God gave you the thirty-six varieties of tasty foods. He gave you a place
within to hold them (different limbs in the body to handle the food); He
gave you the earth, and things to use; enshrine in your consciousness
the feet (i.e. Name) of that God (sggs 913).
According to Indian traditions, a full course meal consists of dishes with six different tastes — sweet, sour, pungent, spicy, salty and bitter. Variety of foods are cooked mixing these basic tastes (Rasa). A number "thirty-six" (ਛਤੀਹ) is mentioned in the Gurbani (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, SGGS).
The word "Amrit" used here in the context of food essentially means delicious or flavorsome (Vadheeaa, Suaadale, Uttam, tasty etc.). Number "thirty-six" is really interesting in that it appears to have some sort of significance in different faiths, cultures, and even in science. As far as the "thirty-six" different kinds of foods go, some have actually prepared a list of these! One of the lists goes as follows: bread (every kind of Rotee), Fritter (Poorree), Kachouree (a dish made of pulse and bread), beller cake (Poorraa), rice, culinary herbs (Saag), pulse (Daal), Karree (a saline dish of gram flour), condiment preparation (Varreeaan), vermicelli (Semeeaan), pulse and rice cooked together (Khicharree), parched saline grams (Sloone Chhole), Pakaurre (made of moistened gram flour fried in oil), condiment (Chatanee), pickle, preserved (Murabbaa), fruits and nuts, confection (Boondee), curd or yogurt and fried cake (Dhaheen Bhalle), boiled vegetable mixed in curd (Raaitaa), Paaparr (thin crisp cake), sweet made of sugar-flour-Ghee (Karrah Prasaad), Kheer (rice cooked in milk), Panjeeree (a kind of sweet), sweets (Mithiaaee), sweet dish made of wheat flour (Laapasee), Rabarree (a preparation of milk and sugar), cream, butter, sugar mixed with curd (Dahee Khand), Dodhee Khas Khas (a preparation of peppy and the milk), Kaanjee (acid drink), lump sugar and Ghee sweet (Ghevak), Pheneeaan (a kind of vermicelli), and Chooran (a tonic medicine to promote digestion).
However, exactly the same kinds of "thirty-six" foods may not be available everywhere in the world. Therefore, variation is bound to occur from place to place, region to region, country to country, and so on. Even within a country — for example, between north and south India — a vast difference in foods can be observed. However, the basic Rasa essentially remain the same. Foodstuffs can further be divided in four kinds based on the manner they are consumed — some are swallowed, some are chewed, some are licked up and some are sucked. In an another Shabad, Kabeer Sahib mentions of five tasty foods ("Paanchaou Amrit Khaaye"). These five tasty or Uttam delicacies are said to be milk, curd (or yogurt), Ghee (clarified butter), sugar and honey.
Traditionally, the idea was to have a simple and reasonably balanced diet so that one gets all the needed nutrients to maintain a healthy body and mind. However, due to the fast lifestyle of these days, most of the people do not seem to have time or energy to prepare a fresh full course meal anymore. As a result, fast-food joints and frozen dinners are more popular and considered handy. No denying that the food one eats has has tremendous effect on one's overall well being, including the mind. Balanced diet keeps the physical and emotional forces subtle and refined, which, in turn, makes the Naam-Simran (meditation, Jap etc.) subtle and refined as well. In fact, in the olden days, food cooked for more than a few hours was considered dead (Behaa), thereby unfit for consumption. Compare this to the modern lifestyle. In a a household where both the man and the woman work, it has almost become impossible to have a freshly cooked food. In many cases, perhaps only once a week people get to eat clean freshly cooked food. This is more so in the west. Due to the so called globalization, this is also becoming apparent in the eastern cultures.
While consuming foodstuff, the Gurbani would like us to pause and think about the followings:
First, we are asked to recognize that everything including the food we eat, is the Gift from God. That is, it's with His Grace (Nadar or Kirpaa) we receive this Gift and enjoy them.
Second, if we conduct ourselves as the Manmukh or the Saakat (material being or faithless cynic) — a person devoid of the Naam, the Lord's Name — then all the delicacies are just like eating "poison". By using the word "poison" here, the Gurbani is not suggesting us to give up eating. No, that's not the case. The Gurbani would simply like us to think "Do I eat to live or do I live to eat". If one just live to eat, this suggests that his consciousness is limited to his body only (sense gratification), ignoring the divine inside world. In this conditioned state, one's life expresses out in the outside world through just the three aspects of his being: physical (body), emotional (mind), and intellectual. The fourth aspect, the spiritual aspect, remains dormant. So long the inside divine world (the spiritual aspect) is ignored, the outside Dukha will not come to an end. Therefore, it's important to pay attention to both the inside and the outside world, and integrate them. In other words, along with the outside world, the inner world also needs to be explored.
Fourth, Bhaaee Gurdaas Jee tells us how one can switch from the mentality of indulgence in sense gratification. He said we can do this by emulating "Karrashee" (ladle or serving spoon) — although the "Karrashee" remains dipped in foods but still it stays without tasting them. Another frequent example given in the Gurbani is that of a lotus flower, which grows in water and the muddy slime but still remains untouched by the both. Similarly, we are asked to live in the world and yet not of it (detached). This requires practicing restraint of the mind.
— T. Singh
Updated on Friday, March 29, 2013 3:36 PM (PST)
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