September 12, 2012
Lokopakara (for the benefit of the people)
The early medieval period in south India witnessed the emergence and development of regional kingdoms, regional cultures, and languages. Kings and temples were decisive shapers of regional cultures and Hinduism experienced a comeback. By the seventh century A.D. much of the Deccan plateau (central part of India that includes inland sections of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka) was under the rule Chalukyas of Badami. Their descendants, the Western Chalukyas, sometimes referred as the Kalyani Chalukyas after their regal capital at Kalyani (present Basavakalyan in Karnataka), ruled most of the western Deccan between the 10th through the 12th centuries A.D.
Kannada (language of the state of Karnataka in south India) literature enjoyed generous royal support and patronage during the reign of western Chalukya kings. Encyclopedic compilations based on earlier works were composed both in Sanskrit and regional languages. Lokopakara: for the benefit of the People, was composed in 1025 AD in the Kannada language by Chavundaraya II. He was among the many scholars and poets patronized by King Jayasimha II (1015-1042 AD). He was also the Sarvadhikari (chief of operations of the kingdom) under King Jayasimha II.
Written in poetry form Lokopakara is a treasure trove of vanishing local knowledge on various subjects. Lokopakara contain twelve chapters, each devoted to a totally different and unrelated subject including astrology, vrikshayurveda – ayurveda for plants and trees, science of cooking, horticulture, medicine, omens, perfumes, religion, treatments for snake bites, veterinary sciences, water resources and water divining. Details on many of the topics in the book were collected from earlier Sanskrit works such as Brihat Samhita of Varanhamihira, Charaka Samhita, and Brahat Jataka.
The eighth chapter in this work is dedicated to Supa Sastra- the science of cooking. The author being a follower of Jainism and a devout vegetarian, the Supa sastra segment contains only references to vegetarian ingredients and dishes prevalent in Karnataka during the eleventh century. In discussing ingredients Lokopakara includes root vegetables, onion and garlic although the author’s religion Jainism abstains from these ingredients. Recipes mention ingredients and cooking methods to be used, but any measurements or cooking times are seldom mentioned. Understanding of the benefits of using various leaves, berries, and roots of medicinal plants and herbs in everyday cooking as descried in Lokopakara reveals the depth of scientific knowledge prevalent in India some ten centuries ago.
Supa Sastra – Science of cooking
Chavundaraya opens his chapter on supa sastra with the following statement “Our ancestors have said that food is life. Accordingly, I hereby expound the science of cooking for the people”.
Rice continues to be the staple food of the people of the south; and the very first recipe in Supa sastra is for cooking rice. He instructs that rice should be washed three times before boiling in excess water and when it is cooked, the excess water should be drained. This was the prevalent method of cooking rice in old days and it is still used by many home cooks in south India. Besides rice, grains such as wheat and barley were used in various dishes.
Cooked rice was served with huli (soups or broths), yogurt and various vegetable and leaf dishes. Huli was prepared with mung dal (split and hulled mung beans), urad dal (split and hulled black gram) or chana dal (split and hulled Indian brown chick peas). They are first cooked in water until they reach the consistency of gruel. Cardamom, cumin, coriander, black pepper and mustard seeds are ground into a puree and stirred into the cooked dal. This mixture is later flavored with souring agents such as tamarind and lemon juice and garnished with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafetida and curry leaves fried in small quantity of ghee or oil. Variations and adaptations of the above recipe are still popular all over south India.
Vegetables, Shoots, Roots, and Flowers
A wide variety of vegetables, leaves, roots, shoots, sprouts and spices were used in this cuisine. In addition to tropical vegetables such as pumpkin, ash gourd (winter melon), okra, and tubers such as suran (elephant foot yam), and radishes, various fragrant and medicinal roots, shoots and leaves were also used in certain recipes. These include sprouts of field beans, bamboo shoots, pipal tree shoots, castor shoots, tamarind shoots, amaranth roots, lotus roots, Sessile joyweed (Alternanthera sessilis – dwarf copperleaf) roots, leaves of Cupped coral-berry tree (breynia retusa), leaves of coffee Senna (Cassia occidentalis), tender leaves of bael fruits; and flowers of red hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), pumpkin, banana plant, and palasha tree (Butea monosperma). The inner part of the stem of the banana plant was also used.
Raw and dry ginger, turmeric, garlic, cumin seed, mustard, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, asafetida, camphor and coriander were the spices used. A spice mixture called trijataka which included powders of saffron, bark and leaves of cloves, and cardamom were used in certain preparations. Chili peppers, major spice component in modern south Indian cuisine, is noticeably absent in all recipes; Chilies arrived in India only with the Portuguese.
Pots and pans used for cooking were mainly earthenware. Chavundaraya also mentions wooden and metal pots. Earthenware pots were used for preparing payasa (pudding), and storing milk and yogurt.
Culinary techniques, methods of preservation of food, detoxification of ingredients, and means of removing bitterness from various ingredients discussed in Lokopakara will follow in the next segment.
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Ayangara, Valmiki Sreenivasa (translator) Lokopakara, Agri-History Bulletin 6. Asian Agri-History Foundation 2006
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
Kamat, Jyotsna. Social Life in Medieval Karnataka. Abhinav Publications 1980