Indian Curries: Our Unbroken Link To The Indus Valley
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A recent study suggests that the people of the Indus valley’s ‘cuisine’ comprised a variety of foods, including versions of what we know as Indian curries. While many archaeologists believed that the Indus valley people ate barley and wheat, researchers from Cambridge University and the University of Delhi analyzed the relative abundance of a variety of crops at an archaeological site in the state of Uttar Pradesh. They discovered that rice was present in large quantities, suggesting that the Indus people consumed a wider range of foods than was earlier believed. 

Evidence of curries

Ancient Indians ate a wide variety of foods, and evidence has been found to link them to the Indus Valley Civilization, the third oldest civilization in the world, which flourished in an area of present-day northwestern India and Pakistan. Researchers sampled 17 vessels, ranging in age from 5300 to 4300 years old, from two nearby sites - Datrana and Loteshwar. They found the pots to have been made by semi-nomadic farmers.

While many archaeologists previously believed that the Indus people consumed only barley and wheat, new research indicates that they ate a variety of other plants, including rice. That rice was thought to have arrived later in the Indus civilization and was found in significant quantities, perhaps indicating that it was present earlier in its history.

Origin of nisada

Nisada is a term that refers to turmeric. Its use dates back thousands of years. The word is derived from two parts: Nisa, which means turmeric, and da, which means to eat.

The first recorded use of curry spices dates back to 2500 BCE, in Mohenjo-Daro. The use of spices in these sauces was widespread, and archaeologists have found that these early people, like many of us nowadays, used a pestle and mortar to grind spices like cumin, fennel, and tamarind pods.

Spices used in Indian curries

Indian curries have a long and rich history. It is estimated that they were developed around the time of the Mauryan Empire when Indian farmers discovered how to cultivate spices and herbs. The Mauryan Empire saw the development of six types of salts and four types of cardamoms that were used in cooking. They also cultivated ginger, cloves, coriander, cumin, and long pepper. These spices have been in use extensively in Indian cooking ever since.

Archaeologists once believed that the ancient Indians only consumed wheat or barley. However, the results of new research shows that they also consumed rice and other crops. 

Influence of Ayurveda on Indian curries

We may sometimes take it for granted but certain practices or ingredients that have been handed down the generations continue to be beneficial. Ayurveda is an ancient medical system that focuses on balancing the body's natural energies and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is a holistic system that uses various combinations of foods to achieve the most optimal health. The Ayurvedic diet focuses on maintaining a well-balanced system that can thwart illness and achieve mental clarity.

For instance, turmeric, as we know, is a prominent ingredient in Indian curries. It is used as a natural remedy for a variety of health conditions, including respiratory issues, liver problems, and wounds. Traditionally, it has also been used topically in Ayurveda to treat stomach disarrangements. Archeologists in Farmana, an IVC site in Haryana, found starch residues with ginger and turmeric in them, as well as an ancient clove. As one of the archeologists remarked, they were making “proto-curry”! The possibility that some of the ideas in Ayurveda could be traced back to the time of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro is intriguing, but any such link, if it even exists, remains tenuous at best.

The continuing mystery of the Indus Valley Civilization 

The cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, 483 kilometers apart, are located in Pakistan. The cities were once connected by irrigation canals, roads, and fortifications. The archaeological evidence at Mohenjo-Daro suggests a common cultural heritage. The earliest evidence of writing in the subcontinent goes back to around 6500 BC. IVC was able to produce clear writing around this time, as evidenced by the earliest potters' marks. These seals share some similarities with ancient Sumerian pictographic writing. The big roadblock that all IVC experts and researchers run into is – the script has not yet been deciphered. 

It’s becoming apparent that the civilization also had a clear culinary tradition. They ate a wide range of foods, from pulses and small grains to fruits, vegetables, tubers, and roots in their curries. But such sophistication is not unexpected. The Indus valley civilization was characterized by a highly uniform level of material culture and an advanced form of governance. Its economy was based on agriculture. The city of Harappa served as the center of an elaborate economic system, with trade extending throughout the region. The civilization's trade routes facilitated the import of raw materials and the distribution of finished goods. Indus Valley trade eventually led to the establishment of colonies in Mesopotamia and Badakhshan.