Do you also often wonder what exactly the ancient Indian eat? Did they also have cheese then? Did they consume better food or has the world come a full circle?
Everything has an origin from where it’s journey can be traced. Similarly, the origin of Indian cuisines traces back to the Vedic period.
The Vedic period is believed to be the beginning of modern India. The food practices and agricultural patterns adopted then have evolved.
Come, let us devour the ancient Indian food and food practices that have directly or indirectly shaped us.
In the second millennium BCE, Aryans migrated to India in search of pasture grounds for their cattle. They were a decent community of people that cultivated lands and looked after their cattle.
The early period of their settlement is called the Vedic Period. Ancient Indian food and food practices find a detailed description in the four holy Vedas namely, Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Atharva Veda, and Yajur Veda.
Apart from the Vedas, excavations of the Harappan Valley and Indus Valley have also provided us with ample proof that Indians obtained their primary food supply through agriculture.
Due to the availability of fertile lands in the Indian region, Aryans also settled here. They brought with them barley which was their staple food. Later, they grew other grains too including wheat, maize, and lentils.
Ancient Indian Food
Ancient Indian food primarily comprised of barley, vegetables (Eggplant (Baingan), Pumpkin, Jackfruit, Bitter Gourd, Spinach, Collard Greens), fruits (Mangoes, Dates, Wood-Apple, Melons, Papaya, Bananas, Indian Blackberry (Jamun), and meat. Later, other grains like wheat, rice, maize, and millet were also cultivated.
Different regions of the country had a staple crop that suited the regional climate and soil. This is the reason why southern Indian cuisine incorporates a lot of rice, where there are ample water and sun.
Rig Veda mentions certain popular lentils and their use too. Among the lentils, the red, black, and green lentils were the most widely consumed lentils.
As for other things, Apupa is a form of cake prepared by frying barley. You will be surprised to know khichdi goes back to ancient times. It was originally prepared with rice and green lentil.
Gradually, Buddhism and Jainism literature also influenced the way grains were consumed. Jainism food sees extensive use of rice and its gruel.
Many of these vegetables used to grow in the wild, Aryans identified the edible ones and started cultivating them in their fields beside the crops.
Now coming to the animal part. Originally, Aryans domesticated goats and sheep that were used to fulfill the dietary needs. Gradually, it shifted to chicken and other types of meat. Along the coasts, fish and other seafood gained popularity.
However, if you are wondering what about the cow? I must tell you cow was declared holy on Indian land more than 3000 years ago. Cows were worshipped even then. They were domesticated for their milk.
Milk and its products like ghee, curd, cottage cheese, buttermilk, and butter have been popular since ancient times. They provide the body with essential nutrients and energy to go about the daily work.
With the onset of Buddhism and Jainism, the consumption of non-vegetarian meals saw a hefty decline. Vegetarianism gradually spread across the country.
Ancient Indian Food Practices
Rig Vega describes the lifestyles and practices of ancient Indians in quite a detail. The lifestyle varied widely as per the social status of each family but the practices did not.
Food habits have played a major role in shaping up the current Indian society. The world knows us for our humble and calm demeanor.
The food habits that were followed then and should be followed even now include:
- Sitting on the Floor While Eating: It is advised to sit on a hard-flat surface cross-legged while eating. This aids proper digestion of food.
- Praying Before Eating: It is a practice that is followed everywhere in the world including India. We thank god for providing us with meals.
- Not Talking While Eating: Eating while talking is an impolite and indecent practice. The food can spit out of your mouth if you talk and eat simultaneously which is very unhygienic.
- Food Impurity by Saliva: There is a concept of impure food when in direct or indirect contact fo someone’s saliva. It is called ‘Jhuta’. Indian refrain from sharing food from their own plate once they have tasted it.
- Cooking in Earthen Pots: Earthen pots were used to cook meals in ancient times when metal wasn’t discovered. Even long after the metal was discovered, Indians preferred earthen pots for utensils.
Sattvik Bhojan, Tamasic Bhojan and Rajasic Bhojan
Traditions that date back to the Vedic Period classify all food into three categories:
- Sattvik Bhojan
Cooked vegetables, milk, fresh fruits, and honey are considered as Satvika foods. Satvika food is was consumed by the great learned men like sages and saints.
It is considered to be the simplest and purest form of food. Also, it is purely vegetarian.
- Tamasic Bhojan
Foods such as meat, liquor, garlic, and spicy and sour foods are classified as Tamasik foods. It is said that Tamasika food brings out the lowest, crass qualities of human behavior.
In ancient times, this kind of food was eaten by people who were considered to be evil. As an interesting fact, about 70% of the modern-day population savors Tamasik Bhojan.
- Rajasic Bhojan
Foods that give enough energy to carry out daily work are categorized as Rajasik foods. Rajasik Bhojan was devoured by the common man of society.
Rajasik meal is packed with lentils and green vegetables to provide a high amount of nutrients to sustain the body for hard work.
The common man is that strata of the society that shoulder the responsibility of running the society smoothly. He works in the fields to provide for all others.
India is an ancient country that has a long history. Needless to say, its cuisine also has an equally enriching history.
It started with Aryans having barley as their staple crop and going on to cultivate a wide array of grains, lentils, fruits, and vegetables as we know them now.
Even the non-vegetarian facet of Indian food has evolved greatly over the centuries ranging from the goats and sheep to chicken and meat. We also looked at some of the food practices adopted by Indians long back.
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Meet the literarian of our group! She loves crafts, paintings, poetry, food, and can lip-sync dialogues from F.R.I.E.N.D.S all day. The world of words fascinates her, a true logophile. A typical millennial with an old touch.