Food has always been a major part of all our celebrations, large and small. Of them, the Chhappan Bhog has to be the heartiest, with as many as 56 dishes prepared for Lord Krishna, during Janmashtami and also for Govardhan puja post Diwali.
But why 56?
Legend has it that Lord Krishna held up the Govardhan mountain for 7 days at a stretch to protect the villagers & livestock. Apparently Shri Krishna typically had 8 meals a day. Once the rains stopped, villagers offered their thanksgiving by preparing the Annakuta or mountain of food made up of the 8 meals per day multiplied times 7 = 56.
The actual dishes vary across regions but typical offerings include –
Butter, yogurt, Ghee, Rice, Mohan Bhog, Shakkarpara, Ghewar, Rabri, Shrikhand, Khichdi, rice, Puri, Saag (cooked greens), Kadhi, dry nuts, papad, chutneys & more.
Of these, the dairy & sweet preparations are placed closest to the Lord as they are believed to be dearer to Him.
But beyond the concept & legend behind the bhog, I feel there’s a larger philosophy at work.
Our 5 fingers have 5 rasas – Sweet, Salty, Sour, Spicy & Savoury. When we cook with our hands, these five rasas get transferred to the food.
Interestingly, Rasa can also connote the kind of relationship one can have with Shri Krishna. These are five in number too – Santa, Dasya, Sakya, Vatsalya & Madhurya.
Rasa, is basically a source of emotion, just like food, it brings joy, brings back memories & opens up conversations.
When food is prepared for & offered to God, Lord Krishna in this case, it is believed to become even more sacred.
In Sri Jagannath Temple, Puri, it’s a daily ritual to offer no less than 56 dishes to the deity.
At the Shri SwamiNarayan temple in London, every year the Annakut is a grand display that stretches over seven tiers, with more than 1000 dishes, stretching over 85 feet!
All of this food, being ‘accepted’ by Krishna & then distributed among his devotees symbolises the Rasas or relationship with Him being established. Isn’t that beautiful?
So, this Janmashtami, let’s celebrate the Rasas of our oneness with God with the Rasas in food.