“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” said French thinker Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of modern gastronomics. English art critic Clive Bell, in his famed essay Civilization, has illustrated the difference between the cultural standards of the French and British through an explicit example of differing standards in taste of food.
Over the ages, food has been one of the most important indicators of a society’s cultural status.
Measured on that account alone—yes, leaving aside all its rich (and now famous) visual and performing arts—Odias would be considered a highly civilized people. Food—and in particular, variety of food—is one of the most important defining factors of Odia culture, as exemplified by the ‘food habits’ of Lord Jagannath, not just the presiding deity of Odias but the most powerful cultural symbol of the Odia identity. Each festival or ritual in the Jagannath temple would have a specific food item in the form of prasad associated with it. Even on the day of Rath Yatra, the biggest festival in Odisha, the big chariot of Lord Jagannath, Nandighosha, actually stops on the way so that the Lord can have His favorite podapitha (a special sweet cake made in Odisha), at His MousiMaa’s (aunt) place on the way to His destination. And when He is back to the temple after an eight-day sojourn, and the upset wife, Maa Laxmi needs some real placating, the gift that does the trick is a food item; one that you are probably familiar with: yes, the omnipresent Rasagola, which many erroneously think to have originated from Bengal. The offering was made, at least 200 (and most likely more) years before it started selling in Kolkata and was assumed to be a Bengali sweet!
Such is the importance of food in the cultural life of Odias!
It is not surprising, therefore, that food occupies an extremely important place in Odia creative arts, including its music. It is not uncommon to find reference to food in folk music around the world. But in Odisha, food gets a prominent place in not just the folk music, but its classical, semi-classical and modern popular music. Why, even devotional feeling often comes wrapped up with powerful symbols and craving for food/prasad of the Lord! In one of the most popular bhajans, Jagannathiara SriMahaprasda pagala kala re bhai, the lyricist actually proclaims that it is the love of the Lord’s prasad that made him rush to Puri, without any delay!
While that bhajan is not explicitly about food, there are many that are completely focused on celebration of food.
Here is a look at some of the most popular among such songs. Many other songs would passingly mention food or use it as a metaphor. I have not looked for those ‘mere’ words but kept myself focused on what can really be called songs celebrating food. There are film songs, non-film modern songs, Odissi lyrics and bhajans focused on food.
So, here we go. The links are embedded in the song names.
Abadha Dali Kanika Ho Ananda Bazarre Patara Paka
This bhajan by Arabind Muduli is a celebration of abadha (though pronounced as abhada), the cooked prasad of Shri Jagannath.
Asa Jibana Dhana
The evergreen song written by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik in the voice of Pandit Balakrushna Dash, the father of modern Odia music, celebrates the most common food of Odias, pakhala.
Asa Kiese Jibare Ama Raja Ghara Khana
This is the Dakhini original from which lyricist Baikunth Nath Mohanty adapted the now popular Asa Kie Khaiba Ho. The song, sung by Gokul Mohanty, is a round-up of all Odia food traditionally associated with specific places in Odisha. So, if the government wants to apply for GI tag of the food items, the basic groundwork is done by the lyricist
This song in the unique voice of Tansen Singh is based on the above song, in a slightly more contemporary style. If you wonder why the lyricist ignored Pahalla Rasagola, you have the answer. In the 30s, it was nowhere in the Rasgola map of Odisha. And so the above song had no reference to it. Lyricist of the song, while taking the idea from above song, failed to add Pahala
Chaka Pari Basitha
This is about another traditional Odia food, chuda chakata, again, in the voice of Pandit Balakrushna Dash. Though chuda or poha is eaten in many places, the way it is eaten in Odisha is fairly unique. And that is exactly what the song celebrates.
Kartika Masare Asila Kanji
Kanji is a typical Odia dish made from torani (water taken from Pakhala) or peja (water taken out after boiling rice) and cooked with vegetables. Some joke that the song made it more popular across all regions of Odisha.
Madaa Daani Dhaana Chaula Muga Nadia Padi
This song in the voice of Arjun Charan Samal, a singer known for his rendition of palligeetis, is a craving and description for traditional food prepared in Odia homes in villages.
Manda Pitha Gol Gol
A round up of all Odia pithas (indigenous cakes) and their shapes, it is not fully about food or anything. The inimitable style of Akshaya Mohanty just uses some rhyming words to appeal to the average man on the street. While the lyrics is not exactly world class, most of the words are colloquial Odia words and connect immediately.
This celebration of eating mudhi (or moori, as some write it as) in the Odia style completes the triology of food songs by Pandit Balakrushna Dash. Though not as popular as the pakhala song, this one explicitly makes a claim: that only an Odia recognizes the pleasure of eating mudhi with nadia (coconut) and then goes on to describe the right setting and the preparation to maximize the pleasure!
Radhika Boile Duti Go
In this Odisssi lyrics, rendered by great Odia singer and composer, Prafulla Kar, Radha craves for diet, all of which bear the name of Krishna.
There are many more. These are just some of the more popular Odia songs celebrating food.
As Odias are all set to celebrate the 1st Rasagola Dibasa on 30th July, let’s have plenty of music, food and music about food.
[Anyone, who needs a quick primer on Odia food associated with places, can go through the third one in the list, Asa kie khaiba ho. Apart from Pahala Rasagola, what are the other such local food that the song does not mention?]