Food In The Ramayana: From Sustenance To Celebration
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In the Ramayana, King Dasharatha performs a ritual called the Putrakameshti Yajna — a sacrifice conducted to invoke blessings for having children. After the successful completion of this ritual, a divine figure appears and gives Dasharatha a vessel containing payasam; he is instructed to share this sweet rice-and-milk pudding among his three wives: Kausalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra. This sacred offering is believed to be endowed with divine properties to ensure the birth of his sons. 

As anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Ramayana knows, instead of dividing the payasam into equal thirds and offering it to each of his queens, Dasharatha follows a more whimsical distribution, resulting in his four progeny — Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna.

However, this divine pudding isn’t the only food to be named in the Ramayana. Here’s a look at a few of the other edible names you will encounter in the text:

Phala (Fruits) — Fruits are commonly mentioned as part of the forest diet of Ram, Sita, and Lakshmana during their exile. Specific fruits aren't always named, but they are a significant part of their sustenance.

Mūla (Roots) — Along with fruits, roots are an essential component of the diet in the wilderness, providing nourishment during their years in the forest.

Madhu (Honey) — Honey is a forest product that is mentioned in various contexts, valued for its sweetness.

Kanda (Bulbs) — Like roots, bulbs are also foraged and consumed by the exiles as part of their diet.

Ikshu (Sugarcane) — Sugarcane or products derived from it, like juice or raw sugarcane pieces, are sometimes referenced, especially in contexts of feasts or more prosperous times.

Yava (Barley) — Barley is one of the grains mentioned in the epic, indicative of the agricultural practices of the time and used in various forms, possibly including bread or other preparations.

Godhuma (Wheat) — Like barley, wheat is another grain that is integral to the diet and mentioned in the context of more settled areas, reflecting the agricultural base of the society.

Paddy (Rice) — Rice is a staple food mentioned in the Ramayana, often used in various forms, from plain steamed rice to more elaborate dishes suitable for royal feasts and religious offerings.

Tila (Sesame) — Sesame seeds are mentioned, used perhaps in cooking or as an offering. Sesame is significant in Indian culture for its use in rituals and also as a food item.

Masha (Black Gram) — This lentil is mentioned and would have been used in various dishes, providing a protein—rich component to the diet.

Soma — While not a food, Soma is an important ritual drink mentioned in the Ramayana, associated with ancient Vedic rituals and consumed during specific religious ceremonies.

From payasam, to jamun and ber, ram kandmool and mangoes, amaranth and tulsi, to sumptuous coronation feasts, the food in the Ramayana encompasses quite a range!