Panchmel Dal: Find Mentions Of This Lentil In The Mahabharata
Image Credit: Shutterstock, Panchmel dal

India’s love affair with lentils is no stranger to us. Be it lunch or dinner, a humble bowl of Dal Chawal is often considered comfort food in most parts of the country. However, did you know that there was a dal that existed much before wheat and rice entered the picture? Panchmel dal is believed to have originated during the time of Mahabharata. Also known as Panchratna dal, it was Bhim who is believed to have given this name to the lentil. For the unversed, Panchmel dal is a delicious combination of five different lentils that are mixed together with spices and served with dollops of ghee. 

Although chana dal or Bengal gram was considered the ‘queen of dals’ at one point of time, the unique flavours of Panchmel dal brought about a major change in the lentil scape of India. It is believed that Panchmel dal was first prepared by Kunti and Draupadi during the exile of Pandavas so as to provide them with adequate nutrition. This was a unique preparation which packed in a diverse nutritional quotient and worked well for the Pandavas. However, another tale traces the roots of this dal in the royal kitchen of King Virat. It is said that Bhim was disguised as a cook in King Virat’s court and it was during this time that he prepared dishes like aviyal. Next in line was an interesting combination of dals that he called Panchratna dal. 

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The flavourful dal made without tomatoes got its smokey flavour from the spices tempered in ghee which made it a hit in the Mughal courts, so much so that not just Akbar but emperors following him also grew fond of this unique lentil dish. The Panchmel dal acquired a royal status under Shah Jahan’s reign, where it was called Shahi Panchmel dal. In fact, the strict vegetarian Aurangzeb also developed a liking for this five-combination dal. This dal opened up doors for khansamas who were under constant pressure to create something for the royal meals each day.  

With slight tweaks in tempering as well as the kind of lentils used in the preparation of Panchmel dal, the cooks were able to present a new flavour to their kings. Despite the dal being tomato-less, it has become popular in several parts of India, with each region having its own variation of panchmel dal. There are about nine different ways in which this dal is prepared in the country, with loads of ghee and without tomatoes.