Back To Godhead introduces a new feature:
a series on Vedic vegetarianism.
by Visakha-devi dasi
In the temple of Lord Krsna, a devotee presents an offering to the Lord and His eternal consort Radharani.
When guests visit a temple of Krsna for the first time, they’re often puzzled by the ceremonial offering of vegetarian dishes to the Deity form of the Lord. And their puzzlement, in a way, is well founded. After all, what does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Lord want with our plate of rice and vegetables? Has He suddenly become hungry? But He has created countless tons of rice—and every other edible. And besides. He is self-sufficient. Krsna doesn’t need to ask anyone for anything.
Yet He asks. Not exactly for our rice and vegetables, but for our love and devotion. In Bhagavad-gita (9.26) Lord Krsna says, “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.”
When we hear that Krsna wants us to offer our food to Him, we should know that He is inviting us to reawaken our eternal loving relationship with Him. We may comply at first in a mood of tender, pliable faith mixed with a sense of duty. Later, as our realization matures, we offer our food with affection and love. Just as a man offers the best thing he has to his beloved, so the devotee, out of love, offers Krsna the best of himself—his life, wealth, and intelligence—and his most delicious vegetarian food.
In the West, religion has deeply influenced the development of art, music, architecture, and literature. In India Krsna consciousness has permeated all these pursuits and the art of cooking as well. With vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, and water one can prepare hundreds of thousands of superlative dishes, each suitable for offering to God.
Six hundred and fifty recipes for such dishes have found their way into a forthcoming vegetarian cookbook by Yamuna-devi dasi. A disciple of Srila Prabhupada for fifteen years, Yamuna learned many recipes directly from him. In addition, she spent four years in India studying the techniques and ingredients involved in Krsna conscious cooking, a refined art that has been passed down from generation to generation for many centuries.
I first met Yamuna in March of 1971, when my husband Yadubara and I were traveling in India as itinerant photographers. That summer he and I, not yet devotees of Krsna, resided and photographed in Vrndavana, the holy village about ninety miles south of Delhi where Lord Krsna passed His childhood some fifty centuries ago.
One day Yamuna and her husband arrived in Vrndavana on pilgrimage. To find relief from the summer heat, she and I would occasionally spend the afternoon sitting neck-deep in the Yamuna River. (Srila Prabhupada had named my friend “Yamuna” after this sacred river, which figures prominently in Krsna’s childhood pastimes.) Here Yamuna would express her Krsna conscious thoughts to me and patiently tolerate my negative and skeptical viewpoints. A few months later she watched happily as Srila Prabhupada gave me formal spiritual initiation, and in the years that followed Yamuna and I traveled extensively throughout India, sometimes together and sometimes separately.
During this time (the early and mid ’70s) Yamuna often cooked for Srila Prabhupada, and she was always eager to learn new recipes from expert local cooks. She would carefully note down how a dish was made so that later on she could make it for her spiritual master. Meanwhile, I was busy photographing Srila Prabhupada during his many morning walks, classes, informal meetings, and public appearances.
Some three or four years later, after Yamuna and I had returned to America, we met again. This time my mission was to shoot pictures of her dishes to illustrate her cookbook. After several months of intensive studio work I finally completed the photographs, and then it was time to test the recipes one last time. Since Yamuna had already tested them, she wanted others to try: one experienced cook, Sruti-rupa-devi dasi (who had also cooked for Srila Prabhupada in India), and one utterly inexperienced cook—me (who had never cooked for anyone, anywhere).
Sruti would go into the kitchen with a stack of recipes to test, effortlessly put the dishes together (or so it seemed to me), and emerge a little while later with a lovely full-course luncheon for us all to taste and rave about. But when my turn came, I felt like a freshman chemistry student on his first day in the lab. I would struggle to distinguish mustard seeds from cumin seeds, urad dal from mung dal, garam masala from asafetida. I didn’t know how to mix spices, how to knead dough, or how to use any of the kitchen machinery (blender, grinder, and so on).
Nonetheless, I found myself in the kitchen every day with a stack of recipes to test and Yamuna somewhere in the vicinity, ready to instruct, correct, encourage, and cajole me, and sometimes to reprove me for making careless mistakes. One month and more than two hundred recipes later, I wasn’t an expert cook (I’m still not), but I could follow her wonderful recipes well enough to make dishes that, she assured me, would please Srila Prabhupada and Krsna.
I’ve just returned from another stay with Yamuna, this time for six months, during which I helped her in some small way to complete her cookbook. Now she’s put introductory paragraphs before many of the recipes to explain their special attractive features, and she’s added detailed introductions to each of the twenty chapters in the book. As her cookbook nears completion, we will be whetting your appetite for it by presenting some of its choicest recipes in BACK TO GODHEAD, along with articles about the art and philosophy of cooking for Krsna. We’ll discuss transcendental vegetarianism from the economic, esthetic, ethical, and ecological viewpoints, and we’ll see why it’s healthy for the body and the soul. And, of course, we’ll he looking for your comments as you begin trying out the recipes from Yamuna’s cookbook and adopting the principles of Krsna consciousness in your own life.