Feed your karma

According to the ancient Greeks, delightful ambrosia — the food of the gods —would bestow immortality. For devotees of the Hare Krishna movement, prasadam — ordinary food that has been dedicated to the supreme godhead, Krishna — helps us shrug off the coils of our mortal incarnations.

What connects ambrosia and prasadam, besides heavenly flavour, is that both illustrate the spiritual dimension often lent to food, that basic, sensual stuff that fuels our survival.
Unfortunately mythical ambrosia exists only in classical thought, but a plate of vegetarian prasadam, on the other hand, can be enjoyed in every large city in South Africa and worldwide.

“Spiritualised” prasadam (a Sanskrit word meaning mercy) is the antidote to unsanctified food that carries karma. The law of karma, a principle echoing Newtonian physics, states that those who cause violent actions will incur violent reactions. Prasadam, however, alleviates the body’s karmic debt.

“Because the food has first been offered to Krishna,” explains Reshmee Maharaj, who helps manage the kitchen at the Hare Krishna Centre in Rondebosch, Cape Town, “He incurs that karma for you.”

Yet, regardless of the life-long “karma-free” guarantee — or perhaps, devotees argue, precisely because of it — the grub is delicious. Try crispy, stirfried cubes of homemade panir (curd cheese) served in a piquant tomato and date chutney, for instance.

But Hare Krishna food “should be delicious!” laughs devotee and cook Renata Radovchich, because the more you enjoy prasadam, “the more you’ll want it”. And the more, the argument follows, “spiritualised” you will become.

Spiritualised cooking is only a facet of Krishna consciousness and one accomplished exceedingly well.

It is, after all, undertaken “for the Lord’s pleasure and is prepared with a devotional attitude”, says Croatian-born Radovchich. It took over six months of training before she could cook “Krishna consciously”.

Radovchich recommends Kurma Dasa’s book Cooking with Kurma or The Higher Taste published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, available at temples countrywide.

Traditional Hare Krishna cooking is mostly Indian in influence, with some differences. No ingredients believed to negatively affect the consciousness are used. Freshness and cleanliness are stressed. All recipes shun excess chilli and avoid garlic and onion, replacing these strong, arousing flavours with asofoetida. Similarly, caffeine is a no-no. Meat and eggs are forbidden, but not milk. Cumin, ginger, tumeric and mustard seeds dominate, making for mild, tasty concoctions.

And where can you sample them? Like other temples across the globe, those in Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town host a free-for-all feast every Sunday, at which prasadam is gobbled down by the secular and non-secular alike.

These extravagant Sunday feasts comprise nine or more different preparations, with any combination of pakoras, samoosas, kofta (chickpea dumplings), dhal, chappatis, rotis, vegetable dishes known as subjis, basmati rice, salad, homemade chutney, caffeine-free tea and traditional Indian sweetmeats appearing on the menu. On more important religious occasions, such as the upcoming Govardhan Puja on November 16, a feast can feature up to 108 exotic dishes.

Cynics predictably point out that there’s no such thing as a free ride, and taking the time for the lecture that justifies Sunday’s repast might be more than you can afford. If so — or if, on any given night of the week, you simply feel like a roti as opposed to a burger — then you can pay for a meal at any of the inexpensive restaurants run by devotees.

Take-away stalls selling Hare Krishna dishes are also common on university campuses and usually make an appearance at art festivals, holistic lifestyle fairs and outdoor music events — just look for the long queue. Some temples cater for functions. The food is reliably good, always fresh and surprisingly cheap.

“We don’t make food for money,” says Maharaj. “Our main purpose is to serve humanity, to nourish the body spiritually ...” Devotees put their money where other’s mouths are: profits and donations go towards the Hare Krishna Food for Life feeding scheme, which distributes prasadam to the poor and homeless.

Now there’s the spirit!

Contact Hare Krishna temples in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, Tel: (011) 726 1168 or 082 332 9680; Lenasia, Tel: (011) 852 3176; Pretoria, Tel: (012) 342 6216; Durban, Tel: (031) 403 3328: and Cape Town, Tel: (021) 689 1529

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