Sunday, 9 February 2014

History of traditional Telugu food culture: Dr. G. V. Purnachand

My paper presented in
 "Cultural History of Food in South India" organized by Government of Puducherry, Department of History, Kanchi Mamunivar Centre for P.G. Studies
(Autonomous) (Reaccredited by NACC – A)PUDUCHERRY- 605 008
0n 6&7,Feb. 2014

Dr. G V Purnachand, B.A.M.S.,

History of traditional Telugu food culture

"Thottanait Thurum Manarkeni Mandahrku Kattranait Thurum Arivu"
In Sandy soil, when deep you delve, You reach the springs below; The more you learn, the freer streams of wisdom flow".

Food is the supplicant of vital energy of life.
Every human activity is centered on food activity which place most dominant role in developing the course of life.
It is the Indian custom to take the food with reverence as divine prasaadam whenever it is served in any form. Food is the chief agent of the immortal continuity of all the created.
The production and preparation of food has been in accordance with the cultural concepts of each given race. 
The Telugu classical food culture, high in its antiquity, possessed qualitative, pure and rich food habits.
The history of food of Telugu People is closely related to the culture and traditions of the People. The Telugu cuisine is as diverse as the Telugu people belong to various regions and areas like Circar Districts(Coastal area), Seeded Districts(Rayala Seema) and the Nizam Districts(Telengana)
Though the staple food items like curry, dal, chutnee and sambar are common, each area is having its own significance in preparing certain food Items
like Biriyani of Hyderabad, tiipi bhakshyalu (bobbaTlu) of Telengana, manDegalu of Seema area, pottekkalu of Konasima, chilaklu of coastal area.
But the ill effect of modern multi cultural experience particularly after Globalisation has affected all the aspects of human life particularly the food habits leading a confrontation of perception between the hygienic old and hyper sensitive new generations. The Telugu society is not an exception to this experience.
Eating Habits of Telugu People
Bhavamishra of 15th century published a popular medical text book Bhavaprakasha, which is considered as one among the three small works, popularly known as laghutrayi. He belonged to former Kalinga country, which comprises the southern parts of present Orissa and the northern parts of coastal Andhra.
He therefore dealt with the life style of eastern Deccan which certainly includes Telugu. He made a mention of the healthy habits of taking food items like, kuura, pappu etc., as follows :ఘృత పూర్వ౦ సమశ్నీయాత్కఠిన౦ ప్రాక్ తతో మృదు / అ౦తే పునర్ద్రవాశీ తు బలాద్రోగేణ ము౦చతి (ghRutapuurvam samashNiyaat kaThinam praak tattoo mRudu/ Antee punardravaaSi tu balaadroogeena munchati).
He advised to take oily and hard items like curry (Kuura), Daal (pappu) etc in the beginningof the principal meal. Later soft items like chutney (pachadi) etc.,are to be taken, followed by  liquid items like broth or Soar Soup-pulusu, sambaar etc., again and finally ending the meal with buttermilk or curd.
Desserts also can be had after completing the principal meal. Crisps and pappads, moderately toasted, can also be taken together with any curry or chutney. Telugu people still follow the same manner.
He also mentioned the food habits of north- Indian people, at places like Varanasi and other areas. This book further advised to take a grinded mixture of ginger and salt as the foremost  item, భోజనాగ్రే సదా పథ్య౦ లవణార్ద్రక భక్షణమ్/ అగ్ని స౦దీపన౦ రుచ్య౦ జిహ్వా క౦ఠ విరోధన౦... bhojanaagree sadaapathyam lavaNa aardraka bhakshanam”-  He advised to eat the ginger and salt mixture as the foremost item in the principle meal, as it acts as an appetizer and stimulates the taste buds on the tongue. 
He also recommended of having a sweet item at the end bhojanaante madhurasam”.
A sweetened “kappuraviDemu” or taambuulam (Meethapaan) in the end of the meal helps to improve appetite.
According to the Sruti, one must have finished one’s lunch by noon and night meal by dusk i.e. before 7-00pm – సాయ౦ ప్రాతర్మణుష్యాణా మశను శ్రుతి బోధితమ్ saayam praatarmanushyaaNaa maSanau shruti bodhitam.

