Posts Tagged ‘Shankaracharya’

Mudde, saaru & mutton chops with the Maharaja

15 December 2012

Photo Caption

What other people eat—and how, and how much—has long been an object of human fascination; increasingly so in the age of the modern media, where food is the new sex, something you can ogle at, ooze over, fantasise and salivate about, all with your clothes on and without once touching or coming close to the piece de resistance.

The former India Today and CNN-IBN journalist Neha Prasada nee Seth has just done a lavishly produced coffee table book on how the blue blooded amongst us, i.e. the Rajas and Maharajas, did what every mortal must. Titled ‘Dining with the Maharajas‘ (Roli Books, Rs 4,000), the book captures the social history of the royal culinary traditions.

# Like, how the maharani of Tripura liked four different types of cuisine at one meal.

# Like, how the Nizam of Hyderabad, a lover of jalebi, had the size of his poison increased three times when advised by doctors that he could consume only three of them due to diabetes.

# Like, when Motilal Nehru was sent to Allahabad jail by the British, Mohammed Amir Ahmad Khan of the Mahmudabad princely family sent him biryani with a bottle of champagne to keep him going during his imprisonment.

At the hands of Neha Prasada and the photographer Ashima Narain, the high tables of the kingdoms of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Jodhpur, Mahmudabad, Patiala, Rampur, Tripura, Sailana and Udaipur are laid out. Also starring is the royal family of Mysore, in which Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar waxes eloquent on bisi bele baath. Excerpts:



As you travel to the south of India, your route will take you through dense plantations rich with fragrant cardamoms and cloves, spicy peppercorns, pungent red chillies, aromatic cinnamon, and bay leaves. This trail heavy with spices will lead you to the state of Karnataka, which boasts of one of India’s largest spice industries and at one time was part of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore.

This ancient land rich in tradition and culture has been ruled by the Wadiyar dynasty since 1399. Interestingly with each change in regime, Mysore’s palate has changed and imbibed new flavours.

From the second century to the third century AD, the state predominantly had a cuisine particular to the ruling Buddhists. Power changed hands when the Buddhists were defeated by the Jains in a debate and the Kannada Jain community held sway over everything including food habits in Mysore.

Finally it was in the tenth century that Hindu kings wrested power under the leadership of Shankaracharya and have continued to rule the kingdom.

The present representative of the Wadiyar Dynasty, Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja wadiyar explains, ‘With new influences coming in through foreign traders like Arabs, coupled with the decline of Vijaynagara, Muslim flavours were introduced and adapted by us. We added non-vegetarian dishes and new styles of cooking to our cuisine.”

New flavours were imbibed under the cultural influence of the Bahmani kings who were of Persian descent and rulers from Tamil Nadu who controlled the Deccan at different points in time….


The Mysore royal family with its over 300-year-old food tradition has always treated food as much more than mere sustenance.

Says the 59-year-old custodian of this ancient family, ‘The basis of our food philosophy is that the five elements of nature which include the sky, wind, water, earth, and fire are involved in growing food. The human body needs these elements to keep functioning, thus food is the fuel of life.’

Ancient texts like the Paka Shastra, which elaborate on the art of cooking, were followed by the chefs of the royal kitchens. This knowledge was further passed down to future generations that served in the royal household.

‘These texts did not just tell you what to eat but how and when to eat it. For example, the vessels that were used to make the food had to be made of certain metals, which have beneficial properties when mixed with food,’ says Wadiyar.

Food was cooked and served in vessels made of copper and brass. Interestingly copper was also a safeguard for the royal family because if poison were added to the food, the copper would turn green. These texts also outlined the properties of each herb and spice that went into every recipe.

He explains, ‘We had separate cooks for the zenana or female quarters of the palace and separate for the mardana or male quarters because of recipes and ingredients prescribed in the texts were different for men and women.’

While ingredients like green cardamoms were used liberally in dishes prepared for women because it increased their fertility, mace was added to the recipes for the men because it boosted virility. Then there are recipes, which were medicinal in intent.

‘Curd and rice was recommended for cooling the body. Even now when elephants are in heat, this is included in their diet,’ he explains.

The palace kitchens were staffed with 150 chefs who cooked only vegetarian dishes and 25 chefs who cooked only non-vegetarian dishes. Each group was further divided into Muslim and Hindu cooks with their own special skill sets.

There were another twenty Brahmin cooks who had a separate kitchen, which was kept clean from meat, fish, poultry, and tamasic vegetables like onions and garlic. These Pandit chefs prepared the food for all religious ceremonies.

‘These cooks continued to serve the family loyally generation after generation. I believe that not even the best cooking school in the world can match up to the knowledge and experience you imbibe when born in a family of cooks,’ observes Wadiyar. He adds, ‘The cooks had their work cut out for them. Every day at least twenty people at in the mardana and twenty-five in the zenana. Also a minimum of twenty-five different dishes had to be served at any given meal’ .


In comparison, his diet is meagre and restricted to fruits and steamed ragi balls on most days. Wadiyar who is a self-confessed foodie has become extremely health conscious over the past few years and is particular about keeping his weight in check.

However, once in a while he does like to treat himself to local Mysore cuisine and his favourites include masala chops, cold mutton roast, and bisi bele bhat (rice cooked with lentils and vegetables).

Wadiyar remembers his thread ceremony, which is one of the most important rituals in a young Hindu boy’s life as he enters adulthood. He was ten years old at the time.

He recalls, ‘Two thousand visitors came from all over for my thread ceremony to Mysore, besides the 3000 local guests. The celebrations went on for three days where on the first and second day pure vegetarian food in great variety was served. Finally on the last day two banquets were organised. There was a reception for the foreigners in the Lalitha Mahal Palace where the menu included European food, while the second banquet was for the Indian rulers where local delicacies were served….


During the summer months between April and May, the family would move to Fernhills Palace in the hill station of Ooty. The highlight of the season was the famed fox hunt organised by the Mysore royals, which was attended by royal families across India and British officers.

Relates Wadiyar, ‘For three generations my great grandfather, my grandfather, and my granduncle had the distinction of being the hunt masters for these meets. Each day at the beginning of the hunt a lavish breakfast would be organised at Fernhills Palace. After a day of chasing the fox, the participants would ride back for a late lunch where both local Indian and European food was served.’

The family’s hunting camps were famous and attracted many keen sportsmen from the royal families of India.

‘We would set up camp for almost 600 people at our hunting lodge in Kakanakote. Every evening after a day of hunting, banquets were organised for the participants by the palace staff. Two separate tents were put up to host these dinners, which included the first class tent for the heads of state, while the second class tent was for the accompanying officers on duty,’ remembers Wadiyar.


In the midst of all this activity, we are also invited for lunch to the private quarters of the family in the Bangalore Palace…. In a sunlit courtyard of the palace the chefs have set up their stoves and chopping boards. The trays of spices are a study of what sets apart Kannada cuisine from the rest of India especially the north.

Fiery red Badige chillies, vibrant green curry leaves, kokum (sour fruit native to western India) as dark as ebony, dried brown tamarind, mounds of snowy white coconut, and golden yellow turmeric powder add colour to the mosaic of spices like cardamoms, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaves.

Explains Wadiyar whose cooking skills are limited to whipping up a decent omelette, ‘We grow a lot of our spices like tamarind, kokum, and coconut on the palace grounds.’ His cooks have ground together special masalas and secret potions that have been passed from cook to cook, to go into the rich curries that are stewing in antique copper vessels.

‘The Mysore garam masala includes equal portions of cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon unlike the north Indian garam masala, which is made up of many more spices. Then we use something called the hatti masudi, which is a mixture of chillies and spices from the Nilgiris.’

The basic flavours in Kannada cuisine are that of coconut, jiggery, tamarind, and fragrant spices, which give the food a balance of sweet, sour, and spicy undertones. The locals who are predominantly rice eaters prefer BT rice which has more bite than a Basmati, while another popular cereal is ragi. Even the oil used for most dishes is rice oil. ‘Unlike north Indian cuisine we use oil sparingly which is why our food is much lighter,’ he adds.

