October 12, 2014
Culinary Traditions of Medieval Karnataka:
During the early medieval period regional kingdoms of south India were flourishing and kings as well as temples were decisive shapers of regional cultures. Literature enjoyed generous royal support and patronage.
Hoysala dynasty ruled southern Deccan and Kaveri river valley from 1006 A.D. until around 1345 A.D. when it was assimilated into the Vijayanagara Empire. Hoysala king Ballala II who reigned from 1173 to 1220 extended his kingdom to the north of Mysore making the Hoysala dynasty the dominant power in south India. At its peak, the Hoysala Empire covered most of modern-day Karnataka, northern Andhra Pradesh, and a good portion of northern Tamil Nadu.
The Hoysala Empire was divided into Nadus, Kampanas, Vishayas and Deshas and they were administered by feudatory chiefs called Samantas. One of these feudatory chiefs, the Chengalvas, were ruling the western part of the kingdom. During the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries the Sultans of Delhi made series of invasions to the southern parts of India. During this period of battles, Madhava, a minister under the Chengalvas proved his valor and loyalty and was awarded the reign of Kallahalli, a portion of the land under rule of the Chengalvas, in recognition of his services. Mangarasa III, a grandson of this Madhava, is the author of the poetic work on cookery in Kannada language -Soopa-sastra.
Under the rule of Hoysala dynasty several literary works of high excellence were written in the Kannada language. T.R. Narasimhacharya in History of Kannada Literature writes that the earliest authors of these literary works were mostly Jainas (followers of Jainism) with very few exceptions. Hoysala kings and their Generals extended their patronage to Jainism and several of them were followers of Jainism.
Soopa Shastra is one of the earliest works exclusively on the subject of south Indian cookery. Although the History of Kannada Literature mentions of a previous work on cookery by Jayabhandunandana, the name of the work is not mentioned. Mangarasa III being a follower of Jainism, Soopa Shastra is an exclusive text on vegetarianism. The text is composed in vardhaka shatpadi, a metrical form employing six lines per verse. Soopa-sastra is arranged in six chapters, comprising 358 slokas or verses. This treatise was transcribed into prose by S.N. Krishna Jois in 1969 after consulting nine available manuscripts of the work.
Mangarasa III starts his work stating that food is for nourishing the body and nine parts of plants – trees, shrubs, grass, creeper, tuber, stalk, leaf, flower, and fruit – are good for a healthy vegetarian diet. The six chapters of Soopa Shastra are devoted to breads and snacks, drinks, rice dishes, curries and dishes made of bamboo shoots and myrobalan. The ingredients and cooking methods are described in great detail, and even the types of utensils and ovens needed are described. The first chapter describes the preparation of thirty five breads, sweets and snacks. Most of these have become obsolete writes Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. a Kannada language scholar and researcher. The second chapter describes the preparation of various soft drinks, salty, sour and sweet in taste. Third chapter is on nine types of payasa (puddings), eight types of cooked rice and twenty four types of mixed rice dishes. The remaining three chapters are on dishes made with various vegetables. These include recipes for twenty dishes with eggplant, sixteen dishes with jackfruit and twenty five dishes made with raw bananas (plantains) and banana flowers. The last chapter contains recipes using bamboo shoots and myrobalan.
Unusual and Interesting Facts:
The cooking processes described in Soopa Shastra are elaborate and labor intensive. Although the author is a follower of Jainism, use of garlic, onion and root vegetables are conspicuous in some recipes. Strict followers of Jainism do not eat any garlic, onion or root vegetables. An interesting cooking method described is the use of tandoor type oven for baking. What I found most intriguing about these recipes is the use of unusual spice combinations, the definite absence of chili pepper (which reached India only after another hundred years) and innovative cooking methods and the use of khoya (thickened milk), paneer (fresh cheese) and milk in both sweet and savory dishes. Although cooking with yogurt is quite prevalent in south Indian cooking, to my understanding use of milk, khoya and paneer in savory dishes is not very common.
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Bhatt, N.P. & Modwel, Nerupama Y. (Editors) Konatambigi, Madhukar (Translator) Culinary Traditions of Medieval Karnataka. B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi 2012
Kamat, Jyotsna K. Social Life in medieval Karnataka, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi 1980
R. Narasimhacharya M.A., M.R.A.S History of Kannada Literature University of Mysore Publication 1940