Chilies changed the Telugu Food Heritage
The food history of Telugu People can be divided into two periods: one is before and the other is after the introduction of chilies into Telugu land.
Portuguese Traders might have introduced them either in early 16th Century or in the last part of Vijayanagara rule.
Chili peppers originated in Chile, in America. Christopher Columbus discovered America exactly on October 12, 1492. And after the Columbian Exchange, the spread of chili peppers to Asia was most likely a natural consequence. 
Portuguese traders soon realised the trade value of chili pepper and promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders.
Telugu cultivators were encouraged by these traders to grow more and more chili pepper. Telugu People also showed interest and hugged these spicy items. This was recognised as better alternative to pungent pepper (miriyam), long pepper (pippaLLu), ginger (allamu) etc.
Portuguese and Dutch also encouraged Telugu people to prepare mango pickles like aavakaaya and maagaaya for export to western countries. Chili pepper made it easier and cheaper to prepare mango pickles
The Telugus made several experiments and introduced several forms of pickles. They invented varieties like the one with jaggery, (bellam aavakaya), coriander (dhaniyaalaa avakaya), sesame (nuvvu kaya) and fenugreek seeds (menti kaaya), all meant for export to west.
Usually Europeans do not like such pungent food items. Somehow they welcomed the Telugu pickles. The foreign traders of this period placed orders for large quantity of pickle packing. This is how chilies helped the promotion of foreign trade on this land and significantly contributed to its economy, besides making aavakaya the most favorite food item of Telugu house hold.
The great Karnatic composer Purandaradas (1480-1564) sang of the chili: I saw you green, then turning redder as you ripened, nice to look at and tasty in a dish, but too hot if an excess is used. Even to think of (the deity) Panduranga Vittala, the Savior of the poor, enhancer of good food is difficult” (see Historical Dictionary of Indian food, by K T Achaya- page no. 43).
This reference throws light not only on its entry but its high popularity all over Deccan. Mariichi is the Sanskrit term for pepper. Pepper is called miryam in Telugu. The pepper fruit “miriyampukaaya” from which the mirapakaaya is derived which has become a popular spice of modern age.
The other synonym of chili pepper is mirchi, more popular in Hindi belt, could be a derivative from Sanskrit term mariichi.

Foreign fruits and vegetables on Telugu land
Sri Krishna Devaraya in his classic aamuktamaalyada said “వాణిజ్యము పె౦చి యేలగానగున్...vaanijyamu penchi yeelagaanagun-The king must rule his country by encouraging the trade and commerce”.
It was his policy to allow foreign traders both for purchase and selling.
Chili pepper, papaya, guavas, tobacco, maize etc. were introduced to Telugu people by Portuguese. The Dutch people brought a sort of orange fruit from their capital Batavia to Palakole of East Godavari district. Now, this Batavian fruit is popular as బత్తాయి కాయ battaayi kaaya in Telugu.
Earlier to this, we knew only నారి౦జ కాయ naarinjakaaya or నార౦గ కాయ naarangakaaya (Citrus Orange fruit). By dropping“n” from naarinja/naaranga, the foreign Traders developed a new name “orange” for sweet citrus fruit.
In their broader interest of trade, these foreign traders including the British established their factories at Masulipatam, Nizampatam, Vizagpatam and other port areas.
They attracted our formers to grow their fruits and other yield for their overseas trade and more often than not, benefitted largely out of it.
        This is how the Telugus got acquaintance with foreign fruits and vegetables and in turn these vegetables influenced Telugu cuisine heavily than the cuisines of others across the country. Unlimited use of chilies is the best example of it. To compensate this excessive use of chili powder, Tamarind is added heavily.
Use of Tamarind in such heavy quantity was not observed in the writings of Telugu Poets of Historical and medieval periods.
Traditional Telugu food items
The great Telugu poet of 15th century,Srinathagives a long list of more than 70 food items with their Telugu names of middle ages in his SRungaaranaiShadha. These food itemsweremeant for serving to the guests attending swayamvara function of Damayanti.  Some more such names of Telugu food items may be obtained from the literary works of Tenali Ramakrishna, Peddana, and Timmana of Vijayanagara Period. Sri SuravaramPratapa Reddyin his monumental work “aandhrulasaanghikacharitra(The Social History of Telugu people), observed that some of these names were confusing, as they were no more in vogue and required the attention of scholars for further examination. More meaningful terms like teemanam was lost in usage, as we use instead majjigapulusu. The reason is obvious. People are slowly urbanized and a sort of indifference prevailed in their mind towards  theirmother tongue and culture.
Traditional Telugu food items that are high in their antiquity,rich in their nourishment, and pure in their preparation provide good evidence of Telugu taste from ages. The eating habits of Telugu People are in according to the Ayurvedic Text books namely CharakaSamhita, SusrutaSamhitaandVagbhataSamhita of ancient times(bruhatrayi) and Yogaratnakara, BhaavaPrakasha and Basavaraajiiyam of Middle ages(laghutrayi). pulihoora(tamerindrice), gaarelu(vadai), maDugulu (akind of Parotas), drabbeDa(traditional fried rice of Telugu style), uurpu (a special soup prepared by frying a vegetable on fire), angaarapoolika ( an ancient type of Telugu butter naan-prepared in tandoori method)paalakaayalu (a sort of sweet item prepared with the cream of milk, that helps to develop good vision among the children who are mostly exposed to computer monitors and television screens)are the best examples of traditional Telugu food items. Let us examine a few examples:
drabbeDa- was mentioned by Tenali Ramakrishna (16th century) -okakonnidrabbeDalokakonnitaalimpulokakonnividhamulayorracheerulu. In this passage he mentioned about drabbeDalu as a special cuisine to be served in the principal meal. But the commentators failed to decipher what really drabbeDameant.In Sanskrit MahaBhagavata, we come across a word-sthaaliipuriisha in the passage: kaNapiNyaakaphaliikaraNakalmaaShasthaaliipuriiShaadiinamrutavadabhyavaharati (Skt. Bhag. 5.9.11)where it means sthaaliilagnamdagdhaannam, a much deeply roasted rice layer stuck inside the bottom of the cooking pot, which  should not be eaten as it would lead to cancer. This passage is in the context of JaDabharata’s life.Potanaamaatya in his Telugu Bhaagavatamu translated this `sthaaleepureesha` as “maaDudrabbeDa”. …uuka, tavuDu,telikapinDi,poTTu, maaDudrabbeDayaadigaagaladravyambulayandunamrutambupagidiruchecheesibhakShinchuchu(5.1.128)…it meansjaDabharata lived by eating the husk, bran, oil cake(the stuff of sesame seedsthat remains after the oil was pressed out ) andmaaDudrabbeDa, a deeply roasted layer of rice. If spices and vegetablesare addedto the cooked rice andfried moderately, we will get the delicious drabbeDa,which equals to `fried rice’of present day.drabbeDawas a popular traditional Telugu food item, a special variety of rice by 15th Century.

ATTu-exclusively ofTelugu People
ATTu means a toasted thin pancake of moderate size.
It is now popularly called asdooSa or doSai.It might have originated from a proto- Telugu word “aTT”, meaning “making dry”. aTTamumeans a fried or burned food. aTika means a broken pot made of mud used as a pottagepan for the purpose of making aTTu.
Telugu people still call the nonstick pan as aTlapenamuor penku. penku denotes a broken pot. puutareekulu, a sweet variety  popular in the Godavari belt are prepared by drying up the thin flour layers  on this broken pot, placed on fire.
The Telugu aTTu is a little different from doosai of Kannadigas and Tamilians.
Now the entire world is eating dooSai, but Telugus only could preserve their ancient Dravidian term aTTu.
One of the important festivals of Telugus isaTlataddi (Attu Eating Festival). Telugu style of aTTu preparation is different.
There is a considerable change of taste between the doosai available at hotels of other language speakers and the aTTu prepared in Telugu homes. Shrinatha described both aTTulu and dooSiyalu,which testify the fact that aTTu was different from dooSaeven by 15th century. It can therefore be surmised safely that aTTu is specific to Telugu culture.

