King Mangarasa III proved himself more of a chef than a king. His treatise named ‘SoopaShastra’ on cookery of medieval Karnataka stands out to be the only compilation in a regional language during the medieval ages. King Mangarasa III belonged to the Chengalvu dynasty who were subordinate kings ruling under the suzerainty of Hoysala kings in the 16th century Karnataka. Mangarasa’s palace once stood in the present day Kallali in HunsurTaluk in Karnataka.
Mangarasa being a well-knownpoet, versified SoopaShastra in 385 stanzas running into six chapters during 15-16th century. The first chapter, ‘Pistakadhyaya’ describes as many as 50 wheat preparations. The next chapter called ‘Panakadhyaya’ deals with food-drinks. Mangarasa in old Kannadameant a good king (manga=good, beautiful; rasa=king). So there were Kings with the same name ruling the same kingdom but they were not related to each other – Mangarasa I wrote on poison; Mangarasa II came up with a dictionary; and Mangarasa IV became a chronicler of Kings in Kashmir.
The existing palm leaf manuscript of SoopaShastra, a poetic treatise in old Kannada was transcribed into prose by S.N. Krishna Jois around sixty years back and later published in 1969 by Mysore University. And now it has been translated into English by MadhukarKonantambigi under the patronage of INTACH, an organisation working towards art and culture. ‘Soopa’ in Kannada means cooked pigeonpea (arhar/tur dal)in semi-liquid form with salt, chilli and turmeric. However, SoopaShastra in general means the science of cooking. The present day English word ‘soup’ may have arisen from this soopa of Karnataka.
Only two Sanskrit books – Bhima and Nala are devoted on cookery but fall short in being called profound works. Mangarasa has obtained help from both these books and besides got inspired by a character of an adept chef, Gouri, Hindu God Shiva’s spouse as mentioned in SkandaPurana. Two earlier Kannada literatures, Lingapurana and Lokopakara have more than fifty stanzas devoted on cookery. However, unlike Soopashastra they are not entirely devoted to cookery. Soopashastra stands apart from all other work done till then in Kannada.
Prodigious culinary acumen
The king uses a hundred items, as spices in his cooking. N.P. Bhatt co-editor of the English translation says, ‘Things change as spices as if magic in his hand. He roasts a coconut in full and uses the contents as a spice. He grates a coconut, puts the contents after a spiced rice is cooked, on top of it and closes for some time and then removes the same and it gives the effect of a wonderful spice!’ Mr Bhatt confesses, ‘The poetry is so eloquent. I was never interested in cookery.’
Mr Bhatt goes eloquent on the king’s strategies – ‘He packs the contents of an item into the leaves of turmeric or plantain or beetle tree and brings the effect of an aromatic spice’. And for all this the king devices vessels right from the mud pot up to the golden vessel to render the desired effect. Mangarasa made use of an impressive array of spices (other than the regular ones) such as cooked semolina, flowers of Bengal gram (chicken pea) and green grams. He also contrived spices for instance by roasting coconut on burning coals with its shell.
Seven types of cooking methods are mentioned in SoopaShastra – roasting, seasoning or tempering, burning or baking, boiling in water, steam baking and subjecting to prolonged heat to refine.Mangarasa though a practicing Jain where onion is not allowed, describes food items where onion is used liberally. Interestingly, we find many preparations of bamboo from a chef king in the southern part of India. As such, bamboo preparations in south India are perhaps unheard of. But Mangarasa cooked bamboo sprout porridge, bamboo sprout fry, bamboo sprout milky way and variant preparations of bamboo sprouts.
The book contains several quaint and quirky though ingenious preparations. For instance, Flowered vermicelli, rice flower bloom and umpteenth of Mangarasa’a innovations.
Several exotic names crop up in SoopaShastra – butter treated rice, coconut treated mixed rice, milk porridge, macaroni porridge, butter porridge, coconut porridge, cream porridge, cream rice, mango rice, tamarind rice, mustard rice, spiced butter milk rice, milk wheat porridge and curd wheat porridge.
In the chapter Panakadhyaya devoted on soft drinks, Mangarasa dwells on various types of butter milk. In one preparation, he advises, salt, mustard powder, fresh ginger, onion, coriander leaves and flavours of fragrant screw pine (ketaki). In one other type, he advises, ‘Put the raw butter, crushed mango to flavor it.’ The preparation, milky bloom on the sling uses milk cream, curd cream, thickened cream, juice of sooji, juice from grated coconut, milk, pepper powder, salt and ghee.
King Mangarasa devised several methodologies for making curd, ‘Rasaladahi’ that is citron tinged or made by mixing cardamom, dry ginger and sometimes onion which makes it last longer than otherwise curds last. Again by mixing processed mango juice with milk while curdling, ‘one can get exquisite mango coloured and flavoured sweet curd. Red saffron can also be mixed in the same way and it will be saffron flavoured excellent curd called kumkuma (kashmirs) RanjithaDahi.’ Mangarasa also mentions of curd with bael fruit essence.
The present relevance and feasibility of SoopaShastra holds aplomb
Dr B Manjula in her book, KannadadalliSoopaShastra or SoopaShastra in Kannada Literature comes up with several interesting corroboration to adjudge Mangarasa.
In the chapter, Pishtakadhyaya, items made with flour such as rotti, mandige, garige, dose, iddali have been described. What is mentioned as rotti, rotiks in Sanskrit and rotti, rotte, rottia in Dravidian languages has been in practice in India for centuries and the term ‘katorti’ mentioned in ‘RamcharitaManasa’ by Tulsidas resembles ‘roti’. Again, in the 16th century, the work ‘BhavaPrakasha’ by Bharata Mishra has mentioned the Sanskrit term ‘rotiks’. Ancient Kannada poetry has used ‘rotika’ even earlier.
The much sought after dish, mandige has been in vogue right from the seventh century. Mangarasa has dealt upon preparing dose (dosa)using different corns and grains that still goes on using mediums like gramdal, green gram, wheat, rice, jowar, ragi and sooji. Mangarasa has mentioned a type of dosa called ‘chandramandala’ that bears close resemblance with the present day iddali prepared on steam in small plates. Mangarasa describes a dish called veiled vada whose preparation is exactly same as the modern blackgramvada.
Surprisingly, Mangarasa has not mentioned the proportion of ingredients. Perhaps, it has been left to the sense of the cook. Certain vegetables like cabbage, ladyfinger, potato and green chillies do not find any mention. Strange enough, bitter gourd which grew in abundance in the area at that time is nowhere mentioned by Mangarasa.
Reading the book will sizzle epicurean taste buds. Do not feel morbid to set the platter. Although some of the dishes, and the procedures the poet describes, may not appear useful or practicable, his works remain epochal. There is mention of innumerable delicious items that could be successfully cooked with judicious changes according to modern tastes and trends. Amazingly, Mangarasa’s work can serve as a very good guide to cooking even today. Bon appétit!