Lord Jagannath’s Temple in Puri, Odisha, called as the ’SriMandir’ is said to have the largest open-air kitchen in the world. Fifty-six varieties of food aka ‘Bhog’ are prepared in this kitchen, out of which some are regular rice and dal items while others are dried sweet dishes meant to be preserved for longer durations. The rice and dal based Prasad called as ‘Anna’ and ‘Dali/Dalma’ are prepared through Steam Cooking method which is worth discussing. A sling of pots one on top of another is placed on the hearth and then the cooking is done in a systematic manner. Very surprisingly the rice and vegetables in the topmost earthen pot get cooked first and later the rest of them follow. So basically a single flame is used to cook the contents of at least five clay pots which are stacked vertically. This process of steam cooking has been going on since the inception of the great grand Jagannath Temple which is as old as the Satya Yuga.
Although a good amount of the procedure is miraculous, yet this age- old steam cooking culture is tremendously scientific. Clay hearths are used in the temple which minimizes the use of fuel. Hence a very large quantity of food is cooked with the use of very few resources. Moreover all ‘Prasads’ are strictly prepared in earthen pots called ‘Kudua’ only. Earthen pots are scientifically known to be the best medium of cooking. Since clay is alkaline in nature, it interacts with the acidity in food thereby neutralizing its pH balance. Further Clay retains the nutritive value of the cooked food and lends a unique aroma to the dish which makes it extra delectable and inviting.
Cooking can be done with controlled amounts of oil and spices since clay doesn’t require grease. In addition to it clay pots demand a very slow cooking process which facilitates a thorough release of the flavours of food. Thus, it is pretty clear why the ‘MahaPrasad’ served at the world’s largest open-air kitchen ‘Ananda Bazar’ is absolutely non-oily, extremely aromatic and undoubtedly very eco-friendly. It is indeed a matter of pride to know that we are the off springs of such an enlightened society. Surely our forefathers were much more sensitive towards Nature and their environment than us.
Many people across the world consider the food served at Jagannath temple as redemptive and resurrecting. There are still many such people in Puri who believe in eating their supper everyday at the temple—food served in a broken rough-edged clay plate which is eaten being seated on the ground mandatorily. This Prasad is treated to be highly pure and many believe that even a tiny grain of this particular Prasad called ‘Nirmalaya’ is nothing short of ambrosia.
According to popular faith it can redeem one from all sins and save one from the torments of inferno. Traditionally a grain of dried rice or ‘Nirmalya’ is placed on the tongue of dead people with a belief that it would lift them straight to heaven.
The golden lesson that one can take away from the antique Steam cooking Method of Lord Jagannath is that God lies in the heart of Nature. Worshipping Nature and facilitating Her well-being in our regular routine of life is the best way to experience the divine and stay close to the Almighty.