth on the lap up to the navel. (I did not know until I read Manasollasa that dinner napkin was not totally a Western concept. South Indian kings of the twelfth century used them!). His food should be served in a big plate made of gold or gold-coated or enameled with color or studded with pearls. Many small bowls which are first cleaned with water and wiped dry with a white cloth should be placed on the plate.   

King should commence his meal by eating hot cooked rice with ghee and cooked mung beans (a tradition that continues to this day in south India among common people). The second course should be tender meat cooked with hulled and split pulses. It should be followed with serving of a sauce. All of these are relished by mixing them with rice. The next serving should be meats cooked with green leaves that have sour taste, and different seasoned vegetables, leaves and fruits. Again they are enjoyed by mixing first with rice. Half way through the meal the king is served a well-cooked payasam made of rice, milk, and sugar as well as sweet and sour tasting fruits. In between courses he should also drink the sweet drink panaka, sip sweetened buttermilk and lick sikharini. (Combine powders of cinnamon, dry ginger, black pepper, rock salt, sugarcane jaggery, nutmeg, white turmeric (curcuma zedoaria), and ironwood flowers and mix with yogurt. Purify this with honey, sugarcane juice, yellow myrobalan (terminalia chebula). Stir in edible camphor. This is called sikharini). The final course should be thick yogurt with cooked rice and salt. He may also take milk or kanjika (rice porridge) instead.

 According to Manasollasa king should partake of healthy foods consisting of different tastes. Meat should be consumed along with sour tasting dishes, salt with acidic foods and acidic with salty dishes and bitter tasting food with both acidic and salty preparations. Manasollasa advises that to ensure quicker digestion of the food in keeping with the changing seasons, the king should consume pungent and astringent dishes in spring, sweet and cooling ones in summer, sweets in winter, salty food during rainy season, oily and hot preparations during winter, and hot and acidic in autumn.  

During the meal the king should also slowly sip pure and cool water. This enhances the taste of the food he is eating and also help with digestion. The king should drink water that was kept in earthen pots or is a vessel made of skin, cleaned by passing the water through three pots and kept covered with a clean white cloth. The water from these containers should be taken from these vessels with the help of tubes or straw made of gold, silver or crystal. Such good cool water should be served to the king in a golden goblet.

Somesvara also specifies the ideal sources of water during different seasons. In autumn rain water that is purified by keeping it in sunshine, called divyam is very tasty. In winter water collected from lakes full of lotus and lilies called saras is ideal.  Water from a big lake is the best during winter, in spring water collected from lakes where louts flowers grow, water that falls from the peaks of mountains, and water collected from wells and ponds where blue lilies grow is the best. In summer it is best to drink water collected from springs.  And always water described as hamsodakam may be imbibed. The pond water which is heated in the day by sun rays, cooled in the night by the moon rays, and the poisonous effects nullified by the exposure to agasthya star is called hamsodakam.

Somesvara emphasizes the significance of water by calling it “pranajala” He says that whenever thirsty, one should drink water whether it is daytime or night and with empty or full stomach. Water is the root of human life and even unconscious person awakens with a sprinkling of water.

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

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN