Wednesday 6 February 2013

The Goddess and her kitchen

It is the largest kitchen in the world. Only cooks are allowed entry. There are 32 rooms in the kitchen complex, 752 stoves and nine earthen pots.
The length of the kitchen is 150 feet. Its breadth is 100 feet and the kitchen ceiling is 20 feet high. It consists of  250 earthen ovens and 500 cooks, called Mahasuras and 300 helping hands or assistants.
The food prepared here is considered mahaprasad and it can feed any number of people and they go up to millions during festivals and other auspicious occasions.
The food here is very tasty except for a few occasions. Do you know why? The Goddess who supervises the kitchen loses interest when her husband, the presiding deity of this temple, falls sick every year or travels to another temple-an yearly ritual.
When the food being prepared displeases the Goddess, she ensures that a dog appears here or a shadow of a dog is seen. This is the signal for the food to be buried and a new course to be cooked.   
Welcome to the kitchen of Lord Jagannatha of Puri in Orissa.
Jagannatha or the Lord of the Universe, is served by one of the biggest kitchens in the world.      
No onions or garlic are used in the preparations. The kitchen is prohibited territory for everyone except the cooks. It is located at the south east of the compound called Srimandi.
Water for preparing the food is drawn from two wells called Ganga and Yamuna. The cooks and their assistants then start preparing  56 different offerings known as Mahaprasad or Abhada for Lord Jagannath, which are served to the Lord six times a day.
The food cooked here includes seven different types of rice, four types of pulses, nine types of vegetables and different sweets. Fine molasses, instead of sugar, is used for preparing sweets.
Apart from onion and garlic, other vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflower are also not used. Every meal that is prepared has its own name such as Jagannath Ballabh, ladu, mathapuli and sarapuli.
The offering to Jagannatha starts in the morning and it is called the Gopala Vallabha Bhoga. This is a seven course breakfast - Khua, Lahuni, sweetened coconut grating, coconut water, and popcorn sweetened with sugar known as khai and curd and ripe bananas.
When Jagannatha gets hungry again at 10 a.m., he gets Sakala Dhupa.  This generally consists of 13 items including Enduri cake and Mantha puli.
His next repast is called Bada Sankhudi Bhoga consisting of Pakhala with dahi and Kanji payas. The offerings are made in the bhog mandapa about 200 feet away from the Ratna Vedi. This is called Chatra Bhog and this was first introduced by  Shankaracharya in the 8th century to help pilgrims share the temple food.
The Madhyanha dhupa come at noon and the Sandhya doopa is at night. This is at 8 p.m. The last offering to the Lord is called the Bada Simhara Bhoga
There are three types of hearths-Anna Chuli, Ahia Chuli and Pitha Chuli. All varieties of dal and curry are cooked in Ahia Chuli. The pitha chuli are made of cement and there are ten such structures in the kitchen.
The fire in the kitchen is known as Vaishnava Agni and it is never put out.
It is believed that Mahalakshmi herself cooks When Lord Jagganatha falls sick before the Ratha Yatra, Mahalakshmi cannot cook with full attention. Therefore, the food is less tasty.  Similarly, when Jagannath goes to the Gundicha Temple every year, she loses her zeal for cooking and the food does not taste so good. When the food is bad or does not taste good or if she is displeased with the preparations, a dog appears and this signals that the food should be buried and new cooking should begin. 
Of all the 56 varieties of  Naivedhyas, the most awaited is Koto Bhoga or Abada. Generally, this is offered at noon or around 1 p.m.
Well, there are other temples too which have a huge kitchen. The Balaji or Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupathi, the kitchen in Guruvayoor, the kitchen at Mantralaya, Udupi and several other temples. But none of the can match the variety and of course the legend and menu of Jagannatha. Care to try the dishes.
Head for Puri, which is well connected by both road and rail network. Accommodation is easily available. For food, why not try the prasada. Taste it and write back about how you felt. But do not go during the famous Ratha Yatra-you see Mahalakshmi cannot promise you the same taste.     

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