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Friday, May 24, 2013

Maha PeriyavA

There is still more to the feast that he gives about the taste of sourness. Not just sourness, but the feast includes all the six tastes of shaDrasa.

"Sweetness, hotness, bitterness, saltiness, sourness and astringency--thus six tastes. All of them are spoken of as rasam (juice) in the term shaDrasam. Among them, except astringency, the remaining five are spoken of as associated with our feelings.

"Normally we don't notice the taste tuvarppu (astringency) in isolation. We include it in bitterness. In truth, they are both individual. When ascribing names in Sanskrit to the six tastes, bitterness is given the word tiktam, and astringency kaTu*. This is why we say kaTukkai in Tamil for that paNdam (item) which is very astringent. Only the bitter gourd (balsam pear) is completely bitter. Though the difference between these two tastes (bitterness and astringency) is not keenly felt by us, they have a big difference in their nature. Among the bitter items, many are good for health. We say kaSAyam for the liquid medical prescription; it has only bitter and hot ingredients in excess (right)? They say that jnAnam arrives by taking bitter gourd. It is also said with a twist that one who has got jnAnam only would push into his throat even the bitter gourd. Astringency is better for health than bitterness. While these two tastes are at the base of sourness, the sourness that has an astringent base would not harm our health. Only the sourness that has a bitter base would cause the ailments such as ulcer.

"I shall tell you how these two tastes form the base of sourness. Is not its seed the base for a plant? Now, this lemon is a sour item. The nelli (Amla fruit, fruit of emblic mycrobalan) is another such item. Let us take the seeds of these two fruits. How does it taste to bite a lemon seed? It overflows with bitterness. And the nelli seed? It is not bitter, but it tastes astringent in a way that we can feel the difference. It is wrong for people suffering from ulcer, only if they take lemon; though it can be said to be better than tamarind, it would be wrong if the quantity exceeds even a little more. But then even such people (who can't even take lemon) can add nelli a little more generously. It won't hurt.mAtuLam pazham (the pomegranate fruit) is also like that. The seed will taste astringent; so it can be included. There is also another difference here: if you boil the lemon juice a little more, it would taste bitter. The mAtuLam juice, on the other hand, would stay with the taste of sour-sweetness, however much it is boiled.

"The seed of puLi (tamarind) that has given the name to the puLippu ruchi (the taste of sourness) is also tuvarppu (astringent). But then the raw and ripe tamarind fruits are very hot (raises body temperature). The shadow of a tamarind tree is also such? It is the heat that sucks and parches. This is why it is prescribed that people with ulcer in the bowel should never take tamarind. But then its astringent seed has some value for certain diseases.

"I started saying that the shaDrasa are spoken of in connection with the feelings. How?"

(What SriCaraNar told in another occasion on this subject has come in the first chapter of this serial [the madhurASTakam talk]. Here he talks more elaborately:)

"If a person remains with a good temperament, we call it madhura gunam (a sweet temperament). We call good shaarIram madhura kural (sweet voice). madhuram is what is sweet. We say a sweet experience. Even IsvarAnugraha we call innaruL (good blessing). Thus we associate sweetness with one which is hitam (good) and uttamam(excellent) to our manas (mind). They also use the term sweet in these same meanings in English.

"The fun is that there are people who don't like it sweet in taste. There are also people who like it salty and hot, like it sour, like it with a pinch more of salt added, or even like it bitter. Even these people don't ascribe the names of their favourite tastes to the excellent things they like and say that those things are salty and hot or sour or salty or bitter! They would only say that those things are madhuram (sweet)!

In the same rIti (manner) let us have a look at the remaining ruchis (tastes). 'Without uppu-chappu (unsalted)'--this is how we assess the quality of AhAram (food). Add a little salt, only then any paNdam (item) which is not meant to be sweet, gets its taste. It is usual to add a little salt to the flour that forms the upper layer of pOLi (a South Indian sweet). In the same way, it is also sahaja (natural) to add some jaggery or suger to the curry and kuzhambu (sambar). 

"Now I am going to talk about uppu mahAtmiyam (glory of the salt). If there is no uppu (salt) it would only be chappu (tastless); not aggreable for eating. This is why with the abhiprAya (opinion) that the entire meal is dependent only on salt, the saying 'uppittavarai uLLaLavum ninai (think about the one who gave you the salt[ed meal] till your last breath)' has come up.

