The contribution of Swami Vivekananda in catapulting the Indian culture on the world panorama is priceless. Had that session at the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893 not happened, the presence of Indian yogic practices and culture on the world map and the respect they garner in the West today would have been difficult to imagine. While there is no denying the fact that we cannot give credit to popularizing the glory of Indian culture in the west to a lone Swami, but he was among the first indeed and hence commands all the respect that he deserves.
Not just a Swami, but a lover of food too!
Today, the world is remembering Swami Vivekananda and his teachings on his death anniversary. However, what many people don’t know is Vivekananda’s love for food and cooking, and his passion for tea. Eminent Bengali novelist, Sankar, penned down a book in 2003 titled as ‘Achena Ajana Vivekananda’. Later it was translated to English by Penguin India and released as ‘The Monk as Man’. In this book, Sankar, after going through almost 200 books on Vivekananda and a number of letter by him, brings out the monk’s passion for food.
The Swami was not a vegetarian and this shows his progressive views
Interestingly, Vivekananda wasn’t vegetarian and consumed fish and mutton. This is not very shocking as he was a Bengali and came from the Kayastha community, which consumes non-veg food. Also, his father’s family was non-vegetarian. In the Ramakrishna Mission also, it is not a compulsion to serve only vegetarian food. The decision of serving any type of food was always left to the individual centers and the monks running it. In his work, ‘The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’, Vivekananda remarks: “About vegetarian diet I have to say this — first, my Master was a vegetarian; but if he was given meat offered to the Goddess, he used to hold it up to his head. The taking of life is undoubtedly sinful; but so long as vegetable food is not made suitable to the human system through progress in chemistry, there is no other alternative but meat-eating.” In the same statement, Vivekananda further adds, “But the forcing of vegetarianism upon those who have to earn their bread by labouring day and night is one of the causes of the loss of our national freedom. Japan is an example of what good and nourishing food can do.”
The Swami ran a food club in his youth
In the book, Sankar mentions that as a youth, Vivekananda used to run a ‘Greedy Club’ and researched extensively on cooking. Adding to this, he also bought many books on French cooking and developed new dishes, one of them being a Khichdi cooked with eggs, peas and potatoes. In another book by Sankar, titled ‘Aahare Anahare Bibekananda’, he mentions that Vivekananda had a weaknesses-tea. As a child, he loved eating Kachori Sabzi which used to be sold near his house. He was very fond of ice cream and his followers have narrated accounts of him waiting excitedly for ice cream post dinner. As per the accounts of one of his disciples, Swami Ashokananda, Vivekananda cooked Pulao and desserts with ghee and sugar. He loved to relish on fried potatoes which he used to cook with butter and curry powder.
While travelling abroad
When Vivekananda travelled abroad, he developed a particular liking for different teas. He observed eating habits and cultures of foreign lands and even attempted to use Indian ingredients in recipes that he cooked for his hosts. Further, he found substitutes to dishes that he adored, particularly ‘Hilsa’, a species of fish popular in West Bengal. He discovered a fish that was liked on the East Coast of USA, as much as Hilsa was liked in Bengal. In a letter to his companions in Calcutta, he wrote : “These days you get hilsa in abundance and one can eat to one’s fill…. They use a variety of spinach which tastes like nate, and what they call ‘asparagus’ tastes like the young stalk of dengo.”
What we should learn from the great teacher?
What is most important to learn from Swami Vivekananda is that food should not be a factor in creating divide among people. In a time, when people tend to be more aggressive on trivial issues, it must be Vivekananda and his teachings that we must look up to. And whenever, there is a discontent arising out of certain food practices and choices, the following lines by the monk must be kept in mind: “We leave everybody free to know, select, and follow whatever suits and helps him. Thus, for example, eating meat may help one, eating fruit another. Each is welcome to his own peculiarity, but he has no right to criticise the conduct of others, because that would, if followed by him, injure him, much less to insist that others should follow his way.”
By: Kartikeya Shankar
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author is his own and Times of India does not hold any allegiance to it.