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Swami Vivekananda's food fetishes

Nandini Guha writes how Mani Shankar Mukherjee’s book ‘Ahare Anahare Bibekananda’ has listed out Swami Vivekananda’s favourite dishes over the years, ranging from kachori-sabzi, hilsa fish, fried potatoes to ice cream.

 Agencies |  2017-03-18 13:39:22.0  |  Kolkata

Did you know that it was the ubiquitous Kolkata rasgulla that brought the two great thinkers of 19th Century Bengal, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda together? Much as Swamiji loved sweets, he was equally fond of ice cream – a fetish he indulged in even when he was touring America while attending the Parliament of World Religions in 1893.

Veteran author Mani Shankar Mukherjee's book, 'Ahare Anahare Bibekananda', published by Dey's Publishing a few months ago, throws light on the sanyasi's food habits and fetishes, his lifestyle, oscillating between that of the swish jet set in Europe and USA and his struggle to find two square meals a day for himself and his brethren at the Mission.

"His two weaknesses were nicotine and tea. We know from his brother Mahendranath Dutta's account that he smoked and drank tea the night Ramakrishna died. I have tried to reveal such interesting but unexplored facets of Swamiji's life especially his food habits in this book," Shankar told
Millennium Post
.
Swamiji's father was a lawyer and he belonged to a well to do family based in North Kolkata. Right from his childhood, he loved to eat as well as feed people and it is known that he acquired a book on French cooking even before he secured a copy of the Vedas. He was also fond of the oily kachori-sabzi obtained from a particular store of his neighbourhood. But in later life, he is known to have taken a U-turn in his culinary likes and dislikes. An avid meat lover, Swamiji is known to have opted for fish, dal, rice, green leafy vegetables, milk and puffed rice to maintain a healthy diet later in life. Swamiji also recommended taking holidays and long walks in the Himalayas (especially a visit to Badarinath Temple in Himachal Pradesh). Swamiji believed that 'food could be contaminated in three ways - due to their characteristics (the presence of onion and garlic), an unhygienic food outlet, and if touched by an unholy person (someone who is devilish).' He loved a meal cooked by his mother Bhubaneshwari devi and as for fruits, he loved apples, mangoes and litchis but his distaste for guavas was famous.

Swamiji's followers in various accounts of his visits narrate how he would wait for ice cream post-dinner, with child-like eagerness, how he would teach his American disciples how to crush Indian spices, how he once sprinkled Tabasco sauce on his food and also encourage them to eat deadly green chillies which he relished.

Mrs Hansbro in 1900 talks about Swamiji's stay in Los Angeles as her house guest. She narrates how he would begin his breakfast with a fruit: orange or grapefruit. He liked to have two poached eggs. This would be followed by two slices of toast and two cups of coffee with cream and sugar. After breakfast, he would usually stroll in the garden or browse books in the library. He would smoke after breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dinner, served at around 6:30 pm, would comprise of soup, fish or meat, followed by a dessert which he loved. He would often help in the kitchen and make vegetables and chapattis. Swamiji would also cook pulao and different desserts with ghee and sugar (as per Swami Ashokananda's account). He loved to eat fried potatoes and would cook them in butter and curry powder. He also never had his dinner before his lectures as that would slow down his thought process.

As a sanyasi, Swamiji and his brethren would often resort to fasting and frugal meals. In the early days at the ashram in Baranagar (in North Kolkata), they did not have enough funds to buy clothes or food and the sanyasis would take turns at seeking alms. Records show that they would have a sparse meal of rice, salt and chillies together and not even use separate plates.

But life as a roving sanyasi in India was difficult. In a speech in California, Swami Vivekananda said how he went hungry for days on end and even encountered death-like situations. Then he would rest his tired body under the shade of a tree and felt that he would pass out from going hungry for days together. "I would hardly be able to speak, leave alone think. Then I would pray to the Almighty to protect me and then, I would gather strength to raise myself. That is why I'm still alive," he said.

Once on the vegetarian versus non-vegetarian debate, Swamiji had said that the Brahmins of ancient India were meat-eaters and even ate beef (as told to his friend Manmathanath Bhattacharya in Trivandrum). It is only after the spread of Buddhism that eating fish and meat were abandoned.

There are some other interesting snippets. It is known that before boarding a ship to America, Vivekananda suddenly had a craving for Koi machh. His disciple Kalipada Ghosh sent for the fish and everybody had a hearty meal before Swamiji left for the US from Mumbai on the ship, SS Peninsula.

Armed with a first class ticket, he had access to tea and coffee whenever he wanted. In the US, he noted how American women offered him warm hospitality, food and shelter, and even made arrangements for his lectures. The Cyclonic Hindu also reported to his brethren in India that he had come to America in search of a remedy for poverty. But while teaching Vedanta to his American disciples, Swamiji sometimes went hungry as it was expensive to stay in America. Americans earned a lot but spent a lot too, he often wrote. On the day Swamiji died in 1902, he did have a go at his favourite dish – Hilsa and rice.

