The Glories of Raghava's Bag, Part 6

BY: SUN STAFF - 24.2 2023

Indian Gooseberries

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



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

Antya 10.24

koli-sunthi, koli-curna, koli-khanda ara
kata nama la-iba, sata-prakara 'acara'

koli-sunthi -- dried ginger and berries; koli-curna -- powder of berries; koli-khanda -- another preparation of berries; ara -- and; kata nama -- how many names; la-iba -- I shall call; sata-prakara -- a hundred varieties; acara -- condiments and pickles.

She made a hundred varieties of condiments and pickles. She also made koli-sunthi, koli-curna, koli-khanda and many other preparations. How many should I name?

Here Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja gives us a glimpse of the reality of Raghava's Bag: only a small number of the variety of nectarian preparations gathered for the Lord by Damayanti can even be described in his narration. As the previous segments hopeful illustrate, each individual preparation represents a treasure-house of flavour, texture, variety and suitability… enough to overwhelm the senses when thinking of the glorious way in which Damayanti served the Lord.

Wild Strawberries

In considering the "hundred varieties of condiments and pickles", we recall how Radharani never cooks the same preparation for Krsna twice… and sastra is full of descriptions of the endless variety of wonderful preparations She offers Him.

'Koli', the Sanskrit term for 'berries', refers to no particular variety, but rather to the categories of this type of fruit. In Antya 18.104 we find this reference to koli:

"Among the fruits were many varieties of coconuts and mangoes, bananas, berries, jackfruits, dates, tangerines, oranges, blackberries, santaras, grapes, almonds and all kinds of dried fruit."

Botanically, berries are distinguished from other fruits as being those having a juicy pulp surrounding the seed or seeds. For example, blueberries and currants are true berries, as the pulp surrounds the seeds. Raspberries, blackberries and similar fruits are known as "aggregate fruits", meaning they're actually a cluster made up of lots of little fruits. Strawberries are slightly different because it's a part of the flower that becomes the berry, and the seeds are situated on the skin of the red fruit.

Zunna Berries

In the case of the preparations found in Raghava's Bag, the term koli is most likely used broadly.

Antya 10.24 describes three specific types of preparations using berries, but not what variety of berries Damayanti used in them. In Part 2 of this series, we read about amra-koli, a mixture of mango and berries. These could be fresh or dried fruits, or even a mixture of the two.

Blueberries and Ginger

Today, in Verse 24 we find a description of three berry preparations:

koli-śuṇṭhi — dried ginger and berries
koli-cūrṇa — powder of berries
koli-khaṇḍa — another preparation of berries

Powdered berries are very much like the powdered bitter vegetables described in an earlier segment, in the way they're prepared and the same wide variety of uses they have. Powdered berries can be blended into yoghurt or curd, whipped into beverages, sprinkled onto fresh fruits or cereal grains, or added as a sweetener to dals and sabjis. An equally abundant variety of berries are found in India, making the combinations endless.

There are likely hundreds of varieties of sun-loving berry bushes, brambles and trees that grow throughout India. In a past editorial series on the Himalayas, we read that strawberries and raspberries even grow in the high northern elevations. Blueberries, known as lukluki in Bengal, are a favoured fruit.

Zara Berries

One of the most common berries mention in sastra is the Indian Gooseberry, or aamla, from the Sanskrit amalaka. Lord Visnu is said to live in trees bearing this fruit, and they're specially worshipped on Amalaka Ekadashi. Adi Shankara composed the Kanakadhara-stotram in praise of Goddess Mahalakshmi, in order to help a poor Brahmin get wealth, after she presented him with a single amla on Dwadashi day. Half an amalaka fruit was the final gift to the Buddhist sangha by the Indian emperor Asoka, as described in this Asokavadana verse:

"A great donor, the lord of men, the eminent Maurya Asoka, has gone from being lord of Jambudvipa [India] to being lord of half a myrobalan." (Strong, 1983, P.99)[16]

Asoka's deed is memorialized by the Amalaka Stupa in Patna.

Among the many flavourful berries that grow in North India are the Ber berries. They grow only in the Winter, and last until the end of Spring. In Bengal they grow to the size of strawberries and taste like apples, with a very unique scent.

Ber, like the common brown-colored Indian Berry, makes an excellent pickle. They are simply prepared by cooking the berries down with jaggery and tamarind, salt and red chilis - a recipe that works well with almost any berry at all.