Funeral Fare: How India Grieves With Food
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While it’s no secret that different Indian communities take pride in their celebratory cuisine, they have also learnt to deal with loss and pay respect to the dead with food. Sombre times like the death of loved ones are marked with particular food items across the country. Both bereaved families and those visiting to comfort them partake in rituals that involve cooking and sharing certain dishes. 

In most cases, religion dictates whether those mourning a loss get to eat meat or vegetarian food. Hindus don’t eat meat for a certain period of time after the death of a loved one, even if they may otherwise consume it. A sattvic diet is recommended so that the people who have passed away can attain moksha or salvation. Families refrain from cooking for the first 24 hours after death, and relatives and friends bring food over. Assamese Hindus mainly eat light food like moong dal, rice, potatoes and vegetables cooked in ghee instead of oil. However, the Tiwa Tribe in Assam and Meghalaya may cook anything from pork intestine curry to pork with pumpkin and black dal.

During such times, Goan Catholics abstain from meat too, but eat fish. They even organise a charity meal to feed the poor, during which cashew feni is also served. The Catholics of Mumbai cook prawns with doodhi, accompanied by rice. Doodhi is meant to be cooling and hence comforting. Mourners also sip on spiced black tea, which helps soothe throats that may be sore from crying. Local liquor is infused with spices and drunk, too. 

Rice is a staple when it comes to food eaten during the grieving period. Bengalis eat dal, rice and aloo sheddho, which is an Indian version of mashed potatoes and considered comfort food. For aloo sheddho, boiled potatoes are mixed with mustard oil and green chillies. Pinda, balls of mashed rice and fish, are offered during sraddha, which is the ritual observed to commemorate one’s ancestors. 

Hindus and Goan Catholics believe in feeding crows before serving food among family and friends. A plate is placed outside the house and guests are only invited to eat after the crows have finished eating. It is believed that the deceased visit those who are alive in the form of a crow, and thus their soul is satiated after they are fed.

Parsis mourn the souls that have left the earth for a minimum of three days. They follow a strictly vegetarian diet during this time, much like most Hindus, because the food is easier to digest. On the fourth day, mutton dhansak that is shared among family and friends follows prayers. 

When a relative or close friend leaves for their heavenly abode, simplicity in all aspects of life takes over—be it clothing or food choices. The food eaten during these sorrowful times symbolises reverence, spirituality and emotions that run deep.