Food in Sivatattva Ratnakara
In writing Sivatattva Ratnakara, consisting of nearly 13,000 Sanskrit verses, Basavaraja adopted the writing style of Hindu Puranas. Various subjects are described through the form of dialogue between himself and his son Somasekhara. Considering the subjects covered in Sivatattva Ratnakara are quite extensive, we do not see a lot about food and cooking until we reach the sixth chapter (KallOla). It is an extensive chapter containing 27 subdivisions (tarangas). The taranga describing various types of royal enjoyments or upabhogas is an elaborate one, and food is discussed here in detail. In addition, the chapter on Science, Medicine and Veterinary contains discussions about properties of milk and milk products and properties of cooked rice from a medicinal point of view.
Enjoyment of Food
In ancient India cooking was done with great care and under strict hygienic conditions. People knew about the value of different foods and took great care to prepare balanced meals. Cooking had the status of an art or science. According to King Basavaraja good balanced diet is essential for the growth and maintenance of the human body. Delicious food is also a source of pleasure and considered one of the major enjoyments. Gift of food to others – anna dana – is considered the supreme offering and the giver derives the most satisfaction from such a deed.
The kitchen in the royal household has to cater to the needs of many people with different tastes. Basavaraja describes how an ideal kitchen in a royal palace is set up. A nice well planned kitchen provides a pleasant atmosphere to the cooks and also for preparing meals under hygienic condition. A kitchen should be 32 cubits long (cubit is an ancient measure of length, approximately equal to the length of a forearm) and 8 cubits broad. The eastern part of the kitchen should be reserved for cooking activities. The kitchen must be fitted with a fireplace containing nine openings (stoves) at the south eastern corner – the residence of Agni – the God of fire. There should be a passage for smoke to go out.
The wood burning stoves should be built with iron, brick or mud and set up in the form of a cow’s tail – tapering from one end to the other and. It should contain nine graduated openings on the upper part to keep vessels of various shapes and sizes for cooking. Rice being the most bulky, should be cooked in the largest opening and curries and lighter dishes in the smaller openings towards the end of the tail.
A Place for Everything
Then he goes on to describe different accessories needed in the kitchen and the particular place allocated to each one of them. He points out that such kitchen design is necessary to maintain the cleanliness of the kitchen.
Firewood should be kept on the south side and knives on the southwest part of the kitchen. Water pots should be kept on the west side, the seat of Varuna the god of water. The mortar and pestle (pounding stone) in the northwest, winnowing basket and broom stick in the north, and grinding stone and pestle used for mixing spice blends and batters in the eastern side of the kitchen. A place should be designated in the northwest side of the kitchen for cutting vegetables. (There is no mention of any meat or seafood as the royal kitchen of Basavaraja was a vegetarian kitchen)
Next we find descriptions of three main implements required in the kitchen. The suruva (ladle) used to stir the pots while cooking should be made of wood or coconut shell, twelve inches in length and at one end as broad as the palm. The other end should be fitted for about three inches with iron, silver or gold. The mortar should be four sided in shape with four feet in length and three feet in width. It has a surrounding ring, four inches wide. In the center it has a hole of sixteen inches in depth and seven inches wide. (Both four sided and round shaped granite mortars were used in India. The picture to the bottom left shows a large mortar in a round shape). The winnowing basket should be shaped as an elephant’s ear. A sieve made of bamboo with small holes in the center called Calini is another necessary implement in the kitchen. It is used to remove small stones and husks from grains. All of these utensils and implements were in use in India even during ancient times.
Next we find descriptions of pots and pans made of different kinds of materials and the effect each of these materials have on food prepared in them. Food cooked in copper pots will cure rheumatism, and colic. When food is prepared in iron pots it will increase blood in the body and also cure lung disease. Food cooked in bronze pots will cure bile and phlegm. Food prepared in silver pots is wholesome to those of bilious and phlegmatic constitution. Food cooked in gold vessels will prove an antidote to poison and cure indigestion and lividness. It will also improve the nervous system. Food prepared in earthenware pots will cool the system, purify blood and cure bile. Food cooked in utensils made of red, black, and white clay have different curative effects. From these details it is evident that ancient Indians were aware of the chemical reactions of metals and clay on cooked food and used pots made of different materials depending on the conditions of their health.
After such detailed descriptions of setting up a royal kitchen and the implements used in the kitchen, Basavaraja proceeds to describe the qualifications required for a good cook. It is followed by meticulous descriptions of different food articles, how they should be cooked, and their health benefits. All these coming up in the next segment.