Kshemakuthuhalam - Curiosity about Well-being - Part I

October 30, 2013

Kshemakuthuhalam, curiosity about well-being, is an important sixteenth century text in Sanskrit by Kshema Sarma, a poet scholar in the court of King Vikramasena of Ujjaini in central India. The book, named after its author, is a work on ayurvedic dietetics and well-being. Like other ancient texts, it is a compilation of information available on the subject from ancient ayurvedic texts through the medieval texts available at that time.

Kshemakuthuhalam is composed in metrical Sanskrit and is divided into twelve chapters (called Utsavas).  It deals with the varieties of food and drink, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, their characteristics, and their nutritious value. In addition to these elaborate descriptions the book gives details on several related topics. In fact, the recipes begin only starting with chapter six.

Chapter One

Typical to the works of the time Kshemakuthuhalam begins with a benediction and the following twenty verses are about the author’s lineage. It is followed by listing of contents of the following chapters. Technical details are the topic of the rest of the chapter.

Types of food and culinary techniques: Kshema Sarma begins with the description of four types of foodstuffs – food to be swallowed, chewed, licked and drunk and their association with the six tastes – Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent. Next he lists the seven ways of cooking food- frying, floating in oil, vaporizing, cooking to ripen, boiling, roasting on a spit, and cooking in a pit after wrapping in leaves.  He warns the reader that oil, salt and asafoetida must be added to dishes when necessary, even though they are left unsaid in the descriptions. He mentions that food is colored with the use of saffron, red sandalwood and betel leaf.

Spice Mixes: A spice mix called vesavara is used in cooking meat dishes. It is prepared by combining asafoetida, wet ginger, cumin seeds, black pepper and coriander seeds.  After combining the spices mix it with water and then strain through a cloth. Vesavara is also good for suppressing cough, for which it should be cooked in hot sesame oil.

Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and musk are powdered and sprinkled over foods prepared with milk and sugarcane as well as in all dishes made with vegetables and rice. This power is also used to garnish broths, and meat and fish dishes.

In cooking meat and fish dishes, asafoetida should be first dissolved in water and stirred into hot oil. After asafoetida, vesavara is added to meat dishes along with salt. When the meat is half cooked butter milk and pomegranate extract should be stirred in. Final garnish is with spice powder described above.

Then he describes extracting juice from pomegranate by first cooking the seeds in ghee and then adding buttermilk and then straining through a cloth.

Culinary Measurements: Droni, dronadhaka, prastha, kudava, pala, picu, sanka and masaka are the measurements used in cooking at this time. These measurements are in multiples of four - four masaka equals one sanka, four sanka equals one picu and so on.

Basic Cooking Instructions: He instructs that all food should be cooked over low to medium heat. One should never cook milk on high heat unless mixed with rice or a decoction. Four measures of water should be added to one measure of rice before cooking. For soup made with mung beans one should add thrice the amount of water, for urad dal soup a bit more water is required. When making porridges water should be less than what is used for soups. Harder foodstuffs need more water to cook. Ten pala of meat requires one pala of oil to cook. Salt requires half pala oil and vesavara requires one picu of oil. When cooking fish one should use a fourth of the quantity of spices and oil used in cooking meat.

To cook six varieties of edible plant products same quantities used for meat may be used. Slightly less quantity should be used for rice dishes. When making the soothing drink called rasala, mix two measures of thick yogurt to one measure of sugar and this should added atop the rasala drink. Fruits from trees vary in their sourness. Hence sugar should be added according to taste in fruit drinks.

Chapter Two

Equipment necessary in an ideal kitchen and the need to protect the human body from poison are the major topics of this chapter. The chapter begins with a statement “Individual soul wishes to savor food that is composed of five elements and six tastes. One should protect the food and drinks, especially of the king, from being poisoned”.

Kitchen and Cookware

The kitchen should be built in the southeast quarter of the house, its walls should be half-whitewashed and it should have latticed windows. Cookware is made of clay, iron, wood, stone, bell-metal, copper, silver and gold. Clay pots should be washed in water before cooking. When clay pot is not available iron pots should be used. Food cooked in these types pots are endowed with health benefits. Food cooked in clay pots taste excellent and cooked iron pot is good for the health of the eyes. Food cooked in bell-metal pots is pure and improves intellect and food cooked in copper pots reduces appetite. Kings and rich people use silver and gold pots and food from these vessels cure disturbances from all the doshas (according to ayurveda) and improve intellect.

Storage of Cooked Food

When food is prepared a wise cook should transfer it to another vessel and keep it undisturbed. But boiled rice should be kept in the pot in which it was cooked. Cooked rice and food made of flour should be kept in wood or bell-metal container. Boiled milk should be stored in clay or wooden pots. Store ghee in wooden or iron containers and meat should be placed in silver, gold, iron or wooden pot. Vegetables should be kept in wooden, stone or iron vessel. Water, milk based dishes and buttermilk should be stored in earthenware or glass or crystal vessels. When food is stored in appropriate container it remains healthy and brings happiness to those who consume. 

Lolimbaraja, Satyanarayana Sastry, and Kshema Sarma, Vaidyāvatamsah : an adornment to ayurveda, the science of life, Chowkamba Sanskrit Series 2006

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