Article by: Deepa Kini, Mountain View, CA USA
Photos: Manju Neereshwallya
Has this ever happened to you??
You are sitting in the company cafeteria on a Tuesday afternoon aimlessly rolling your fork in a bowl of sorry mashed potatoes and all of a sudden you get a craving. You hanker for a paan of ‘Devasthana Jevana’. You picture yourself sitting in front of a keli paan with chane ghashi, magge saasama, vegetable pickle and hot devasthana saaru.
Of course, you have!!!
For as long as I can remember I have eaten at various temples in and around Mangalore. Not because I am too cheap to buy my own lunch but because there is an inimitable taste in devasthana jevan’s that can never be duplicated at home. “Bhuri randapa kednai laika jatta,” my mother offers explanation. There is a unique sense of togetherness when you sit with a whole bunch of people you have probably never seen in your life and eat the same food. Devasthana jevans are always held during important celebrations and in temples all over Dakshina Kannada.
The aim is to have an aarti function at an auspicious time and then follow it by a good, filling lunch. But since there are many people waiting to eat, there is fierce competition. You will find most people “booking” eating space by spreading out angsos and papers way before the aarti. When the aarti is over, people scramble to the dining area and sit on the floor. In most cases this is accompanied by people saying “Chike tekkade vatta ve” and finally everyone manages to find a spot.
When most people are seated, volunteers bring over keli paan. This has been my experience, that most keli paan bearers are tall men with a stern look on their face and I normally get a paan that is torn all over. As a result, when I call them to exchange my paan they sometimes pretend not to have heard me. Well, somebody’s got to eat on that paan. Might as well be me. When everybody has a paan, the main dishes are served. Nobody is supposed to eat at this point. When all the main dishes are served, rice is served and then a ghanta is sounded summoning people to start eating. At this point saaru is served and everybody attacks their food. Half way through the meal daali toi is served.
What is amazing is every dish is served twice so that everyone can eat to their heart’s content. If you don’t need a second helping you refuse by moving your hand horizontally across your leaf. Since everyone is busy eating you are not expected to voice a verbal acknowledgement. When most people have finished eating the main course, goddi is served. You will hear people devouring goddi with a slight slurping sound which shows how much they appreciate it. This process in amchigele is called burkuche and is not considered to be rude. In some temples laddoos are handed out. Now some people especially kids who are not used to sitting in one place for more than five minutes stand up in their spots and most have cramps in their feet and walk funny. A second ghanta is sounded and lunch is “officially” over. Everyone walks over to taps to wash their hands, the volunteers remove all the paans and the place is cleaned up.
Of course, some devasthana jevan’s are not this uneventful. I have seen situations when eager volunteers served chane ghashi on a young lady’s head. But all was taken in the spirit of the occasion and other than a “samma polocheka jaina ve” everything was handled very well. If this had occurred here in the US, we would probably have lawyers sitting outside the temple doors, handing out their cards and telling people “Let me know if someone drops anything on you. We will sue the mundu’s off these bhatta’s”. All in all, devasthana jevan’s are an integral part of our Konkani culture. Where else can you see the rich and the poor eating the same food, at the same time and on the same floor? If anything, these lunches teach us humility and that everyone is the same in the eyes of the almighty. Can you imagine another place on earth where not only do you get free food but also served by people you don’t need to tip? Only in South Kanara. If you have never been to a temple in South Kanara for lunch, I hope this article has persuaded you to do so. If you have eaten at temples before, I hope I have been successsful in bringing back memories.
Deepa Kini, Mountain View, CA USA. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org