The lunch is served in the family’s private drawing room where the walls are rich with the oils of European masters. The multi-course lunch includes spicy lamp chops masala a favourite of Wadiyar; an unusual horse gram curry called uili saru which is also prepared with mutton; country muddiya muttai made with mutton mince and eggs very similar to scotch eggs; a light fish curry meenu tanginakai saru; jhat phat fowl jhal frezi (quick and easy shredded fowl), and Anglo Indian classic; a coconut milk rich vegetable stew served with fluffy appams and baby appams (fried rice and gram cakes); and finally two rice preparations puliyogare or tamarind rice and bisi bele bhat. For dessert there is a creamy saabaki payasam made with sabut dana (sago) and milk to round off the meal.

As a devout Hindu the Mysore family observed every festival and puja in the Hindu holy calendar. This meant thousands of people were fed at such ceremonies in the palace.

He says, ‘We have ancient recipes that can serve one or multiples of hundreds. At any given religious ceremony at least a thousand people used to be fed. For our big festivals like Dussehra sometimes the numbers would go into lakhs.’

Even today the head of this dynasty has at least two havans or ceremonies every month and thirty-one priests are on his permanent payroll to observe these religious rites. Wadiyar explains, ‘I have only come so far in life by holding on to these traditions and culture.’

(Excerpted with the permission of the publishers)


File photograph: Srikantatta Datta Wodeyar (right)performs ayudha pooja at the Mysore palace on the eighth day of Dasara in Mysore in October 2012 (Karnataka Photo News)


Read reviews of the book: Vir Sanghvi, Sourish Bhattacharya

Buy the book here: Roli Books, Amazon, Flipkart

Another gig for ‘Papa Rock’ in another world

10 January 2012

In the Bharat that is India, it is only those who play by the book, who stick to the code, who do not stray from the straight and narrow, who get the 21-gun salute. The game-changers, the pathbreakers, the non-conformists, the iconoclasts barely get a look-see from even the most modern of media.

Artists, yes. Graphic artists, no.

Classical musicians, yes. Rock stars, no.

Last Thursday, Amit Saigal, one of the titans of the Indian rock music scene, met a watery end in Goa to almost deafening silence from the media which otherwise thinks it reflects and celebrates India’s youth. Here, a childhood friend pays tribute to a true rockstar.



I was on my way to Dabolim airport from Anjuna on Thursday when my phone rang twice around 1.30 pm flashing “Amit Saigal“. I had called Amit two days earlier when I was at Ashwem beach; I knew he was staying there.

My call had gone unanswered – so typically Amit, I told myself.

So, when I saw his name flash on my mobile phone screen I thought he was returning my call. But I could not take it immediately as I was checking in at the airport.

Once I had done so, I called Amit back on his number. It was not Amit on the other side; it was Gavin, Amit’s friend from Australia, with whom I was vaguely familiar. Thanks to the noise of the airport announcements and Gavin’s accent, I could barely make out what he was saying.

And then Gavin said: “Amit is dead.”


Amit and I had known each other since we were five years old. We had gone to the same school, St. Joseph’s in Allahabad. Amit stood out due to his unusual looks among us, Allahabadis. His complexion was western white; his hair was light in colour, almost blond.

He was built stoutly; he looked handsome.

Teachers at our school pinched his cheeks often. He was never the one who scored high grades but had a flair for writing English. Due to his appearance many of us thought he was a foreigner or an Anglo-Indian and kept some distance from him.

In school, Amit remained a bit of a mystery for us even though he would try his best to make us laugh with his fake ‘angrez’ accent, which mostly went beyond our comprehension. He could mimick very well at school functions; he was good at holding an audience’s attention.

Despite his well-heeled background (a bahadur used to bring hot food every afternoon at the lunch recess for him) anyone of us who broke ice with him found him to be just like us.


Amit Saigal came from an aristocratic family of Allahabad engaged in the business of printing UP government’s school books and stationery. His grand uncle was an Independence revolutionary of sorts and ran a publishing company by the name of Chand Press in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Saigals lived in a sprawling bungalow in the Civil Lines area and owned furniture and cutlery that would rival the Nehrus of Anand Bhawan. The Shankaracharya had stayed at the Saigal household at a time when Maharshi Mahesh Yogi was his mere sevak.

After we had finished our school, Amit’s father sent him to England to attend a printing technology fair. The experience could come in handy in running the family press, or so Saigal senior thought. But when Amit returned from ol’ Blighty, his suitcase only contained literature on his future port of calling: rock music.