maDugulu-alsoknownasmaDagulu, maNugulu, or maDatalu was a traditional cuisine mentioned by various writers of middle ages.maDaguin classical Telugumeans compromise or surrender. maDatameans a fold or a folding.  As far as preparation of a rooTiis concerned, foldingadds to its taste .Folding the wheat-layertwice is doupati, three times is tripati and four times is chapati. In each timeof the folding, oil and dry powder are added. They increase thetaste. The difference between a pulka and a chapaatilies in its foldingsonly. maDugulu or maDatalu contain many foldings. paalagujju (cream of the milk) is applied after baking themaDatalu, which equals butter naan or parooTa of present day.
Angaarapoolika-a muddaor a wheat-ball is to be prepared and placed on burning coal. After the upper layer of the ball is roasted, it has to be taken out ,and the blackened crusts are to be peeledoff. The core part of the ball appears like a white flower.  Hence, Srinaatha of 15thcentury described it as angarapuuviya. This can be prepared  either asa sweet or a salt item and can be taken along with soup or sweetened milk. This is a good example of the indigenous tandoori method developedby Telugu People
The present paper is to give only a brief sketch of the traditional Telugu cuisine and its history. It is one of the neglected areas of historical study. In fact,history extends to all important spheres of human activity and  food history is also a branch of history like political history or social history or economic history. The food historyof Telugus therefore demands a justified focus of research in order to present the Telugu culture in its comprehensive form.

Teluguness in sugar
Sugar has been produced in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia.
One of the earliest historical references to sugarcane is in Chinese manuscripts dating back to 8th century BC, which mention the fact that the use of sugarcane originated in India.
Crystallized sugar was discovered by the time of the Imperial Guptas. Buddhist monks, as they travelled around, carried sugar crystallization methods to China.
During the reign of Harsha (606–647 AD.) in Northern India, Indian envoys to Tang China taught them the methods of cultivating sugarcane.Sugar crystals were prepared by cooling the sugar syrup in large flat bowls. In the local Indian language, these crystals were called as khanDa which is the source word of “candy”. In Telugu, sugar is called as panchadaara.
I believe that it is a compound word ofpanchan +daara; panchan meaning a Buddhist monk and daaradenoting “a gift”.History proves the Telugu shores as radiating centres for the spread of Buddhism in all parts of the east, and on account of Telugu bhikkus associated with the spread ofsugarcane cultivation along with the spread of Buddhism, the wordpanchadaara might have come to a stay in Telugu.
It is a significant point to note, that most of the Coastal Andhra people alone use the word panchadaara, while others use chakkera.
It may be assumed that Telugu chakkera,Skt.Sharkara, Arabic Shukkar, and English Sugar might be commonly originated from any Dravidian sourceas, according to G Bronnikov’s work, Dravidian Etymology, Proto-Telugu cheruk or cher-ak means sugar cane or sugar juice.
We can extend our enquiry the about the origin of the word chekkara from proto- Dravidian Source. Also, in the proto- eastern Chadic language “car-k” means a kind of herb.
Since it is closer to the proto-Telugu word, those Proto- Telugu people might have started the cultivation of sugar cane first, which might have spread to the other parts of the country later.
Kalidasa, of the 4th century AD., described the sugar cane cultivation of Telugu People (Raghuvamsa, 4thsarga, 20thshloka) “ikshuchhaayaanishaadinyastasyagopturgunodayam- The women of Telugu farmers who were guarding their rice crops, taking shelter in the shadow of sugar cane plants  sang the songs of welcoming Raghu maharaja, who invadedthe Telugu country.
This explains the largest harvest of sugar cane by Telugu people and  sugar candy manufacturing activity in the early parts of Christian era. It may also be assumed that, Telugu Buddhists might be responsible for sugar exports in those days.

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