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Acharya's Call Part-II
H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses
31 Our Food Habits
The emphasis, in Basic Education now-a-days, is on self-reliance and this is attempted to be fostered even from childhood. But the important thing on which each one of us must be self-reliant is in respect of the preparation of food. In this regard, we, in South India are dependent on others. It is not uncommon to hear that the justification for a person marrying a second time, even after he is 50 years of age, is that he wants a wife to cook his food, though there is a prohibition in the Sastraas of one marrying after that age.
Sanskrit and Veda Patasalas are very few in South India, compared to their number in North India. In undivided Madras, before Andhra and Kerala separated, there were only 140 such Patasalas, while in Bengal and Uttara Pradesh, their number exceeded 1,500. In the Punjab and in Madhya Pradesh too, their number exceeds 1,000. It is strange that in South India, the number of Patasalas should be so few. It cannot be due to want of sraddha (desire to learn) among the people here, or to lack of ability to study Sanskrit. The reason has to be sought in the cost of maintaining the Patasala kitchen, with all its paraphernalia of provisions and utensils, cooks and managers. The cost and the trouble of running a kitchen stand in the way of starting and maintaining such Patasalas. In the North, kitchen presents no problem in the running of Patasalas. For one thing, cooking is not such an elaborate process there, as it is here. For every Patasala in North India, there will be one provision dealer willing to supply atta (flour), required both for the students and for the teachers. Each person will draw his share of atta, knead and flatten it, and bake the rotis (bread); so prepared directly over the fire which is kindled with a few dry sticks. The rotis are eaten with a little boiled dhal or buttermilk and washed down with a glass of water. This is a practice which we, in South India, may do well to copy. We must make a beginning by simplifying our food habits to such an extent that each of us can cook his own food, without having to spend much time and thought over it. Learning to cook must therefore form an essential part of Basic Education.
A number of problems will get automatically solved if each person gets into the habit of cooking his own food. None of us need feel worried about arranging for food wherever we may go. It is only when many sit down to a meal, which is prepared in common, that the question of inter-dining with the vexatious problem of high and low castes come in. This will be avoided if each one makes it a point to cook what he wants to eat. Many persons complain of hotel meals being unwholesome and unhealthy. With the best will in the world, the food, even in the finest of hotels, cannot be cent per cent wholesome. If each eats what he himself has cooked, it will be conducive to his health and will preserve his aachara, which makes for cleanliness, a very important consideration in food.
Where all sorts of people eat together indiscriminately, there is the danger of all of them reconciling themselves to eat a common food. This will be a serious threat to vegetarianism. Our country is the one country in the world where a large majority of the people is vegetarian by tradition and choice. But modern conditions of life, under which our young men join the army and other professions, necessitating them to go to distant parts of our own country and also to foreign places, compel them to eat with anybody, food cooked by somebody. At this rate, there is the danger that vegetarianism may gradually diminish from the food habits of our people. Let us not forget that vegetarianism is India’s national pride and a lesson which it has to offer to the rest of the world. Therefore, let everyone of us learn to cook his own food, which practice will be good to us from every point of view, so that eating in a common mess with its inherent danger of acquiring taste for non-vegetarian food may be avoided. The only persons who may not cook are the Brahmachari and the Sanyasi. A Brahmachari may cook for his teacher; but he ought to obtain his own food by bhiksha (alms). A Sanyasi is prohibited from kindling a fire and so he too cannot cook. He should maintain himself by bhiksha obtained from grahastas, house-holders.
More than all these, it should be borne in mind that the best and purest offering to God (naivedyam) is the food cooked by oneself, i.e., the person performing the worship. In that case, you can be sure there is no contamination of any kind in the food. Such food alone is worthy of being offered to God and when the naivedyam so offered is eaten by us, it will make for our chitta suddhi (purity of heart), and will be productive of spiritual power or sreyas arising from Isvaraanugraha or grace of God. In this connection, it is worthy of remembering that when people of Andhra Desa sit for a feast, the food is first offered as naivedyam to God. It is only after that the people sitting at the feast will perform praanaahuti – the observance preliminary to eating.
December 5, 1957.