The Glories of Raghava's Bag, Part 9

BY: SUN STAFF - 2.3 2023

Poha: flattened rice

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

Flat Rice

Today's description of the foodstuffs found among raghavera-jhali is from Caitanya-caritamrta Antya lila 10.27:

salikacuti-dhanyera 'atapa' cida kari'
nutana-vastrera bada kuthali saba bhari'

salikacuti-dhanyera -- of a kind of fine rice; atapa -- dried in the sunshine; cida kari' -- making flat rice; nutana-vastrera -- of new cloth; bada kuthali -- a large bag; saba -- all; bhari' -- filling.

She made flat rice from fine, unboiled, sali paddy and filled a large bag made of new cloth.

As described in a past Sun feature on the "Origins of Rice in India", Sali, Vrihi and Sastika are the main varieties of rice. Among them, rakta-sali is considered the best of all the corns. Other rices having names similar to Damayanti's salikacuti-dhanyera are maha-sali and kastha-sali.

While sali refers to the rice variety's botanical family name, the Sanskrit terms kacuti and dhanyera apparently describe the qualities that distinguish salikacuti-dhanyera from the other 10,000 varieties of rice that existed in ancient India. The translation of Antya 10.27 tells us that Damayanti used 'fine sali paddy'.

"She made flat rice from fine, unboiled, sali paddy and filled a large bag made of new cloth."

Atapa is a term found throughout sastra, referring to sunshine and strong, hot or glaring sun or heat from the sun. In this verse, atapa refers to sun-dried rice. The process or technique Damayanti used is cida kari, 'making flat rice', but the common name for this rice preparation is not mentioned -- that is, Poha.

Poha is uncooked rice that has been pounded flat. Before pounding, the rice grains are allowed to dry naturally -- in this case, the rice was sun-dried. The flattened poha has a thin, flake-like texture and can be produced in varying thicknesses. It's commonly found on the Indian grocery shelf, packaged as 'thin' or 'thick' poha.

The excellent quality of poha is that because the grain casing has been smashed, the rice doesn't need to be boiled before eating. When pounded flat, the grain becomes palatable simply by adding water or milk, either hot or cold. The flakes quickly absorb the liquid and swell to a nice plump size, nicely taking on whatever flavour is added to it.

Poha Chivda

Poha is famous eaten throughout Bengal, and all of North India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Puffed rice was one of Srila Prabhupada's favourite breakfast foodstuffs. There are countless ways to prepare poha, such as lightly frying it in a little ghee with mustard seeds, curry leaves, chilies and potatoes.

Today's verse 10.27 only refers to Damayanti's flattening the rice, not actually cooking or preparing it as a dish, so we will reserve the discussion of recipes another day.

The process of making the flat rice is referred to in Antya 10.27 as cida kari -- cida is rice, kari is the making. There are many references to cida in Caitanya-caritamrta, most notably in connection with the famous Panihati ciḍā-mahotsava, or chipped rice festival.

Damayanti prepared Lord Caitanya's flattened rice, storing it in a large bag made of new cloth. In the phrase nutana-vastrera, 'of new cloth', is further described here is being fresh cloth used to make a large bag. Nutana is new, fresh and vastrera is cloth. A few verses later, we find mention of vastrera kuthali — small bags of cloth, and bada kuthali, large bags. Raghava's Bag is actually a collection of many bags within bags, and quite likely bags and other sorts of containers that protect the nectarian foodstuffs Damayanti prepared for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.