Ancient Indian Cookery, Part 4

BY: SUN STAFF - 11.10 2017

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

Today we return our focus to the Supa Sastra, a treatise on Vedic cookery written by King Mangarasa III in 1508 A.D. Like other principal Ayurvedic texts, this Kannada manuscript draws upon the earliest known Vedic cookbook -- Nala Pandava's Pakadarpanam. The content of this epic cookbook, Supa Sastra, is nothing short of delectable. All those with a taste for Krsna prasadam -- and especially those who love to spend long hours in the kitchen making the preparations -- will be captivated by the information Mangarasa passed on.

King Mangarasa III ruled in the early 16th Century in the Hosavritti area of Mysore district, which was the center of the Hoysala kingdom. His principal palace was in Kallahalli village. Mangarasa's grandfather, the Lord of Dhatupura, claimed to be a descendent of the Yadavas, from the Chandra Vansha, the clan coming down from the Moon god. Known as Chengalvas, members of this lineage were primarily worshippers of Shiva.

King Mangarasa saw himself as something of a renaissance man, being highly adept at not only statesmanship, but also expert in arts and culture. He was not only a poet (the Supa Sastra being written in poetic verse), but was also a talented cook.

In Supa Sastra, Mangarasa offers his indebtedness to the most prominent of all Vedic cooks: Bhima and Nala Pandava, and Gouri, who cooks in the style of Shiva's wife. Gouri is mentioned in the Skanda Purana in a pastime called Dwija Kanyarthiharana lila, in the Halasya Mahatmya (chapter) of this purana. Gouri exemplified culinary expertise, a art form in which she was directly empowered by Shiva's own Gouri.

The name of Mangarasa's tome, Supa Sastra, comes from the word soopa, which is cooked pigeon pea (tur or arhar dal). This dal is cooked down with salt, chilis and turmeric into a prep known as Tovve. The general science of cooking is known as soopashastra.

The Supa Sastra is certainly a cookbook, but it is not the typical collection of recipes. Rather, it is a book of instruction on cooking procedures and techniques. Mangarasa doesn't offer detailed technical information on the philosophy and religious practice of cooking, or the particulars of cooking facilities, equipment and utensils, techniques, etc. Instead, he focuses on the methods of cooking a wide variety of preps in numerous basic categories, from simple main ingredients up to more complex preparations.

Ancient Indian kitchen gear, Udaipur

It is from other ancient Vedic cookery texts that we learn about many of the cookery topics not covered by Mangarasa. For example, there is a Sanskrit text called Shivaratnakara which describes the optimal layout for kitchen facilities. It prescribes that the kitchen should be 48 feet long and 12 feet wide, with an excellent chimney arrangement so no smoke lingers inside. An oven in the cow-tail design should face east, and it should be made of iron, bricks or mud.

The oven should be placed in the southeast corner of the kitchen, with the firewood stacked in the south, and the cutting instruments arranged in the southwest of the room. Water is to be stored in the west, and the grinding stone in the northeast. Cleaning gear should be stored in the north, and tools for pounding and powdering should be in the northeast. Cooking pots and vessels should be in the east. Vegetables are to be cleaned only in the northeast of the kitchen area.