February 10, 2013
Bhojanakuthuhalam, curiosity about food, is an important seventeenth century culinary text in Sanskrit by Raghunatha Suri. Like many 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 which includes texts such as Raja Nighantu, Bhavaprakasa, Ashtangahridaya, Dhanvantari Nighantu, and Hridayadipaka. It deals with the varieties of food and drink, their characteristics, and their nutritious value constituting both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food.
In 1674 Maratha general Ekoji, a half-brother of the great Maratha king Shivaji, seized Thanjavur and made himself king. He was also a patron of scholars. The author of Bhojanakuthuhalam Raghunatha Suri was a Maratha Brahmin who lived in Thanjavur during the reign of Ekoji. Raghunatha Suri was inspired and encouraged by his patron to compose this work. Although the author belonged to the Brahmin caste that practiced vegetarianism, interestingly Bhojanakuthuhalam includes descriptions of non-vegetarian food. Perhaps this was because meat based dishes were popular at the palace of his royal patron. The author was also a great devotee of Lord Ananthadeva, who he mentions several times in his writing.
Bhojanakuthuhalam is divided in three parts. The first part of the book describes dravyagunas – properties of ingredients and cooked food – in a detailed scientific manner. The other two segments are about edible and non-edible ingredients from the perspective of ethics and the dharma sastra philosophy.
Dravyaguna segment of Bhojanakuthuhalam begins with an invocation of Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. It is followed by prayers to Lord Dhanvanthari, the father of Ayurveda, and to the author’s mentors. The topics discussed in detail are divided into various sections as follows:
Bhojanakuthuhalam is also a treasure trove of some ancient recipes. Raghunatha Suri does not always specify exact amounts of ingredients in any of the recipes. While he was particular about the detailed procedures, he has often left out obvious ingredients such as salt in recipes. Probably he wanted the cooks to exercise their own judgment based on individual tastes and preferences.
1. Descriptions various edible grains, their classifications, qualities, their medicinal effects. The grains discussed in this section include rice, wheat, barley, and grains with coverings.
2. Various legumes, peas and beans and their respective properties and health benefits
3. Grassy grains such as kodrave, nivara and syambaka.
4. Compares and contrasts grains grown in various areas and climates and how these factors affect their nutritional properties.
5. Description of a large variety of soups, milk based dishes, wheat breads, meat dishes, fried foods and sweets.
6. Vegetables and their properties – Raghunathasuri describes parts of the vegetable plants in detail – roots, leaves, tips, stem, tender kernel, bark, flower and covering. He goes on describe the common properties of edible plants followed by detailed properties of many individual vegetables. Next he describes leafy vegetables in detail. The section concludes with the description of the unique properties of fruits.
7. Detailed information on spice plants that add fragrance and medicinal value to food – This section also discusses the three doshas based on ayurveda as well as remedies for their imbalances.
8. Upadamsas or preparations that whet the appetite and improve digestion
9. Dried fruit preparations called “karcari” and their medicinal effects
10. Dried spices, salt obtained from different sources and their medicinal effects
11. Making ghee from sources other than milk
12. Sugar from various sources
13. A variety of cool drinks
14. Gruels made from different grains and their health benefits
15. Milk and its various properties
16. Curds or yogurt and its many uses and health benefits
17. Butter made from milk of various animals and their respective properties and medicinal effects
18. Ghee and its meritorious properties
19. Oil from different plant sources
20. Essential aspects of different varieties of sugarcane
21. Derivatives of sugarcane such as jaggery and white sugar derived from seven varieties of sugarcane
22. Honey and its health benefits
23. Alcoholic beverages, methods of preparation and their qualities
24. Non-vegetarian food
25. Water obtained from various sources such as rivers, ocean and wells. It also describes the health benefits of coconut water.
26. Examination of poisonous foodstuff
27. Characteristics of the administration of poison
28. Practices of maintaining or discontinuing wholesome and unwholesome foods
29. Effects of consuming unwholesome foods
30. Unhealthy foods
31. Healthy foods
32. Forbidden foods
33. Proper time for consuming food
34. Utensils used for preparing different foods
35. Various leaves used for serving and eating food
36. Importance of prayer before consuming a meal
37. Detailed procedure of consuming a healthy meal
38. Procedures to be observed after consuming a meal
39. Tambulavidhi – procedure of chewing betel leaves after a meal
40. Dining procedure of royalty
41. How tambula should be served to a king
42. Procedure of anointment
43. Clothing and its effect on human body
Recipes and culinary techniques described in Bhojanakuthuhalam will follow in the next segment.
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Pillai Suranad Kunjan (Ed/Pub) Bhojanakuthuhala of Raghunatha Suri, Part One, University Manuscript Library, Trivandrum, Sanskrit Series No: 178. University of Travancore 1956.