Instead of simply preaching on what to eat, I thought it would be far more convincing to tell you what Gods eat. It was an uphill task though. I have never met any of Them, leave alone watching Them eat.
There is enough information available in the purnas & upanishads on what the Gods eat. There are 33 crores of them, so I started with prathama pujya Lord Ganesha. Ganapati is also a foodie. He has a sweet tooth like me. He loves modaks and motichoor ladoo. He also likes coconuts, bananas and all seasonal fruits. If you think a diet laden with modaks and sweets will result in Type 2 diabetes, you are wrong. Not just Ayurveda, even modern science says it’s a myth . Before you pick up your smartphone and order 50 pcs of modaks to be devoured over the weekend, read on. Although I eat a lot of sweets, I avoid refined sugar, branded honey and processed cane jaggery. Consuming lots of sweets haven’t increased my weight. Sweets that are also deep fried (jalebi, gulab jamun, etc) are the worst. The destroyers of obstacles, Lord Ganesha, does not have these. He is on the heavier side though. After all He is the “Elephant God”!
I needed to find a God who is more “down to earth”, more like us. Like a lot other searches, after looking far & wide, I found the answer in my own state, Odisha. The God? Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe. Situated in Puri, on the eastern coast of Odisha, it is one of the char dham designated by Adi Shakaracharya (Note: The temple & even the mathas predate him, he established and formalized the system which is followed till date). It is believed that Lord Vishnu takes His bath at Rameswaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and retires at Dwarika.
Since we are interested in the food, we’ll focus on Jagannath Puri, specifically the kitchen. Considered the largest kitchen in the world, it can cater to 10 million devotees in one go. The food cooked here is offered to Lord Jagannath, then to Goddess Bimala, after which it becomes “Mahaprasad”. It is also known as chappan bhog, because there are 56 different dishes that are cooked. In reality, there can be up to 110 dishes that you can savor in Ananda Bazar.
It’s a huge blessing to be able to share the dining table with the Lord of The Universe, the large circular eyed Shree Jagannath & his siblings. Whether you are a foodie or not, whether you are religious or not, whether you are Hindu or not, whether you are a vegetarian or not, you should taste the Mahaprasad atleast once in your lifetime. This is what food should taste like. This is how food smells with all the vitamins & minerals intact. In this blog, I’ll reveal the ancients secrets on how to cook a wholesome meal, fit for the Gods.
The inspiration for my blog, Sri Rajiv Dixit, was known for his original research in the field of Ayurveda. One of his experiments brought him to the holy town of Jagannath Puri. He wanted to test the belief that mahaprasad never becomes rancid. He took mahaprasad in a train to Delhi. More than 30 hours later & without any refrigeration, the mahaprasad was still fit for consumption! If you cook food in Puri, just outside the temple, in a modern kitchen, the food will be spoiled in just 3-4 hrs in the summer season. The devotees of the Lord will say it’s the doing of Goddess Lakshmi whose is the guiding force in the temple kitchen. If the cooking is not to Her liking, the Suaras (cooks) see the shadow of a dog in the kitchen. All the food is promptly buried and even animals are not allowed to eat it. What divine powers are at work here?
Actually, it’s the science that is stupid. Our kitchens are equipped with aluminum, copper, iron, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic and glassware. None of them can stand up to the vessel used for cooking in the temple at Puri; earthen pots. Combined with two more technologies; slow cooking and steam cooking, the cooking range of Goddess Mahalakshmi is generations ahead or 2 generations behind, depending on how you see it. Our pressure cookers blast rice, lentils, etc to make it soft & mushy without actually “cooking” it. The extremely high pressure of 15 psi also breaks down most of the nutrients in the food to a state which can no more be absorbed by our body. Turns out that the blasted nutrients in the food also brings down its shelf life!
Earthen pots have one more advantage over modern cookware; the taste that lingers & makes you lick your fingers. Whoever said that tasty food is not healthy? While we relish the food, scientists have a long way to go to crack the code of cooking in earthen pots. There are some mysteries that will remain elusive to science for a long time. One of them is the way food is cooked by placing 7 pots on the fire, one above the other. Everything gets cooked properly and the dish being cooked at the bottom does not burn.
In the kitchen of the lord, food is cooked in a clay oven using firewood. Firewood is the most suitable fuel for cooking. There should be no debate on the matter. Unfortunately, science is a slave to the human race, which is why it priorities ease of use over health. Setting up the fire, getting the firewood amber right by blowing into the three pronged gas stove at the right intervals, shifting the amber to provide uniform heating and dousing raging fires, while constantly battling the smoke is not exactly easy though. Creating the mud stove is a work of art. Watch this video here:
Science has not been able to analyze cooked food and infer the type of fuel used in its cooking, except for sensory analysis like the distinct aftertaste and smell of coal or kerosene. All it has done it to make it easier for us to cook with portable stoves that work on electricity or gas. Controlling the temperature is a good first step though. Here’s a state of the art hob that can do that:
Remember that food is not cooked directly on the flame of the firewood, but the amber. Temperatures range between 45°C to 120°C. Keeping temperatures in this range and not subjecting it to industrial grade furnaces preserves some nutrients. After all you are cooking food, not lead (hopefully). It’s sad to see the campaign against firewood  which is completely baseless . If you have gone through the link that outlines the research findings and are now convinced that firewood smoke is not unhealthy, you are still a puppet of science. 20 subjects exposed to firewood smoke for a short period of time. I’ll give you some original research here. I talked to 20 grannies (not all of them mine), who have been cooking on firewood for more than 50 years. Surprisingly, they are not (yet) dead from heart stroke and don’t even suffer from bronchitis or asthma. Will they eat food cooked in a gas stove? Although most of them had tasted food cooked in a modern stove, but were not impressed.
Science will have to stretch its imagination to even think of running experiments on how water from different sources (varying composition of minerals) used for cooking effects the final dish. To take it further to the source of fire used to cook the food & you will be labeled as a believer of superstition. For the record, water for cooking Mahaprasad is drawn from two wells in the temple premises, Ganga & Yamuna. The fire used in the kitchen is an ancient one and is called Vaishnava Agni. The fire has been kept burning since ancient times.
When I dined with the Gods
The Lord’s food strictly follows Ayurveda rule books, which is why there is no imported or unseasonal fruits or vegetables used in the Mahaprasad. No onion, garlic, chili, tomatoes, potatoes, bottle gourd and yet, 56 tasty dishes! I was once in the temple on a day the suaras (cooks) were on strike. The Lord still got his lunch though. Since there was no Mahaprasad for devotees, they had deserted the Lord. 20-30 ardent followers (& me, sulking at the unavailability of food) watched the Lord eat. They watched with reverence till the Lord of the Universe had his fill and then bowed down to him. My keen eyes had caught a glimpse of the food that was still laid out in front of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra. I was famished by then. Suddenly, with the end of the ritual, the pandas picked up the food and approached us. The pakhala (watery, slightly fermented rice) the curry, everything tasted divine. After the hajma drink & the pan, I felt satiated. It was then that I had a taste flashback. There was almost no salt in the dishes (The mahaprasad served in Anand Bazar has rock salt in it). A year later, I got to eat a big brown jalebi that was made specially for the Lord. I grabbed a big bite & started chewing. There was a slight hint of sweetness in it, but most people would miss it. The Lord does eat healthy, Jai Jagganath!