Baahubali (The Beginning and The Conclusion) is officially a national cinematic phenomenon. Not just in terms of the box-office records it’s broken thus far, but also for creating an entirely fictional world – of kings and tyrants and mountains and impossible waterfalls – leaving me hungry for more. Speaking of which, where’s the food?
Despite a collective length of almost six hours, there’s almost no mention of food in the entire story, nor a visual representation.Food is the missing ingredient in Baahubali.
The Triumph of Mayabazar
Released in 1957, Mayabazar stands the test of time both in terms of visual effects and entertainment value. More importantly, it caters to all the five senses through its visuals, including that of taste.
Regardless of whether one is a foodie or not (and I definitely am!), no film is complete without food in it.
Food is sensual. It is emotional in nature, and makes for an instant connect on screen.
In fact, two of the most emotional scenes in the Baahubali films have food as the catalyst:
1. In Baahubali 1, where a young Baahubali breaks the social taboo and asks Kattappa to share his meal.
Baahubali 2, when an exiled Baahubali shares his meal with street urchins. In turn, the women of Mahishmati tearfully feed him morsels from their own bowl.
Say the world of Baahubali is set in a Telugu speaking kingdom, two thousand years ago. Based on the geography of the kingdoms, it’s fairly easy to imagine the cuisine. Shall we begin?
The Food of Mahishmati
Mahishmati is arid and flat, and is flanked by distant mountains. The only form of vegetation one gets to see in the movie are palm trees. In a sense, this is almost exactly how Nicolo Dei Conti (Venetian merchant/explorer) described the Vijayanagara Empire, when he paid a visit with his wife and kids.
Nicolo Dei Conti (Source: Indian Food, A Historical companion – KT Achaya)A great city... situated near very steep mountains. The circumference of the city is 60 miles; its walls are carried up to the mountains.
This corresponds to what is today the Rayalaseema district in Andhra Pradesh. The food has predominantly been spicy and dry, much like the cuisine of Rajasthan.
Telugus favoured wheat over rice as part of their diet, until, of course, rice took over much later, around thousand years ago.
In fact, most of the sweets and savouries handed down through tradition in the region are wheat-based.
Even the ‘prasad’ of the presiding deity Lord Satyanarayana (Vishnu) is made of wheat flour.
‘Kattappa Ne Baahubali Ko Kya Khilaya?’ (What did Kattappa Feed Baahubali?)
Sangati is a mixture of boiled and mashed rice and ragi flour, salted and rolled into a large ball. It is extremely healthy, and provides slow burning carbs that nourish the body with sufficient energy for an entire day’s physical labour, and then some. It is also what one might term a ‘poor man’s food’, since the red millet (ragi) grows wild, with little to no attention or rainfall.
The Item Song and the Palm Wine
I’m not a huge fan of the song. It’s a trope Rajamouli has used in all of his films, probably to add to the screen-time.
But there’s some good in every boring thing. And the good thing in this song is the question that begs an answer; What are those guys drinking?
I’d bet my filter coffee on ‘Thaala Rasa’, or palm toddy, in common parlance.
Palm trees grow wild and in abundance in Rayalaseema.
In the kingdom of Mahishmati too, palm trees are all over the battlefield. In fact, they’re a major plot mover in the climactic fight between Baahubali and Bhallala Deva.
Palm trees take eight to 15 years (depending on species) on average to mature and yield kernels consistently.
If you were to grow one in your garden, you would probably see a tiny plant three years after you’ve planted the seed. But they are abundant in the wild, dry plains of the Rayalaseema district.
Palm toddy has a very short life span, of about a day or so, after which it turns quickly into vinegar. The fermentation can be slowed through refrigeration. In other words, storing it in a cool, dry place, inside earthen pots soaked in water, which are natural coolants.
Some varieties of toddy are infused with rose water, but the raw, fruity taste is more popular.
Maybe ‘Jai Mahishmati’ is usually said in place of ‘cheers’.
Devasena’s Kingdom – Kunthala Desa and Manasollasa
Kunthala Desa actually existed between 640-600 BC. It encompassed parts of western Deccan plateau and what is today south Karnataka. The river journey that Baahubali and Devasena take after they fall in love, could have been along the Tungabhadra river.
The culture of food, and the variety of cuisine in south India flourished in Karnataka.
Devasena’s diet would have been infinitely finer and more elaborate than Baahubali’s.
In fact, the wild pigs that they hunted together may well have found their way onto the dinner tables that evening, as succulent Kebabs!
Well, is there a food reference I missed? Do let me know in the comments section below.