How Food Is Depicted In Indian Literature And Art
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Food Mentioned In Indian Texts

One of the most ancient examples of food descriptions in Indian literature can be found in the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism. These texts contain a wealth of information about food and its symbolic significance, including descriptions of the rituals and ceremonies associated with food offerings to the gods. They also contain references to various foods, such as grains, fruits, and vegetables, that were consumed by the ancient Indians. The Vedas offer a glimpse into the food habits of ancient India and the importance of food in spiritual and religious practices. 

Food In Hindu Mythology And Epics 

According to Hindu mythology, global famines and droughts were once caused by a marital dispute between Lord Shiva and Parvati. It was an illusion, Parvati said, after Shiva won a game of dice by using Vishnu as a throw. Unable to defend himself, Shiva declared that all food and the world itself were illusions. As a lesson for her husband, Parvati, the goddess of fertility and nourishment, walked off the face of the earth, bringing with her famine and drought. As a result, Annapurna, the goddess of food, was born to prevent war, and Shiva eventually swallowed his pride to accept rice from her. Many Indian artists, such as Raja Ravi Varma and Nandalal Bose, have depicted the legend in their work. It was first depicted in art sometime in the nineteenth century.

Another famous example is in the ancient epic Mahabharata, where King Udupi of present-day Udupi was one of the kings who opted for neutrality during the great Mahabharata war. Supposedly, he went to Shri Krishna and explained that he wanted to avoid taking sides by offering to provide food for the fighting troops of both sides. Shri Krishna allowed them to, but instructed him to serve as the army's caterer. The king readily agreed and set about preparing enough food to sustain over 4.5 million soldiers for the entire 18 days the conflict lasted.

After a few days of fighting, everyone was wondering how the king had provided for such a large population with such little waste and no one going hungry or thirsty. They questioned King Udupi about his methods of precise accounting and service. He responded, saying, "I used to peel peanuts every night and give them to Krishna as an offering." If I counted the peanuts he ate in a day, I could roughly estimate how many troops would be killed in action the following day. Five peanuts equals five thousand dead soldiers, and so on."

Udupi cuisine is well-known all over India, and the name "Udupi" has become synonymous with nourishment and food. Interestingly, many Udupis work as caterers and restaurateurs.

Food In Indian history

The Mughal era in Indian history is also known for its rich and varied cuisine, and this is reflected in the literature of the time. The Mughal emperor Babur, for example, wrote about the food he encountered in India in his famous memoir Baburnama. He describes the flavors and aromas of Indian food in great detail, providing a glimpse into the culinary traditions of the time. The Mughal era also saw the arrival of new ingredients and cooking techniques in India, which greatly influenced Indian cuisine.

Food Descriptions In Indian Literature

In modern Indian literature, food continues to play an important role in storytelling. In the famous novel "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry, the author uses food as a metaphor for the characters' emotions and social status. The novel is set in the 1970s, during a time of political turmoil in India, and the characters' struggles are reflected in the food they eat or can't afford to eat. The novel gives a vivid picture of how food and poverty were intertwined in India during that time.

Food descriptions In Bollywood Films

Food is also a recurring theme in Indian cinema, often used as a way to explore different aspects of Indian culture. In the critically acclaimed film "The Lunchbox", food plays a central role in the story, bringing together two characters from different walks of life. The film explores the themes of love and longing through the lens of food and cooking, highlighting the importance of food in Indian culture and daily life.

Exploring Food Descriptions In Indian Art

Food descriptions in Indian art can also provide us with valuable insights into the culture and traditions of India. Indian art has always been closely connected to food, and many famous Indian paintings and sculptures feature food in some form or another.The use of food in Indian art is often symbolic. In some cases, food is used to represent different aspects of life, such as wealth, health, and prosperity. In other cases, food is used to represent the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

In Indian art, food is also a recurring subject, depicting not just the food itself but also the culture and lifestyle of the people who consume it. The frescoes of Ajanta, for example, depict the food and drink of ancient India and provide a glimpse into the everyday life of the people of that time. One of India's most famous artists, Raja Ravi Varma, also has a lot of food in his paintings, which show the rich and varied food of his time.

The Bimbedka rock paintings date back to the Paleolithic era and depict scenes of hunting and gathering as well as items of the food they found in the forests, providing a unique glimpse into the daily life of the first people to inhabit the land that is now India. Medieval paintings from temples depict Krishna and his cowherd friends stealing butter, and 184–75 BCE terracotta figurines from Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh, show a picnic party complete with a lavish spread of culinary preparations like rice balls.

Four women are shown in the 1850 "Company Painting" by Shiva Dayal Lal selling grains and vegetables on the streets of Patna. In modern art, food is often used as a metaphor. For example, artist M.F. Husain’s painting of a smashed clay pot is meant to represent the fragility of India's food security. The painting is meant to draw attention to the fact that India's food supply is dependent on the weather and can be easily destroyed in times of drought or flood.

Subodh Gupta, a modern artist, moved the process of creating artful dishes from the artist's studio to the kitchen. Gupta served seven-course meals four times a day for a week to Art Basel 2017 guests. The buffet featured traditional dishes from all over India, with an emphasis on those from the state of Bihar. The goal was to record how the ritual of sharing a meal can bridge cultural divides and bring people closer together. At the time the artwork was created, food was a major factor in lynchings and communal violence across different regions of India.

The rich and varied food descriptions in Indian literature and art offer a glimpse into the diverse culinary traditions of India and the role that food plays in shaping our understanding of Indian culture. They provide a rich tapestry of flavors, aromas, and emotions that transport readers and viewers to a world of culinary delights and remind us of the importance of food in our lives.