Janmashtami: What's cooking in ISKCON kitchens?
With Janmashtami celebrations moving online, the senior vice-president of ISKCON Bengaluru explains the philosophy of their temple cuisine
Janmashtami is an occasion for celebrations and, like most Indian festivals, has its signature food. This year, understandably, the festivities have moved online. But Lounge spoke to Sri Chanchalapathi Dasa, Senior Vice-President of ISKCON Bengaluru, to learn what goes on inside the kitchens of the famous Krishna temples. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What is the food philosophy of the ISKCON kitchen?
We recognise food is a gift of god. Food is not manmade. To make food, you need soil, air and sunlight, and they are god’s creations. Generally, these things are taken for granted, but we must acknowledge them with gratitude. A deeper way to do so is by offering food to the creator. After making the offering, what we are left with are considered remnants. Technically, in spiritual practice, it is called a sacrifice—when you do something and give it to god.
How is this practiced in the temple kitchen?
In our kitchen, the food that is cooked is never tasted by anybody till it is offered to Krishna in the altar. Even while procuring groceries, cleaning, cutting and all through the food preparation process, the devotees involved carry just one intention—I am not doing this for myself, I am doing this for god and his devotees. This food is not for our enjoyment. Only after it is offered to him, we can enjoy it with the devotees as his mercy. This is the consciousness of somebody who works in the ISKCON kitchen.
Does one need to undergo training to work in the temple kitchen?
One has to be trained for a number of years in spiritual discipline. A person untrained in this approach perceives food as something that is for their personal enjoyment. They are inclined to 'lord over' anything that catches their fancy. But spiritual training means one does not think of one’s enjoyment first, but offers food with love to the creator. It is a yogic approach. It takes several years to learn and only after that the person is allowed to go into the kitchen and cook. When someone is imbued with this consciousness of ‘I am preparing this for God with love’, such a person brings a new ingredient into the cooking process which makes it very special.
What happens during a Janmashtami feast in the kitchen?
It is an occasion to celebrate Krishna’s appearance in this world, a very joyous moment. We decorate the Lord in the temple, hear about Krishna's philosophy, and also prepare a feast, which is an integral part of the celebration. There is a huge spread of 108 dishes which is offered to the Lord first and then distributed to the devotees and the public.
Food preparations begin at least two days prior to the celebrations. Krishna likes milk products and there are a lot of sweets like sandesh, rasgulla, rasmalai, gulab jamun and varieties of laddoos. We are in Bengaluru and there are regional specialities too. Wherever the temples are located around the world, the regional food fare, which must be vegetarian and Sattvic, becomes part of the menu. Since Krishna was born at midnight, there is a cake cutting too after the arati.
FIRST PUBLISHED11.08.2020 | 10:58 AM IST