Ancient India FoodTheexcavation of the Mehrgarh period sites around 8000-6000 BC throws somestartling facts about ancient Indian food habits. The domestication of plants and animals arereported in the subcontinent during that time. Wheat, barley and jujube wereamong crops cultivated, sheep and goats were among the animals domesticated forfood.
Inthe Neolithic period roughly 8000-5000 BC, agriculture products were thedominant mode of food products. Agricultural communities became widespread inKashmir valley around 5000 BC. As earlyas 4530 BC and 5440 BC wild Oryza rice appeared in the Belan and Ganges valleyregions of northern India.
Theearliest evidence of food in ancient India comes from excavated sites in theIndus Valley Civilization. Indus Valleycivilization relied on the considerable technological achievements of thepre-Harappan culture, including the plough. The farmers of the Indus Valleygrew peas, sesame, dates and rice. Agriculturalactivity during the second millennium BC included rice cultivation in theKashmir and in other Harrappan regions.
Severalwild cereals, including rice, grew in the Vindhyan Hills, and rice cultivation,at sites such as Chopani-Mando and Mahagara, was underway as early as 7000 BC.
Thepicture of ancient Indian food becomes much clearer after the Aryan settlement inthe Gangetic planes. The compilation of the religious scriptures gives vividaccount of the food that was in vogue during that time.
Thepeople who settled in the Gangetic plains were good farmers. They ate bothvegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. They cultivated barley wheat rice, melonsand cotton. They domesticated cow, pigs, buffalo and sheep. They lived in banksof rivers and caught fish from river with fish hooks.Food items mentioned in Vedic literature
TheVedic literature throws considerable light on the food and drink habits of thepeople of the ancient India. Among the food grains, the Rig Veda repeatedlymentions barley, particularly fried barley. Of frequent occurrence is the word`anna` which may not essentially mean rice; it denotes food in general.Foods items in the age of Brahmanas
India Foods Riceand wheat appear to have been the staple food in the age of Brahmanas.Different products of barley and rice, mentioned in the Aitareya are dhana,karambha, parivdpa, purodds`a andpayasyd. These were mainly fried barley;cooked with butter, powder of dhana fried with butter, parched rice fried inbutter, rice-cake, mixture of curd and milk. Milkand various milk products that were used include clarified butter, curdledmilk, dadhi (curd), karambha (porridge), ghrta (unmelted butter), navanita(cream or fresh butter), sdnndyya (mixture of curd and milk), mixture of milkand sotna, cam (milk, curd, honey, butter etc. mixed together), sara (thickenedsurface of milk), etc.
Udumbara(sacrificial fig), jujube and berries are some of the edible fruits mentionedin the Brahmanas. Shatapatha Brahmana mentions sugarcane. Aitareya Upanishadmentions shoots of Banyan trees and fruits of fig.
Inthe Kalpasutra the mentions use of various food grains, namely rice, barley,wheat, millet, sesame and pulses have been found.Meat Eating in Ancient India
Inancient India meat was not only eaten, but was also regarded as the best kindof food. The meat of barren cows and sterile ox, goat and sheep was a delicacy.We learn from the Shatapatha Brahmana and Aitareya the vogue of beef-eating; itused to be served to a king or other highly respectable guests.
TheSutras also bear clear testimony to meat-eating. Meat, both roasted on spitsand cooked in pots, appears to have been in use. It was an essential element inmadhuparka offered to distinguished guests.
TheDharma sutras shed considerable light on the meat permitted and prohibited. Asregards bird-meat, the Dharma sutras mention many birds permitted orprohibited. Also prohibited are the aquatic creatures food in india called porpoise, nakra,kulira, cefa and gavaya. The Vedic texts also mention the usage of the meat ofbulls, horses, buffaloes and even of dogs.
Vegetarianfood, excluding animal and fish meat became the norm only after the coming ofBuddhism. In the Gupta period people mostly ate vegetables, cereals, fruits,breads, and drank milk.Fruits and Vegetables in Ancient India
Melons and Cotton Of the fruits, mango seems to have been common. Apastamba Dhamasutra mentions it as a familiarexample. Other fruits mentioned in the Sutras are kharjura (dates), variety ofjujube called Badara, Karkandhu and Kuvala.
