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Thursday, 15 January 2009
“SAM BHUTNAM PRTHVI RASHA, PRITHIVYA APO RASO PALM OSADHAYO RASA,
OSADHINAM PURUSO RASAH “
Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.2
“The essence of all beings is earth. The essence of the earth is water.
The essence of water is plants. The essence of plants is human beings”.
Its so difficult to cook something well without understanding the philosophy of the cuisine. But trying to explain the philosophy of an ancient and complex cuisine is not a simple task, because one cannot attempt to describe the significance of one set of factors without outlining how it connects to others. Therefore we will try and underline the system of beliefs on which the philosophy of Indian cuisine is based.
India is a sub continent, equal in size to Western Europe, but without a single common language. It has about two and half times the number of people, several language scripts and many more religions. It is therefore not easy to label its cuisine under one single heading. One has to allow for differences in climate, availability of produce, income, religion, customs, traditions and beliefs.
The strongest influence on Indian cuisine is of Ayurveda, an ancient body of knowledge on health. Its origins lie in the Arthaveda, the contents of which date around 100 B.C. Numerous books and other ancient texts have been composed over the centuries and have kept the subject of this tradition alive. The indigenous system of medicine in India is known as AYURVEDA, from Ayus means life and Veda is Knowledge. This system has always considered man as a whole entity in the form of mind and body relationship.
It is believed by some that the Ayurvedic herbal science of India is not relevant in today’s world, since it is based on an ancient and traditional system. It is also believed that since herbs are largely from tropical plants and we have no access to them they are of little value in our particular environment, this is a wrong belief as even in today’s world arurvedic science is needed more than ever.
While major herbs in Ayurvedic usage have no western equivalents common herbs like bay berry(barberry) are commonly used in India and Ayurveda contains useful information about them. Even essential Ayurvedic herbs as ashuragandha, hariatki may be incorporated into western herbalism just as ginseng and tang kuei have come from Chinese sources.
Many aruvedic herbs are common spices as ginger, turmeric, cilantro, celery, and fenugreek.
The importance of trees and plants of medicinal value can be judged from tulsi(basil), neem(margosa) and vilwa(bael) growing in the precinct of temples and even in the courtyards of homes. It is said that ascetics who scoured the forests for the herbs that held the secret of youth and long life discovered the plants. Mythology has it that soma(the juice from the ephedra) was a great energizer, whereas sanjivani(identified by some as wheatgrass) had life giving properties.
An impressive pharmacology of Ayurvedic herbs can be put together merely from spices and herbs from the western world.
As said earlier Ayurveda means the science of life, it does not mean Hindu medicine. It is a science of living that encompasses all that relates to the life of an individual to that of the universe. As such it includes everything that adds greater harmony to life.
Indian gastro science Ayurveda does not belong to the East or West or to the ancient or modern, it is a knowledge that belongs to all living beings. It is not a system which is imposed upon freely,but has to be adapted to the unique needs of the individual in his or her particular environment.
Ayurvedic herbalism gives us not only knowledge of specific herbs but also a way to understand all the herbs. Ayurdeva which believes in sharing thus removing all barriers between human beings. The new age has to learn from this and make the world a better place to live in.
In the eastern world particularly in India and China an extensive herbal science has been developed, originating from spiritual knowledge, then with the experience of thousands of years herbal medicine was refined. In this regard Indian gastronomic science Ayurveda includes what is probably the oldest and most visionary science in the world. Such a fully developed science now requires the right translation with deep understanding and adaptation. Some of the greatest doctors and sages have contributed their finest insights and discoveries into its ancient and well profound food wisdom.
We need to overcome our linear process of thought to enter into a non linear reasoning approach. The strength of Ayurveda lies in its broad, all encompassing view of the dynamic interrelationship between organic physiological process and external factors including climate, life work and diet along with internal emotional stages. In contrast modern science takes a more particular structure and chemistry. It is paradoxical that both could be describing the same condition in such different ways and with such dramatically opposed viewpoints.
Indian gastronomy states that the tastes of a herb is not incidental but it is an indication of its properties. Different tastes possess different effects, usually we do co relate taste with therapeutic property of foods. We consider taste only for pleasure of the palate….
In western herbalism, the taste of a herb is more a means of identification rather than a means of understanding its effects. There is a general belief that spicy, pungent food creates more heat or that bitter foods help reduce fever but this is not the basis for classification of herbs by taste.
The Sanskrit word for taste, RASA has many meanings. All of them help us to understand the importance of taste in Indian gastronomy. Rasa means essence, taste thus indicates the essence of a plant and is perhaps the prime factor in understanding its qualities. Rasa also means “sap” so that the taste of a herb reflects the properties of the sap that invigorates it.
Rasa means appreciation, artistic delight, a musical note. Thus taste communicates feelings, which again is the essence of the plant, Through it can be perceived the beauty and power of the plant. Rasa means circulation, to feel, to dance, all of which is reflected in the energizing power of taste.
Taste directly effects our nervous system through the Pran, the life force in the mouth, which is connected to the prana in the brain. Taste stimulates nerves, awakens minds and senses to make us lively. Thus taste sets our own Rasa or vital fluids in motion. Through stimulating Prana, particularly the gastric nerves, taste effects Agni the “digestive fire” and enhances the power of digestion. It is good taste of food that is necessary to awaken our Agni for proper digestion.
For this reason, bland food may not be nourishing in spite of its vitamins or minerals. Without stimulating Agni there is no real power of digestion. Ayurveda gastronomy has therefore always included the science of cooking with the right spices.
When we are sick, we lose our sense of taste and our appetite. Taste, appetite and digestion are interrelated. Lack of taste indicates fever or other disease, low Agni means high Anna(toxin). To improve Agni and eradicate diseases, it is necessary to improve our taste. This is why spices are such an important part of our food. Desire for tasty food indicates hungry Agni not birth of disease. The problem is we have perverted our sense of taste with artificial substances.
Taste is the sensory quality that belongs to the element of water. Taste thus reflects the energies and elements that operate in a particular food.
Cloud water originally has no taste, but all tastes are latent in it. These are gathered as it falls, as it passes through the five elements in the atmosphere and takes on their qualities.
Ayurveda recognizes six tastes, sweet, sour, salty, Pungent, bitter and astringent. These are derived from the five elements, each taste is composed of two elements.
- Sweet taste-earth and water
- Sour-earth and fire
- Salty-water and fire
- Pungent-fire and air
- Bitter-air and earth
- Astringent-earth and air
These six tastes transmit the properties of the five elements, they are based on the element of water, which manifests them. It is only when the tongue is wet that we recognize taste. Ayurveda also characterizes ways of eating food such as drinking, licking, sucking and to swallow.
The whole philosophy of Indian food revolves around these theories. So now one can appreciate the complexity of an Indian meal.
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