Rock music in Allahabad of the 1980s might sound like Teejanbai performing for the Pope, but the truth was slightly different. Due to a sizeable Anglo-Indian community, there were a small yet die-hard rock music loving gentry.

With the help of the gear he got from his England trip Amit started a rock band on the Prayag.


Amit and I lost touch with each other after school, after my family moved to Delhi. In 1993, with his now ex-wife Shena, Amit started India’s first rock magazine from Allahabad Rock Street Journal, a sort of cut-paste job from foreign music magazines peppered with profiles of a few Indian rock bands.

Initially RSJ was a sheaf of stapled sheets put together by Amit and Shena and personally handed out by them at IIT festivals. But soon the magazine became hugely popular among the student communities of the metros. Over a period of time, Amit became a cult-like figure among the youth of India’s north eastern states.

He once received a fan’s mail, which the letter writer claimed to have written with his own blood.

When we met again around 1996, our professions were a bit similar. Amit asked me to design the glossy format RSJ. The cute little boy from school had grown his hair. It was turning silver now, flowing below his shoulders like a rock star.

He looked even more incongruous than in Allahabad.

“Don’t you get cat-calls in Allahabad for your women-length hair?” I asked.

Amit turned around and said: ‘Ham phorener hain na.’

The fact was Amit couldn’t care less.

That was Amit. He conformed only to the extent where he would not make his peers too unhappy with what he did. His rock star spirit was genuine; he did not work at it, he was born with it. He liked himself to be a bit on the edge, but one foot was always firmly planted on the ground.


Indian independent musicians will remain ever indebted to Amit Saigal for the possibilities he opened up for them in his lifetime. In the mid-90s RSJ started an annual three-day independent rock music festival, The Great Indian Rock, at Delhi’s Hamsadhwani theatre to a capacity crowd of 10,000.

For the first time Indian rock bands from across the country found a professionally managed platform to perform for a large audience. GIR over the years discovered many amateur rock bands which have graduated to professional bands now.

Fondly called “Papa Rock” by the army of musicians he unearthed and honed, Amit started club gigs called Rocktober-fest in many cities of India. The surge of live-bands we see now playing at different bars and restaurants all over the places in emerging India were triggered by RSJ a good decade back.

In 2004, RSJ took the rock band Orange Street for a 4-country rock tour of Sweden, Norway, Estonia and England. This again was the first time an Indian band was touring Europe on this scale. I followed the band on this tour as a writer and a photographer for my magazine Outlook*.

In 2009, Amit’s RSJ banner was up for more than 200 nights at different gigs all across India.

This November Amit kickstarted a weeklong international music festival in Delhi, The India Music Week.

We met a few times during the festival and he told me how physically exhausted he was putting together a festival of this size. He wanted to take a break from work, to re-energize himself in Goa for a few weeks, like he always did at the end of the year.

I told him I would join him towards New Year Eve.

Around 10 in the morning on January 5, Amit sailed out with Gavin and a few others on Gavin’s boat from Panaji dockyard to sail to Palolim. About 100 metres before Palolim beach the boys jumped into the calm waters of the Arabian sea for a swim. They were a having a lot of fun swimming.

Amit said to Gavin that next year he would bring his daughter Aditi over.

Amit floated on his back gazing the blue skies above, his favourite position when he used to be in the water. After a while, his mates noticed he was floating face down. They sensed something was amiss. They pulled Amit on to the boat, gave him the oxygen mask to breathe. But it was too late.

“Papa Rock” had already left to organise another gig, in another world.

File photograph: Amit Saigal takes the mike at the author’s wedding at Amber in Jaipur in November 2009

Also read: North meets South on the banks of Cauvery

Government Work is Godman’s Work in Gokarna

4 September 2008

The Om-shaped beacha at Gokarna

The Om-shaped beach at Gokarna

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: In the run-up to the assembly elections in Karnataka and shortly after, B.S. Yediyurappa made an obscene number of visits to mutts and other seats of spirituality, falling at the feet of gurus, godmen and swamijis, big and small, and seeking their blessings to achieve his life’s ambition of becoming chief minister.

Now that he is in the saddle, is it payback time?

The conclusion is harsh, perhaps unjust, but inescapable.

