by Shyam Rani Kilam and S. S. Kaul Kilam
is no life without Food. Out of the greatest urges of life, 'Hunger' constitutes
the main urge. Hindus give a place of Divinity to'Hunger'.Ya Devi Sarvbhuteshu
Kshuadha Rupena Samstheta Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namonamah-
Salutations to Divine Mother Who resideth in all beings as 'Hunger'.
In Islam Razaq - the Provider of Food, is one of the qualifying names of Almighty God.
In almost all religions, before partaking of food or drink, its consecration, by offering it to God, Deities, etc., is done in the form of Ahuti, Qurban, Sadaqa, Nazar, Feeding of Poor, Invalids and Lepers etc., and thus emphasizing the sanctity and essentiality of these practices. Even feeding of animals, birds and insects etc. - Bhuta Yagna - is a daily routine for some, or is performed on auspicious occasions.
The 'Sense of Taste', by means of 'Taste Buds', discriminates the six tastes (Shathras)-Sweet (Madhura), Saltish, (Lavana), Sour (Amla), Astringent (Kashaya), Bitter (Tikta), and Hot (Katu),-while the 'Sense of Smell', actually 'relishes' the innumerable flavours of food products etc., through the agency of 'Smell Buds'. Of all the senses these two are the great ' Weaknesses ' of living beings. From these 'Pleasant weaknesses', has emerged thc 'Art of Culinary Preparations', in order to make food appetizing and also tickle and gratify ourpalates, and thus satisfy the "Great Urge".
Thus feeding forms the main instrument of social entertainment and the best form of expression of love and regard. To win the love and favour of her to-be-husband, the mother of the to-be-bride, instructs her to pay the greatest attention to the proper preparation and presentation of his meals. Even the Shastras emphasize this 'sacred act'.
Kashmiris are hospitable by nature. They enjoy social life and mutual entertainment. This has been one main cause of the development of their culinary art. Different types of menus were also inspired by the cuisines of different rulers and visitors, who came in the past from Persia, Afghanistan and otherplaces. Mugals especially had a great influence on the cooking of Meat Dishes and different Pulavs. Emperors Jehangir and Shahjehan, with their lovely queens, their courtiers and kith and kin, made Kashmir their health resort and a place of sport, enjoyment, eating and drinking. Shahjehan used to visit Kashmir every summer and called it a Paradise on Earth. Jehangir's last wish, at his death, was 'Kashmir and Nothing else'.
Its salubrious climate, unrivalled and picturesque natural scenery, its invigorating, digestive, sweet and crystal-clear waters of springs and abounding streams, its beautiful lakes, majestic Pine and Deodar forests, and snow capped mountains, its breezy summers, flaming and blazing colourful and breathtaking autumns, the cool and calm grandeur of its winter snows, followed by charming flower-laden fragrant springs, all have made Kashmir a gourmet's heaven. Here amongst these blessing of Mother Nature, enjoying good and delicious spicy food, is a delighting desire of men, women and children alike.
Outdoor picnics, luncheons and dinners, in big and small comfortable boats, (House Boats, Dungas and Shikara.), plying on the famous Dal lake, are common. Parties of people of every class are seen enjoying hearty meals, Qehva, Shier Chay, cookies and sweets, according to their means. The spicy aroma of food, being cooked in the small kitchens, provided in the bigger boats, permeates the air. Strains of soothing Sufiyana music to the, accompanimcnt of Sitar, Saz, and Dukra (Tabla), or sound of exciting choral Chhakri-lyrical songs, with Nuot, Tumbaknar and Roani beating time and Sarangi playing to the tune, come from some of the boats, all heading slowly towards the 'Mughal' and other gardens, 'Chinar' groves, Shrines and springs situated here and there, on or near the shores of the lake. Fields of lotuses and water- lilies bloom on the outskirts of the lake, and the surrounding hills are mirrored in its clear water.
The eyes feast on similar cheerful boating scenes on the 'Manasbal', 'Anchar' and 'Wullar' lakes. Wullar is perhaps the largest fresh-water lake of Asia. Sweet damsels steering at one end of tiny and light boats, with fishermen holding aiming spears in their right hands, and standing with eyes fixed on the water, at the other end of the boats, ready to strike at an underwater swimming fish, are lovely sights seen here and there. The alert and almost naked bodies of these fishermen, along with the boats, and the paddling damsels, are clearly reflected on the calm surface of the lake. These constitute picturesque scenes for a Camera-man especially. The fishermen, now and then, bring their boats close to the boats of the excursionists to sell their fresh catch, which forms a welcome addition to the menus of these holidaying people. Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Lotus Roots (Nadier) and Lotus-seed tori (Pambalokhar), or even groceries, are vended by mobile shops in boats (Shikaras).
Outings are usual to hundreds of other scenic places, spread all over the valley. These places are mostly maintained by Government and Public Bodies. These well-kept places include Public gardens, with blooming colourful beds of flowers of the season, lush green lawns and beautiful cascades. Some have fountains playing therein and also have sheltered picnic spots. Between mountains or hills there are small beautiful valleys, meadows and glens, through which clearice-cold rivers and streams rush, playing music on boulder laden beds. Fishing of Brown and Rainbow Trout and also Mahasol, is an additional attraction for excursion to these places.
Almond orchards burst out into ravishing profusion of pink blooms early in the spring, even before the foliage reappears on their branches, denuded in the previous winter. These turn into eagerly-awaited picnic spots. In autumn the late- night full-moon dinner-parties are held by many people around the blooming, fragrant 'Saffron' fields of Pampor. Even in very cold winter, dinners, with Sufiyana and other musical entertainments are held in Hammam halls.
The 'common factor' of all these pleasure trips, is to enjoy good and special food, off the routine, in the sweet company of family members, friends, kith and kin in these beautiful surroundings. In fact food is an integral part of every Kashmiri conversation.
Kashmir is also a valley of fruits. Fruit trees, growing on higher altitudes, and their orchards, are found every where. Hundreds of varieties of delicious, both sweet and tart Apples, juicy Pears, including famous Nakh and Bagogasha varieties, luscious Apricots, Plums, Peaches and Cherries, are produced in abundance. Many kinds of Cherries, along with very good varities of Walnuts and Almonds are a speciality of Kashmir. Apart from being a great tourist attraction, for Kashmir, fruits are a major item of export and a source of income of the State.
Among other fruits, yellow and red Crab-apples, Loquats, Chestnuts, Nectarines, Quinces, Grapes, Mulberries of both 'Alba' and luscious Black-Royal varieties, Strawberries, Cranberries, Raspberries, Black-Berries and many other wild-grown Berries are there. Fruits, naturally, form a good part of Kashmiri diet. Here many fruits are also cooked and turned into delectable dishes. Many fruits are also preserved by canning or by pickling.
Huge quantities of Water-Chestnuts (Singhade) are a main produce of Kashmir's 'Wullar' lake. Musk and Water Melons, Cucumbers and almost all varieties of fruit, tuber, root and leafy vegetables are grown abundantly.
Enough Cereals, Legumes and Oil-seeds are produced in the valley, to feed its people and a large number of tourists etc. as well. Plenty of local Fishes, Poultry, Sheep and Coat, Game birds and animals, Ducks and Geese, all cater to the needs of Kashmiris, who are mostly non-vegetarian, and also to those of the visitors and outsiders. Eggs, Milk-products and Honey are freely available. Miss Piarie in her book 'Kashmir', has rightly called it as 'a place where one might live and die content' !
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