Tuesday 19 February 2013

When a King wrote an encyclopedia

This could be called one of the earliest encyclopedias of Karnataka. It is a storehouse of information and it has scores of topics covering almost the whole range of  the then society.
Written in Sanskrit, it has details on all braches of ancient sciences ad arts, including religion, ethics, social service, manufacture of idols, diseases and their remedies, law, State crafts and its aspects such as war and peace, invasion, neutrality and alliance,  architecture, picture-drawing, painting, iconography and even pleasures of life.
If you think that these were all the topics that were touched in the book, think again for it also has comprehensive details on various forms of amusements and entertainments, arithmetic, decimal notations, preparation of calendars, astrology, omens, augury,
palmistry, training of horses and elephants along with the treatment of their diseases, mining, alchemy, gems and precious stones, marriage and child-rearing, cookery, liquor, beverages, music, conveyance and fragrance and scents.
What is more astonishing is that this work was not by an academician or a pandit but by one of the foremost Kings of the times-Someshwara, the third of the Western Chalukyas.
The Western Chalukyas ruled from Kalyan or today’s Basavakalyan and Someshwara (1126-1138) had succeeded his father Vishnuvardhana or Vikramaditya to the Chalukyan Kingdom.
Since his father had left behind a vast empire, Someshwara had adequate time to devote to compile “Manasollasa”, a book which gives us invaluable information about the life and times of people and society in those ages.
The Manasollasa or the Abhilasitartha Cintamani (the magical stone that fulfils desires) was composed in 1129 AD and it is  divided into 100 adhyayas (chapters) which are grouped into five vimsatis (twenties) and each chapter deals with a specific topic.
Some of the most interesting topics related to the means of acquiring a kingdom, methods of establishing it and royal enjoyment. It contains valuable information on health, education, Indian art, architecture, wrestling, cuisine, ornaments, sports, music and dance. There are more than 8000 slokas.
It is in poetic form with an occasional prose form.
Manasollasa is written in poetry form with occasional prose passages introduced in the middle. The first chapter or vimsathi- Rajyapraptikarana – describes how a kingdom should be obtained and the required qualifications for a king.  The second, Rajasya stirya karana vimsasti,  gives tips on how a king should maintain his position, different officers of the state and the qualifications they should have to adorn the post.
One part of the book deals with culinary preparations of the time and this must rank among the earliest culinary books in the world. The King here describes how the dishes ought to be prepared and how they should be served to royalty. We can take it that this was the procedure followed by the royal kitchen in Kalyan.
We can infer that cooking was done in wood stoves and dishes were boiled or fried. Spices were used liberally in the royal kitchen and fermentation of milk was already in vogue then. 
Let me take you to some of the recipes that he has mentioned. They are still followed with certain variations.
He starts the chapter on Annabhoga with rice. He describes the eight varieties or rice prevalent then and the techniques to clean and cook them.
Rice, he says, should be cleaned several times before being boiled in  water. The cooking of rice should be either in copper or earthen vessel. The water should be thrice the quantity of rice and it should be cooked over low fire. The vessel should be covered with a lid and when steam escapes, the lid should be removed and rice stirred.    
The main staple of South India being rice; he starts the chapter on Annabhoga with descriptions of eight varieties of rice, followed by descriptions of cleaning and cooking rice. He instructs that rice should be washed several times before boiling in excess water. This cleaned rice should be cooked in either a copper or earthenware vessel with three times the quantity of water over a slow fire. The pot should be covered with a lid or a piece of cloth. When steam comes out, the lid should be removed and the pot stirred.
If there is excess water, it should be filtered out. This method is still being used today.
He has his say on wheat too and says it should be washed, dried and then ground into soft flour. He also speaks of soups and pulses, sweet dishes and almost all varieties of food preparations in those days.
What makes this work stand out is the wealth of  information that it contains and the variety of topics that it deals with.

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