The handing over of the Mahabaleshwara Temple in Gokarna (in Uttara Kannada district) to the Ramachandrapur mutt (located in Hosanagar, Shimoga district) on August 14 is the clearest indication yet that our so-called jagadgurus, who shamelessly cross the line from the spiritual to the temporal to the material, are now demanding (and extracting) their pound of the puliyogare.


The temple transfer was reportedly made on the basis of documents that the temple was under the purview of the mutt till 1860. But by selectively and clandestinely “privatising” the administration and running of just one temple out of thousands in the State, Team Yedi has in one stroke, as it were, demonstrated that government work under the BJP is not God’s work but godman’s work.

Documents published in Gauri Lankesh‘s eponymous tabloid last week show that as recently as April this year, when the State was under President’s rule, the muzrai department had asserted that the Mahabaleshwara Temple was a “public temple” and that “there was no legal provision to transfer it to a private party or to a mutt“. So what changed between 1 April 2008 and 14 August 2008?


Aside from the legality of the temple transfer, the issue throws up six larger questions:

1) If the Gokarna temple was under the purview of the Ramachandrapur mutt till the 1860s, then by extension it can be contended that almost all temples in the State were once a part of some mutt or the other. Is the government ready to outsource the running of all these temples back to the original mutts or claimants? If so, by when? If not, why not?

Is the government ready to allow Kurubas to take over the Sri Krishna temple in Udupi, if the kurubas make a similar demand? Will the Chamundeshwari Temple atop Chamundi Hills and the Sri Ranganatha Temple in Srirangapatna be transferred to Srikantadatta Wodeyar because they were built by the Mysore kings?

2) What is the connection between the Chief Minister’s Office and the Ramachandrapur mutt, aside from both being from the same area in Shimoga? Why has the mutt suddenly received preferential treatment, when Wodeyar says the Gokarna temple should have been transferred to the Shringeri Sharada Mutt, which has been around longer than the Ramachandrapur mutt?

3) In interviews, the head of the Ramachandrapur mutt and his devotees have been claiming that the temple transfer is part of a larger bid to clean up Gokarna, also known as Dakshin Kashi. The reference here is to the not-so-holy activities that take place on the holy beaches of Gokarna. If true, does the writ of the State no longer run here? And is only a mutt located in a neighbouring district qualified to rectify that?

4) Does such a midnight transfer of a public property into private hands threaten its democratic DNA? The Mahabaleshwara temple has always welcomed devotees from all castes and religions insides the shrine. They are even allowed to touch the ‘Athma Linga‘ and pray. Is the fear of lower-caste Hindus that they will no longer be allowed inside the ‘Garbha Gruha’ far-fetched?

5) Above all, the selective transfer raises troubling questions over transparency. As a profitable temple run by the muzrai department, the Gokarna temple’s administration, activities, programmes, were open to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act. Will the public have similar access when a private mutt is given charge? The profits were earlier ploughed into the development of other, “poorer” temples across the State. Will that continue?

(An early indication of the shape of things to come. The mutt‘s representatives barged into the temple a day after the government issued the order and broke open the hundis. The mutt says it got just Rs 40 lakh; news reports say the collection was four to five times that sum.)

6) Will the Gokarna temple transfer open the floodgates? Sources say some Lingayat mutts are trying to grab at least two dozen profit-making muzrai temples in the State. Since nobody can now accuse Yediyurappa of favouring only Lingayats, will the path be paved by the government? And how much longer before Vokkaliga mutts, and Kuruba mutts, and mutts of other communities start putting in their applications?


A website maintained by the Ramachandrapur mutt claims the mutt was established at Gokarna over 1,200 years ago by Adi Shankara who anointed one of his disciples Shree Vidyananda as the first pontiff. It is a mutt affiliated to the Shringeri Sharada Mutt. The heads of the mutt are known by the suffix, Bharati. They also have a title Gokarna Mahamandaladhishwara.

The mutt is mostly frequented by Havyaka Brahmins, a minuscule community scattered over the Western Ghats—in Madikeri, Puttur, Sulya, Kasaragod, Sagar, Hosanagar, Soraba, Siddapura, Sirsi, Yellapura, Kumta, Honnavara and Ankola taluks–who and grow betel nut and spices for livelihood. The total population of Havyaka Brahmins is less than 3 lakhs although a Wikipedia entry pegs the figure at 1 lakh. Half of them now live in Bangalore and other parts of the world.

