Indian Cooking and Storytelling: Similarities

April 11, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

When someone says “India”, the free associated word that often pops up in mind is “spices.” India and its cooking methods are becoming a world known phenomenon. What few people know is that Indian story telling is greatly inspired by Indian cooking. As a matter of fact, in India the Theory of Dramatics— Bharat Natya Sastra— addresses emotions as Rasa (Taste.)

In Indian Dramatics, the nine Bhava (Emotions) are used to create Rasa (Mood/ Taste), just the way spices are used in Indian cooking. It’s their specific combination that gives native Indian storytellers their unique storytelling abilities. Indians always spice stories up!!

Why are spices added in Indian cooking?

Ayurveda—the science of life—talks about six tastes in food.

These six tastes are:

  • Bitter
  • Pungent
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Astringent
  • Sweet

The reason why spices are added in Indian cooking is to create the perfect balance of these six tastes. Ayurveda believes that all the diseases of the body are the result of imbalance in three Guna (Natural Tendencies) of human body.

These three Guna are:

  • Kapha
  • Pitta
  • Vatta

When these three Guna are not in balance, the disease manifests in the body. In order to avoid this imbalance, the food needs to be prepared in such a way that it has all the different tastes in right combination. Spices aids in fulfilling this purpose.

E.g. Bitter taste (fenugreek seeds) is added in daal (lentil soup) that is eaten with rice. Rice is high carbohydrate, glucose. Inside the human body, it produces sweet taste. When eaten with daal (which is high protein) it provides the body all the different tastes.

There are also food items that are prohibited to be eaten in a combination.

E.g. Dairy product and acidic products (like lemon). They are called Viparita Ahara (Non-complimentary food)

9 Rasa (Tastes) of Indian Dramatics

  • Adbhut Rasa: Wonder. The feeling a person experiences when watching a beautiful sunrise.
  • Hashya Rasa: Joy. The feeling a person experiences when playing with a child.
  • Veer Rasa: Courage: The feeling a person experiences when overcoming an obstacle.
  • Shringar Rasa: Love. The feeling a person experiences when cuddling in the sweet embrace of a lover.
  • Bhayanak Rasa: Fear. The feeling a person experiences when facing a lion in the jungle.
  • Vibhatsa Rasa: Disgust. The feeling a person experiences when looking at feces.
  • Raudra Rasa: Anger. The feeling a person experiences when his/her goals are repeatedly thwarted.
  • Karuna Rasa: Sadness. The feeling a person experiences when a close relative dies.
  • Shanta Rasa: Peace. The Aha moments of life when a person floats in complete flow with nature. Even though, most of the times peace is called an emotion, it’s NOT an independent emotion. It’s the white color stage of emotions where all the emotions are experienced in a perfect balance. That state of equilibrium is peace.

Just the way spices are added in Indian cooking to attain an optimal gastronomic experience; emotions are added in Indian dramatics to attain an optimal entertainment experience.

In India, none of the emotions are considered “negative” or “bad.” Every emotion, even the ones that are generally proscribed against (e.g. anger) are considered vital for the emotional health of a person.

There are emotions that are Yin- Feminine: Wonder, joy, courage, love, and peace. These are the emotions people want to feel. In other words, a human moves towards these motions.

There are emotions that are Yang- Masculine: Fear, disgust, anger, and sadness. These are the emotions people want to avoid experiencing. This avoidance serves a major purpose in maintaining the mental health of the society. This avoidance gives a human his/her Vivek Bhuddhi— discrimination power.

Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness— are NOT negative (-) emotions.
A society that solely breeds “feel good” art suffers from emotional obesity. Just the way a person can’t be raised on the diet of sugar syrup.

What a society does with the negative emotions defines the character of a society.  Indian Dramatic Art sublimates these negative emotions to create the storytelling experience, so the reader can experience a catharsis even for the “negative” emotions.

How this effect is created?

In order to create the intense dramatic experience the storyteller mixes different emotions in the right combination.

E.g. Shringar Rasa (Love) when mixed with Hashya Rasa (Joy), Adbhut Rasa (Wonder), or Veer Rasa (Courage) creates a comedy.

But when the same Shringar Rasa is mixed with Karun Rasa (Sadness) it creates a tragedy.

Just the way some food can’t be served together, there are some emotions that can’t coexist. They are Veeparita Bhava (non-complimentary emotions)

E.g. Fear and courage can’t co-exist. For courage to manifest, fear has to vanish and vise versa.

Some of the best stories are the transformational stories of how the hero walks his/her journey from one emotional state to the other. How s/he overcomes his/her fear with courage.

The great epic poem the Ramayana (Rama+ Aayan means Rama’s Journey) is the story of the prince Rama who is banished from his kingdom because of the blue blood politics. He doesn’t feel a tinge of sadness when his father, on insistence of his favorite queen, punishes Rama with fourteen years of banishment in the forests. But Rama takes up his weapon against Lanka, the most powerful empire of its time, when the demon king Ravana abducts his wife Sita. In other words, it’s a story of how a man can let go of all his material wealth but when the feminine love of his life is in danger, he can move the mountains.

The primary Rasa that creates the powerful epic are: Joy, Courage, and Love. But in order to enhance the effect and spice level of the story, the poet added Anger (Rama is banished because of blue-blood politics), and Sadness (Sita is abducted). Guess what? The story becomes spicier and richer in its entertainment quotient J

Indian Story telling tradition has inspired Joseph Campbell in creating the Theory of Monomyth.

Indians accept dichotomy— in nature, in food, and in storytelling.

Just the way Indian cooking believes in accommodating all the tastes by adding spices, Indian storytelling believes in accommodating all the emotions by adding Rasa.

Kirtida Gautam is a Clinical Psychologist. She has a Diploma of Performing Arts in Dramatics and an MFA in Screenplay Writing from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. She is the author of yet to be published novel #iAm16iCan. The novel questions juvenile justice system of India and raises opinion against rape culture.

Find out more about her on her website

Follow her on Twitter  @KirtidaGautam

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  1. Payal Chopra says:

    Wow, it’s a brilliant article. Your knowledge of different Rasa, Indian mythology, and dramatics in story telling is astonishing.

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