From the Lord’s Kitchen
Another midnight, a strong coffee cup & I am all charged up for a whole new topic. This time it is very special, close to my heart. This is about the food that soothes your soul and satiates your taste buds, the food that is God’s favorite platter, its Mahaprasada.
I am going to write about the food offered to our Lord, yes, the soul of every Odia, Lord Jagannatha. We Odias have a very strong emotional bondage with Him and seek His divine presence in every occasion. Along with Lord Jaganntha, His brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Debi Suvadra are also worshiped. These three constitute the basic form of Trinity and considered to be the manifestations of omni-present, omni-scient and omni-potent supreme power. This post is a mere attempt to showcase the grandeur of Lord’s platter.
The food culture in Odisha is hugely influenced by the temple cuisines, especially of the “MahaPrasada or Abadha” of Lord Jaganntha’s temple (ShriMandira). The Lord’s Kitchen is one of the largest kitchen in the world, which can feed 25000 devotees daily. There are two types of Prasada/ Bhoga which are offered to the Lord. Abhada or Sankhudi bhoga consists of Ghee Rice, Dal, Dalma, Besara, Mahura, Saga, pita, Kanika Khechudi etc while the dry or Nisankhudi bhoga consists of all types of sweets, deserts & pithas like gaja , Khaja, Chakuli, Puli, Nadi, Nadu, Chadheineda, Manohara, jhilli, Arisa, ballabha, malpua, mathapuli etc. The ingredients or vegetables used in the cooking process are indigenous to the region.
From the Madalapanji, it is evident that, the Sankhudi Bhoga was in place during the ruling of king Jajati Keshari. However, King Ananga Bhimadeva included many other items in the Lord’s platter. The legend says that, the Mahaprasad was first prepared in the Gundicha temple on the 9th day of Asadha Suklapaksha. In memory of that, every year on Asadha sukla paksha nabami, a tradition of having Mahaparasada in Gundicha temple is being celebrated. During the Moghul invasion from 1568 AD to 1575 AD, Mahaprasada could not be offered to the trinity. However, since 1751 AD, the Mahaprasada is being offered without any fail with all devotion and tradition.
The kitchen has a length of 150 ft, breadth of 100 ft & height of 20 ft and situated in south east direction of the outer compound of temple. There are 250 earthen chulas (earthen stoves) in the kitchen. In the kitchen 3 types of hearths are found such as “Anna Chuli”, Pitha Chuli” & “Tuna chuli” or Ahia. At a time 9–12 earthen pots are kept on each hearth and food is slow cooked. The fire in the kitchen is known as “Vaishnaba Agni” and its believed that Maa Mahalxmi cooks for Lord Jagannath Herself with utmost care & devotion. The fire or Vaishanba Agni of the kitchen is never put out.
Managing the Huge Kitchen
For managing the entire cooking process, several servitors are allotted. The servitors like, Supakar, Mahasupakara, Deulakarana, Rosa Paricchha, Rosa Amina, Palia Mahasuara and Prasada Badu are responsible for preparation and distribution of Mahaprasada. These servitors manage the kitchen on day to day basis which is a herculean task.The Supakaras who cook the Mahaprsada, are required to observe high level of austerities. They are not allowed to sing, dance, cry or chew betel inside the kitchen. Even joking around inside the kitchen premise is strictly prohibited. Within the kitchen, each Supakara has separate role to perform. Approximately, daily 400 supakars cook in earthen pots in this kitchen. In this traditional cooking procedure, red coloured earthen pots are used. These pots have interesting names such as, Bai handi, Samadi, Badamatha Kudua, Sana matha Kudua, Sana tada, bada tada, adhara handi etc. There is a well near the kitchen known as “Ganga Jamuna” which meets the kitchen requirement throughout the year. Four types of cooking procedure are followed in the kitchen of Srimandir. Those are Bhimapaka, Nalapaka, Souripaka and Gouripaka. The items of Bhimapaka are Badatiana, Gudakhuara, Pakala Nadia Rasa, Purapitha,Biripitha and Gudakanji. In Nalapaka, items like Sakara, Tianlapara, Adanga and different types of sweet drinks are prepared. Souripaka items include Mahura, Deshialubhaja, Kadalibhaja, Adapachedi, Ghialabanga and varieties of cakes. In Gouripaka process, Mugatiana, Leutia, Kosala and Madhura Lalita Saga items are cooked. The cooked food is offered to Lord Jagannth first and then it is offered to Goddess Bimala, after which it becomes Mahaprasada.
It is stated by many that the food when taken to Lord Jagannth for offering has no smell, no aroma, but once the Lord accepts the offering, the divine aroma fills the breeze. This means the food is blessed. This Mahaprasada is partaken by all devotees freely without any caste & creed discrimination. While many temples across India, observed caste systems since ancient time, Jagannth temple in Puri opened its door to all.
In Brahma Purana, it is mentioned that “Naibedya puratonyasta drusteiba swikrutam maya, Bhakatsya rasangrena rasamashnami padmaja”It means “The Lord tastes and feasts the MahaPrasada through His devotees”
The dried rice of Sankhudi bhoga is regarded as Nirmalya which is more sacred than Ganga water. There is a saying that, even the holy water of Ganga can be impure, but not Mahaprasada. In Hindu culture, it is believed that, if Nirmalya is given to a dying person, it grooms the person for the eternal journey.
In my upcoming series, I will be sharing some temple recipes with lots of stories and history weaved around them.
Till then, be happy