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Fit for gods: how Indian saints and royals shaped 5,000 years of temple food

Food historian Rakesh Raghunathan’s introduction to South Indian temple food, or prasadam, began with a song about an eighth century saint.

“I was singing a song about Andal, the South Indian poet saint, and she had spoken about a particular sweet akkara adisal in an ancient text. This is made of milk, rice and jaggery, and she promises to cook and offer 100 pots of this if she marries the Lord,” he said. “This set me off on the journey of delving into temple cuisine and documenting these age-old recipes.”

Till today, the Srivilliputhur Andal temple in Tamil Nadu dedicated to the poet saint continues to serve this milk and rice concoction as prasadam.

It is hard to overstate the significance of prasadam. A visit to many temples in South India always ends with food. There is usually a kitchen (madapalli) to cook food that is offered to the presiding deity, and then fed to worshippers and volunteers.

“Temple food is an intrinsic part of Indian culture,” said Anushruti, an Indian food writer and wellness consultant.

“Naivedyam, the offering of food to the deity before one eats, has been a Hindu tradition for thousands of years,” she added. “Offering food to the gods and eating the leftovers, points to the symbiosis between man and God, and food is supposed to be imbued with spiritual energy when this is done.”


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