He dreamt of a life free of hunger for his brethren and followers, when none would go without food and succour. As per his thoughts, one day, when the Mission would be flush with funds, food would overflow at the community kitchen serving all humanity.Did you know that it was the ubiquitous Kolkata rasgulla that brought the two great thinkers of 19th Century Bengal, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda together? Much as Swamiji loved sweets, he was equally fond of ice cream – a fetish he indulged in even when he was touring America while attending the Parliament of World Religions in 1893.

Veteran author Mani Shankar Mukherjee's book, 'Ahare Anahare Bibekananda', published by Dey's Publishing a few months ago, throws light on the sanyasi's food habits and fetishes, his lifestyle, oscillating between that of the swish jet set in Europe and USA and his struggle to find two square meals a day for himself and his brethren at the Mission.

"His two weaknesses were nicotine and tea. We know from his brother Mahendranath Dutta's account that he smoked and drank tea the night Ramakrishna died. I have tried to reveal such interesting but unexplored facets of Swamiji's life especially his food habits in this book," Shankar told Millennium Post.

Swamiji's father was a lawyer and he belonged to a well to do family based in North Kolkata. Right from his childhood, he loved to eat as well as feed people and it is known that he acquired a book on French cooking even before he secured a copy of the Vedas. He was also fond of the oily kachori-sabzi obtained from a particular store of his neighbourhood. But in later life, he is known to have taken a U-turn in his culinary likes and dislikes. An avid meat lover, Swamiji is known to have opted for fish, dal, rice, green leafy vegetables, milk and puffed rice to maintain a healthy diet later in life. Swamiji also recommended taking holidays and long walks in the Himalayas (especially a visit to Badarinath Temple in Himachal Pradesh). Swamiji believed that 'food could be contaminated in three ways - due to their characteristics (the presence of onion and garlic), an unhygienic food outlet, and if touched by an unholy person (someone who is devilish).' He loved a meal cooked by his mother Bhubaneshwari devi and as for fruits, he loved apples, mangoes and litchis but his distaste for guavas was famous.

Swamiji's followers in various accounts of his visits narrate how he would wait for ice cream post-dinner, with child-like eagerness, how he would teach his American disciples how to crush Indian spices, how he once sprinkled Tabasco sauce on his food and also encourage them to eat deadly green chillies which he relished.

Mrs Hansbro in 1900 talks about Swamiji's stay in Los Angeles as her house guest. She narrates how he would begin his breakfast with a fruit: orange or grapefruit. He liked to have two poached eggs. This would be followed by two slices of toast and two cups of coffee with cream and sugar. After breakfast, he would usually stroll in the garden or browse books in the library. He would smoke after breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dinner, served at around 6:30 pm, would comprise of soup, fish or meat, followed by a dessert which he loved. He would often help in the kitchen and make vegetables and chapattis. Swamiji would also cook pulao and different desserts with ghee and sugar (as per Swami Ashokananda's account). He loved to eat fried potatoes and would cook them in butter and curry powder. He also never had his dinner before his lectures as that would slow down his thought process.

As a sanyasi, Swamiji and his brethren would often resort to fasting and frugal meals. In the early days at the ashram in Baranagar (in North Kolkata), they did not have enough funds to buy clothes or food and the sanyasis would take turns at seeking alms. Records show that they would have a sparse meal of rice, salt and chillies together and not even use separate plates.

But life as a roving sanyasi in India was difficult. In a speech in California, Swami Vivekananda said how he went hungry for days on end and even encountered death-like situations. Then he would rest his tired body under the shade of a tree and felt that he would pass out from going hungry for days together. "I would hardly be able to speak, leave alone think. Then I would pray to the Almighty to protect me and then, I would gather strength to raise myself. That is why I'm still alive," he said.

Once on the vegetarian versus non-vegetarian debate, Swamiji had said that the Brahmins of ancient India were meat-eaters and even ate beef (as told to his friend Manmathanath Bhattacharya in Trivandrum). It is only after the spread of Buddhism that eating fish and meat were abandoned.

There are some other interesting snippets. It is known that before boarding a ship to America, Vivekananda suddenly had a craving for Koi machh. His disciple Kalipada Ghosh sent for the fish and everybody had a hearty meal before Swamiji left for the US from Mumbai on the ship, SS Peninsula.

Armed with a first class ticket, he had access to tea and coffee whenever he wanted. In the US, he noted how American women offered him warm hospitality, food and shelter, and even made arrangements for his lectures. The Cyclonic Hindu also reported to his brethren in India that he had come to America in search of a remedy for poverty. But while teaching Vedanta to his American disciples, Swamiji sometimes went hungry as it was expensive to stay in America. Americans earned a lot but spent a lot too, he often wrote. On the day Swamiji died in 1902, he did have a go at his favourite dish – Hilsa and rice.

He dreamt of a life free of hunger for his brethren and followers, when none would go without food and succour. As per his thoughts, one day, when the Mission would be flush with funds, food would overflow at the community kitchen serving all humanity.

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