The Glories of Raghava's Bag, Part 4

BY: SUN STAFF - 21.2 2023

 A journey through the nectarian contents of Raghava's Bag.


Sukuta and Kasandi

The next description of the foodstuffs found among the raghavera-jhali is in Caitanya-caritamrta Antya lila 10.17-21:

"Do not neglect sukuta because it is a bitter preparation. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu derived more happiness from eating this sukuta than from drinking pancamrta [a preparation of milk, sugar, ghee, honey and curd].

Since Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He extracts the purpose from everything. He accepted Damayanti's affection for Him, and therefore He derived great pleasure even from the dried bitter leaves of sukuta and from kasandi [a sour condiment].

Because of her natural love for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Damayanti considered the Lord an ordinary human being. Therefore she thought that He would become sick by overeating and there would be mucus within His abdomen.

Because of sincere affection, she thought that eating this sukuta would cure the Lord's disease. Considering these affectionate thoughts of Damayanti, the Lord was very pleased.

"A dear lover strung a garland and placed it on the shoulder of his beloved in the presence of her co-wives. She had raised breasts and was very beautiful, yet although the garland was tainted with mud, she did not reject it, for its value lay not in material things but in love."

PURPORT: Because of pure love, the devotees of Krsna in Goloka Vrndavana, Vrajabhumi, loved Krsna as an ordinary human being like them. Yet although they considered Krsna one of them, their love for Krsna knew no bounds. Similarly, because of extreme love, devotees like Raghava Pandita and his sister, Damayanti, thought of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as a human being, but their love for Him was boundless. By overeating, an ordinary human being becomes prone to a disease called amla-pitta, which is a product of indigestion characterized by acidity of the stomach. Damayanti thought that such a condition would afflict Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

PURPORT: This is a verse from the Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi."

In these verses we get confirmation that Damayanti included bitter vegetables and powders with the contents of Raghava's Bag for their health and medicinal value. Sukuta is described in Verse 17 as a 'bitter preparation', which could encompass all the various types of bitters we discussed yesterday, from Karela to Fenugreek, Neem, and bitter leafy greens.

Verse 18 tells us that the Lord derived great pleasure from "the dried bitter leaves of sukuta" and from kasandi [a sour condiment]. This indicates that the bitter foodstuffs likely included more than just Karela, although the young tender leaves of Karela are also edible.

While Karela is perhaps the most common digestive aid among the bitter vegetables, it is not alone. Many green vegetables considered to be astringents will likewise aid digestion by neutralizing acids.

In his Bhaktivedanta Purport, Srila Prabhupada explains the transcendental aspects of Damayanti's selection of foodstuffs, comparing the love of Raghava Pandit and his sister for Mahaprabhu to the love the residents of Vraja have for Krsna. The verse from Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi appears to compare the bitter quality of the edibles to a garland tainted by mud.

Verse 18 tells us that Sri Chaitanya enjoyed the bitter vegetables along with a preparation Damayanti included called Kasandi, a sour condiment. A group of Kasandi preparations were among the first items mentioned in the list of contents of Raghava's Bag:

"These are the names of some of the pickles and condiments in the bags of Raghava Pandita: amra-kasandi, ada-kasandi, jhala-kasandi, nembu-ada, amra-koli, amsi, ama-khanda, tailamra and ama-satta."

(Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya lila 10.2.15-16)

Dal bathed in mustard oil

Described in the second segment, Amra-kasandi is a mango relish which, like many Kasandis, typically features a strong mustard flavour. Srila Prabhupada was fond of mustard oil used properly, although he note that it is not good for one's health, if taken in excess.

Fried mustard seeds in oil can certainly be described as sour. Combined with a bitter vegetable, the pairing would no doubt frighten away any untoward acids in the stomach, by their sheer pungency. Devotees sometimes found the taste of mustard oil so overpowering that they had difficulty taking Prabhupada's remnants of preparations cooked in the oil.

Bitter Vegetables

The bitters referred to as Sukuta, or shukta are described in Yamuna devi's cookbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine: "Among Bengalis, two types of foods are regional specialties: chenna cheese sweets and bitter vegetable shukta stews. There is mention in the Vaishnava texts compiled by Krishnadas Kaviraj that Lord Chaitanya favored the taste of shukta over even the nectar drink panchamrita, which is made with honey, yoghurt and cardamom. For a Westerner, a taste for bitter-flavored dishes dmeands some cultivation but is well worth the effort.

At this very moment, across the length and breadth of Bengal, shuktas are simmering on the fire. This dish is characterized by large, tender chunks of vegetables -- sometimes shallow- or deep-fried beforehand -- floating in aromatic gravies or broths. Although many vegetables can be used, a few classic ones that are always appropriate are starchy potatoes, yams, plantains, pungent white radish, smooth eggplant or toray and textured parval, drumstick or green beans. This dish is always flavored with either a bitter spice, a bitter leaf or a bitter vegetable. Whole fenugreek seeds and leaves have a decidedly bitter flavor, and the most popular bitter vegetable found in the West is bitter melon, or bitter gourd."