What Does Grieving India Eat? Food As It Is Seen In Collective Grief
Image Credit: Grieving food of India/ Pic- Ayandrali Dutta

Food takes the centre stage for all occasion in our lives and it’s no different during grief. Grieve might be personal but the shraadha meal that is eaten across the country sees a much deep symbolic meaning. Each community celebrates in its own way to pay homage to the departed soul and these food are example of  culinary history that has been there since ages. Candi K. Cann, who in her book “Dying to Eat: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Food, Death, and the Afterlife, says “Death has a tale to tell, and we should sit and share a meal as we listen to its story.”. Rituals like no use of spice, cabbages, cauliflower, peas or carrots, either is most common across community. Depending on the community the number of days of mourning is decided and most times strict norms are followed. 

Let’s have a look at the dishes that India mourns with

Hobbishi from the kitchen of Bengal and other eastern state

This meal sees moong dal, rice, potatoes, rock  salt, cooked together like a khichdi or separately with a dash of ghee (no oil) this food is nutritious and healthy too at the same time. 

Chitrita Banerji, eminent food historian and author of Life & Food in Bengal, further elaborates, “In Bengali Brahmin homes like mine, the period of mourning and abstinence after the death of a family member is 11 days. Among non-Brahmins, the period is shorter.  The absence of oil is applied to food as well. Cooking was permitted only once during the day, and lunch usually was rice and green bananas (kanchkola) boiled in an earthen pot over a wood fire. This is called habishyanno. The only seasoning the mourners could use was sea salt and some ghee.”

The Iyengar Shraddh Meal

A shraddha meal from this community will include rasam, potatoes, raw bananas, cluster beans sweet potatoes and more. The dishes that are prepared are Payasam, Thayir Pachidi, Vazhaikaai curry, Kootu, Poritha kuzhambu/Moorkuzhambu, Rasam, Dhal for serving, Patchanangal(Sweets & Savouries) and so on. Also the customary five bakshanam, or fried snacks are served on banana leaves. Ingredients that are avoided here are Red Chilli, Thur dal, Green Chilli, Dhaniya

Tayri or Tehri from the Sindhi Community

Chef Bharat Khemnani says “The grieving dish in sindhi culture is without onion & garlic. On the third day of the death we prepare Meethi tahiri. It’s sweet basmati rice prepared with desi ghee , sugar, and nuts. It is best had with Saahi bhaaji. It is first offered to the daughter or wife and on the 12 th day Sindhi Baat or Bhat it’s a daliya preparations again cooked with desi ghee sugar & nuts. It is offered during the PIND Pooja by the pandits. And distributed amongst the grieving family.

Ziyarat from Bohri Community

The meal on the third day of the Bohri Community happens to eat dal gosht and meetha chawal that is made with jaggery and coconut milk. The third day marks the end of mourning period and hence jalebi are given after the Qurankhani is distributed.

Kanji is served in Syrian Christian

Prima Kurien, who hails from a Syrian Christian family and is Fine Art Exhibition Designer along says in our Christian community- on good Friday which is a day of mourning- we typically turn Vegetarian and kanji is served- rice gruel. The same applies when someone passes away.