Generally speaking, heads of the Ramachandrapur mutt heads have always kept to themselves and rarely mingled with the public and politicians.

All that changed in when the present head of the mutt Raghaveshwara Bharti (in picture, left) took charge in the mid 1990s after the death of his predecessor Raghavendra Bharati, who had reigned for 50 years.

Raghavendra Bharati had strictly followed the mutt’s traditions. He had never entertained politicians and businessmen, and was known as ‘Doorvasa‘ or ‘Jamadagni‘ because of his mood swings and short fuse. But, he was a scholar and a man of integrity. Nobody had the temerity to question his character, integrity and intentions. He was both feared and respected by his followers.

But the 7th standard pass Raghaveshwara Bharati (born Chaduravalli Hareesha Bhat alias Hareesha Sharma), who reportedly sees some Lingayat and Vokkaliga swamijis as models to emulate, altered the mutt‘s image and public perception.

Devotees say following his ascent, the mutt became more like a business establishment.

The Shringeri seer is believed to have admonished him for indulging in non–religious and non-spiritual activities. It seems to have had no impact on his ambitions.

Raghaveshwara Bharati is alleged to have opened the doors of the mutt to all manner of people, including politicians, cinema stars, brokers, businessmen, shady journalists, real estate developers, among others. Insiders say some Havyaka Brahmin journalists, jealous of the clout enjoyed by fellow Lingayat and Vokkaliga journalists, used him to increase their clout in the corridors of power.

Result: the real followers of the mutt were made to feel like second-class /grade devotees. Those who questioned him were targetted and silenced.

One more result: From being a seat of learning, the Ramachandrapur mutt slowly became a political hothouse of the RSS-VHP. Not soon after, Raghaveshwara Bharati started dictating terms to BJP leaders.

Overnight, the mutt became the epicentre of the “Save the Cow” movement. The Vishwa Gou Sammelana, organised by the mutt, was telecast over several hours by the Bangalore centre of Doordarshan, with director Mahesh Joshi playing a stellar role in the coverage.

Once almost bankrupt and obscure, the mutt is now said to be worth over Rs 100 crore. Credit of this phenomenal growth should go to the skills of Raghaveshwara Bharati and his coterie, which also includes former top cop T. Madiyal, who headed the Special Task Force to catch Veerappan.

Yediyurappa, who is also from the same Hosanagar area, is one of the latest entrants into the swamiji’s fold. He started hobnobbing with him only in 2006. The 2008 assembly polls brought them closer, and the swamiji is believed to have exhorted his followers to vote for the BJP.

The transfer of the temple following the BJP’s victory in the elections, comes against this backdrop. Raghaveshwara Bharati was reportedly eyeing Gokarna and its economic potential for a long time. He studied Sanskrit at Gokarna for 12 years and knows the real worth of its temples.

In turn, Yediyurappa believes that the temple-transfer will consolidate BJP vote bank in Malnad.

In divesting the government’s muzrai department from the administration of the temple, the BJP ironically has fulfilled a key “secular” demand to keep “State” apart from “Religion”, but the fact that it has done so with regard to only one temple, raises more questions than provides answers.

Last Sunday, on a live, one-hour question and answer session on “Chandana”, with DD director Mahesh Joshi once again in the frame, Raghaveshwara Bharati looked smug and dismissive.

A caller from Kumta said: ‘Beedi nayi bogalidre, devaloka halagalla. Mahaswamigale, thaavu yaarigoo uttara needa-bedi (swamiji needn’t answer every barking dog on the temple transfer)”. Raghaveshwara Bharati approvingly nodded his head.

Does it mean that people like Siddaramaiah, S. Bangarappa, H.D. Deve Gowda, and Mallikarjuna Kharge, who are openly opposing the transfer, are no better than stray dogs questioning a divine deal?

Photographs: courtesy Outlook Traveller, and Gou Vishwa Kosha

Also read: What role should our swamijis, religious gurus play?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should swamijis go abroad?

Do our gods sanction our politicians’ silly games?

It’s true, God helps those who help themselves