Friday, September 29, 2006

Amar Singh, Maharaja of Kanota and his cooking diaries

Amar Singh, the Maharaja of Kanota, near Jaipur,
has been the subject of a study by the Rudolphs: Reversing the
Gaze: Amar Singh's Diary, A Colonial Subject's Narrative of
Imperial India. Edited and Commentary by Susanne Hoeber
Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph with Mohan Singh Kanota.
Boulder: Westview, 2002 (good review by Michael Fisher).

Amar Singh's diaries, covering 1898-1905, are about 89 vols,
each with 800 pages. I think Amar Singh was probably a little
eccentric. His diaries are very, very detailed, and not always
interesting. Except, of course, that in the mass of detail, there
are inevitably nuggets. He was a prominent and even eminent
military man, so one finds details of his meetings with
important players of the time, though what he writes about
them often extends only to what colour gloves they wore, or
which side of the carriage they got out.

Anyhow, I discovered this diary many years ago, through
accidentally meeting Mohan Singh Kanota (I stayed at the
Narain Niwas hotel in Jaipur, must have been in the 1980s),
and being taken out to Kanota to see the old man's library.

Although the Rudolphs have focussed on the diaries, it is
less well known that Amar Singh was also a passionate cook.
Or, perhaps, "supervisor of cooking" (as he was a supervisor
of photography also). His favourite hobby was to sit on the
veranda in the evening and direct a team of cooks in making
up dishes using recipes from classical sources. He drew on
many culinary traditions, including those recorded in Persian
and Sanskrit. Predictably, he wrote everything down. So along
one wall in the family home in Kanota there are many metres
of Amar Singh's cooking diaries. It is multilingual, with
text in Persian, Hindi, and Sanskrit. Possibly English, I
can't remember.

I am not aware that anyone has written about Amar Singh's
cookery diaries. His ordinary diaries have been microfilmed
and are on deposit at the University of Chicago library. I
don't know whether the cookery diaries were also filmed;
probably not.

This leads me on to mention the classical tradition of Indian
cookery, Skt. pākaśāstra पाकशास्त्र("Cooking Science"). There's
not much written about this, with one exception. Meulenbeld
notes 34 of the texts on this subject in his History of
Indian Medical Literature, IIa, part 9.1 (pp.415-20), and
gives detailed accounts of the contents of several of them.

As Meulenbeld points out, "pāka पाक" means a "linctus", as well
as "cookery", so not all the works on pāka śāstra are
actually on "medical cookery"; some are on linctus formulae.

Works on cookery in the Pāka Śāstra tradition seem to date
from AD 1200 and perhaps earlier. One of the earliest is the
Pākadarpaṇa पाकदर्पण or Nalapāka नलपाक ascribed to King Nala. It's a
work in 760 verses divided into 11 chapters, intended to inform
the cooking in a royal kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. There are just so many corners of Sanskrit waiting to be given a decent analysis, aren't there :)

    I had a quick search for the pakadarpana, and apparently one person is working on a translation, and another wrote a thesis on it back in 1995. But hardly a massive industry!

    You'd think that, given how cookery books sell so well, including several based on classical Rome, somebody would have had the nous to write one based on Sanskrit sources.