"There is another reason. In the daily samaiyal (cooking) there are no sweet items. When the sweet items pAyasa (sweet porridge) and bhakSaNa (sweet delicacies) are prepared, no one uses jaggery or suger in less. Even if either of them is less or more, no significant difference would be felt.

"The tastes sourness, bitterness, and hotness that occur in the daily samaiyal--if they are more, or less, it is not only not possible to make it lesser where they are more; in case where they are less also you cannot adjust the taste by having (a little of) the required item such as chilli powder or tamarind on the (banana) leaf (plate) (to supplement). If the hotness is more, it can be lessened a bit by adding some (sesame) oil or ghee. And if these tastes are only a little more or less, we can manage to have our meal without bothering.

"Only the salt, if it is either more or less, it (the dish) becomes orE karippu (very salty) or orE chappu (very tastless). In normal conversation, we refer to uvarppu (astringency) as karippu (saltiness). Grammatically, the term uvarppu has another name kArppu (saltiness). That term in conversation got corrupted to karippu. We say 'uppuk karikka' (tasting very salty). Thus in the vyanjanas (condiments) that have salt, if the salt is a bit more it becomes orE karippu and if the salt is a bit less it becomes orE chappu. If the salt is more nothing can be done. But if it is less, it is not like the tamarind or chilli that gives other tastes here. If the taste of salt is less you can have that very salt in your leaf and add from it to adjust the taste. Within a second that added salt would dissolve and set it right. Thus it is with this (salt) only that where there is a ruchi thappu (error of taste), the mUla vastu (root item) can directly be added and the error rectified. Therefore, for that one shortcoming (of less salt in a dish), it should not be the case of the eater telling the server and the server making him and others wait until it (the salt) is served to add to the dish--this was the thinking of our pUrvakAla muppAtti buddhisali gRuhalakshmis (ancient generations of smart grandmother wives). So they brought in the custom of keeping a bit of powdered salt on the leaf plate, along with the othervyanjanas, in order that the eater can individually adjust the taste where the salt is less. With this specific custom in mind only when it is taught that we should always be grateful to those who served us food, they say uppittavarai uLLaLavum ninai.

"As the saying 'uppillAp paNdam kuppaiyilE (the dish without the salt is fit only for the garbage can)' goes, in the daily cooking where there are no sweet dishes, salt is given the pradhAna (chief) position. Remaining lesser in quantity than the raw tamarind and chilli powder, the salt gets the mudhal sthAnam (first place) in giving taste. The saltiness has hardened so much in just a pinch of salt. This is why the sat purushAs (great people) who have the guNa nalankaL (good virtues) hardened in them as the essence are called in English, 'Salt of the Earth'!

"It would be surprising to hear this: to honour the salt, even the sweetness that is very tasty to the palate is given a name 'uppu'. Not only sweetness, even beauty has sambandha (relationship) with the salt. lavaNam means salt. That which comes through lavaNam is lAvaNyamlAvaNyam means beauty, saundaryam (elegance), which is known to everyone!

"uppu is there in all the ruchis. titthippu, puLippu, uRaippu, kasappu, tuvarppu--all these end with the suffix uppu!

"When jaggery is made by boiling (the palm juice), in some varities, the jaggery itself would taste a bit salty. Even the tender coconut water has the taste of salt!

"Even with all this uppu mahAtmiyam, when it is associated with a feeling, the sruti (flow) changes! When we say 'kaNdAlE karikkirathu' (saline to look at), 'karitthuk kottukirathu' (pours saltiness), do we refer to lofty feelings?

"'puLicchup pOcchu[/i]' (got fed up) is also similar. When something happens with monotonous regularity, we become tired and say 'got fed up hearing it'. It seems the phrase has come up from the act of pickling something for a long time whereby it gets sour by the formation of yeast.

"We relate anger to uRaippu (hotness of taste). We say 'he talked very hot.' Though mixed with anger, if it has some rasam (juice) we say 'a talk that was kAra sAra (hot and juicy)'.

"Went bitter in the face', 'had bitterness of heart'--in such usuages, we associate bitterness with an unsavoury feeling.

"This is where we include tuvarppu (astringency) with bitterness. We don't say of any feeling as an astringent one. Still it is that taste which among the shaDrasa is very good for health.

"To sum up, whoever likes whichever among the six tastes, except the sweetness that is known as mAdhuryam, no other taste is associated with our mano bhAva (mental feelings) with a high meaning. Only madhuram is found to have been given this loftiness in a way that is unanimous!"

You see! Maha PeriyavA who is himself madhuram touches here and there but finally lands us all in that sweetness!

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