Ofthe vegetables and juicy substances, prohibited are karanja (red garlic),kisalaya (sprouts), kydku (mushroom), lasuna (garlic), nirydsa (substancesexuding from trees; etc.Drinks in Ancient India
Among the drinks mentioned are sura, honey,milk and fruit-juice. The Taittiriya Upanishad, mentions sura to be extractedfrom certain herbs or fermented from rice. Madhu (honey) appears to have beenused as an article of food. A preparation of fried rice, called laja, isfood in india mentioned. Dadhimantha perhaps means liquefied curd or clarified butter. Milk(kslra), curd (dadhi) and ghee is also mentioned. In the age of Sutras, thedrinks that appear to have been in vogue besides milk are Takra (butter-milkmixed with water) and Mantha (a preparation of dry barley meal stirred in milk,curd, water or melted butter).Intoxicating Drinks in Ancient India
cultivated cropsTheVeda also testifies to the wide prevalence of drinking wine. In the Vedictexts, among drinks that are mentioned are wine and somarasa; the latter was,perhaps, used by the upper classes, particularly in sacrifices. Somarasaappears to have been confined to the priestly class.
Asregards intoxicating drinks, surd or spirituous liquor was the commonest. Surdappears to have been a very popular drink, especially at marriage and certainother rites. Surd is condemned in Shatapatha Brahmana. iThe Shatapatha Brahmanaalso condemn Parisrut that appears to have been semi-fermented liquor. The twodrinks were specifically prohibited for Brahmanas. In certain ancient literarytexts, female dancers drinking wine are mentioned. Other such drinks are madhuand maireya.Popular Food of Ancient India
Theirpopular food in ancient India was products of wheat served with barley or ricealong with fish and meat. Karambha seemsto have been a popular food; it may mean a sort of gruel made with flour andcurd or a sort of porridge prepared with unhusked, parched and kneaded barleygrains.
Ksirapakvaanna,apupa (cake) appear to have been delicacies and crushed grain, mixed with curd,was also relished. Puroddsa (a kind of cake) was used in sacrificial offerings.
Amongthe preparations of rice are mentioned odana (cooked with water) and payasa orksiraudana (cooked with milk), sthdlipdka (rice or barley cooked with milk orwater) appears to have been a special dish meant for ceremonial occasions.
Dhanyais also mentioned, so is saktu (pulverised grain) that was commonly used. Saltand sugar appear to have been added to food for adding to the taste. Among the condiments, Pippali (long pepper)and marica (black pepper) are mentioned. Two kinds of cakes, made of groundcorn, are mentioned. Of these, Purodds was offered chiefly in sacrifices and Apupawas generally eaten by the people.
Aninquisitive practice in vogue in ancient India was that certain articles,including a preparation of ground rice, barley or sugarcane-juice, were offeredto serpents.Food Items Mentioned in Ramayana
Gupta Empire foodInthe Ramayana it is mentioned that the Aryans were accustomed to both vegetarianand non-vegetarian food. The vanaras (monkeys) were used to vegetarian foodalone, their food having been fruits, roots and leaves. The Raksasas werecarnivorous. The Aryan people mainly used rice, barley, wheat and pulses.
Boiledrice appears to be the most popular food. Refined rice, mixed with curd andmilk, was a favourite dish. Among milk products, curd, curd mixed with sugarand ghee was used.
Meat-eatingappears to have been widely prevalent both among the Aryans and the non-Aryans.So far as drinking wine is concerned, the Ramayana condemns the practiceparticularly among the Brahmanas.
Wineappears to be of two main varieties, namely distilled and natural. Among otherdrinks mentioned are honey and madhuparka, the latter being an admixture ofcurd, ghee, honey, sugar and water.Food items mentioned in Mahabharata
Fromcertain references in the Mahabharata sesamum appears to be used as food. Milkand milk products like curd, ghee is mentioned. Of the sweets, cakes (apilpa),and sugarcane-juice (i.e. molasses) are mentioned.
Fruits,even some wild varieties, were eaten by people. As regards meat-eating, theMahabharata allows it at some places while condemning it at others. The meat ofbirds also appears to have been edible; their species, however, is mentioned. Further,from certain references fish appears and used as food.