PIC hosted Ms. Shoba Narayan, author, journalist and columnist, for a discussion on her latest book, “Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey through India,” on 26th March. Prof. Pradeep Apte, Professor Emeritus, Savitribai Phule Pune University, chaired this discussion. Mr. Abhay Vaidya, Associate Director, PIC introduced the author to the audience.
Ms. Narayan began by explaining with examples of how intricately food and faith were intertwined in India. For example, she explained how the objective of ‘prasadam’ was to maintain and preserve local varieties of crops, the conservation of seeds and saplings of plant varieties that were both indigenous and ancient. She outlined how in the course of her travels, she came across several people who reiterated that faith provided a purpose for life. She covered different aspects of the inter-relation between food and faith, including the duality of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane,’ the sublimation of the ego (as in the case of the cooks in the Jagannath Kshetra temple kitchen who believed that it wasn’t they but Goddess Mahalakshmi who was cooking the food for Lord Jagannath). She even explained the Urs and Sufism in the context of its belief that we were all cut off from ‘tauheed’ (the primal root from which we all come) in the context of food and faith. Ms. Narayan noted that in India the expression of faith was very intense. She highlighted that this intensity of faith was common across all geographical regions of India. While narrating several anecdotes from her travels, she emphasised that apart from ritual (of which food is a significant part), religion and the practice of faith were almost entirely about ‘bhavana’ or emotion.