Ancient Indian Cookery, Part Two

BY: SUN STAFF - 22.9 2017

Spice Sellers

A study of ancient texts on Vedic cookery and foodstuffs, in Sanskrit and Kannada.

Today we'll mention two more ancient texts on Vedic cooking: the Shivatattva Rathnakara and the Bhojana Kuthoohala. Bhojana means 'food' in Sanskrit. Both these Sanskrit texts were written in the 17th Century. Shivatattva Rathnakara is famously known as an encyclopedia of Vedic topics, written in 1699 A.D. It includes four chapters on cookery, including many of the fruits and vegetables featured in ancient Vedic cuisine. The tamasic qualities of non-vegetarian items are also discussed.

Bhojana Kuthoohala

The Bhojana Kuthoohala was written in 1670 A.D. by the brahmin, Raghunatha Bhatta, under the patronage of Deepa Bai. The text is comprised of eight chapters in Sanskrit:

Dhanya (grains) 
Shuka (beans/legumes) 
Shali (rice) 
Godhuma (wheat) 
Yava (barley) 
Vidala (sweetmeats) 
Sakala (seasonal)

The text discusses various types of beverages, cooked sabjis, fruits, and the offering of foods to the deity.

Bhojana Kuthoohala also covers the use of chilies in cooking. While Indian food is well known for being spicy hot, chilies were not introduced there until the 15th Century. Although Botanists argue over the specifics, chilis are known to have been first cultivated in South America around 5000 B.C. It was the Portuguese who appear to have been the first traders in chili peppers. When their ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope, they brought the hot fruits to India's shores in 1498 A.D. By the 1500's, chilis were actively exported to India. Not surprising, then, that the circa 1670 A.D. Bhojana Kuthoohala devoted a section to them.


Shivatattva Rathnakara

Shivatattva Rathnakara was written by Basava Bhupala, a king in the Keladi-Bidanur dynasty. His regime lasted from 1697 A.D. to 1714 A.D. Basava Bhupala was an adopted son of the famous queen Chennammaji. Known as a valiant and philanthropic king, he was a great patron of art and culture, and was himself the author of two additional books. The author/king made it clear that he had composed these works for the information, enlightenment and pleasure of scholars and the lay public.

Shivatattva Rathnakara is an extensive encyclopedic compendium containing a tremendous amount of information on a wide range of subjects. The information was culled from other authoritative texts, as encyclopedias generally are. The content is divided into nine chapters, or kallola, each having many subdivisions, or tarangas. In all, there are 108 tarangas in the work, comprised of 35,000 slokas.

Shivatattva Rathnakara is written in the form of a dialogue. Somashekhara, a son of the king asks questions, and the king himself provides the answers.

Along with Vedic cookery, there are chapters on philosophy, economy, royal administration, warfare, agriculture, history, geography, astrology, astronomy, the fine arts, dance, drama, construction of a dancing hall, construction of gardens, divination of water, hydrology, musicology, etc. Natural phenomenon are described, as well as methods of prognostication based upon them. For example, the king says that 'white and yellow clouds bring only sparse rain whereas black and red clouds yield good rains. A good scientist is capable of understanding the formation of clouds at least fifteen days earlier and he should guide the people. He treats lightning as the eyes of the clouds.'