A Genre of its Own: A History of Pākaśāstra and Other Culinary Writing of Early India
Food’s importance is undeniable in a wide range of disciplines, in terms of religious ideals, social structure and its markings, and critical food studies, to name a few. Within food studies, there is a gaping lacuna in scholarship on the culinary history of South Asia. In this dissertation I delineate the history of recipe writing in South Asia, what must have once constituted a vast tradition of treatises on cooking. In this pioneering investigation of South Asia’s culinary history, I argue that pākaśāstra, the scientific system of cooking, flourished in royal milieus and was a genre of its own—not a subgenre of āyurveda, the medical sciences. As a result of my philological and historical analyses of numerous Sanskrit and Tamiḻ sources, I identify the central works of this study as: 1) the Nala Pākadarpaṇa, 2) the Mānasollāsa’s annabhoga section, and 3) the Bhojanakutūhalam. I isolate two key eras for the history of pākaśāstra: the Cāḷukyan period and the Maratha Thanjavur era, both noteworthy for prolific culinary writing. Overall, my study suggests that the medieval period (ca. the eleventh to fifteenth centuries) was the most influential early period for pākaśāstra. Acknowledging the royal priority of the enjoyment of food is crucial to interpreting these works accurately without the erroneous lens of assuming these to be medical cookbooks. With the proper focus, the texts reveal highly complex culinary cultures in śāstric technical terms and a high priority on the refined pleasures of consumption as a cultural value. This research serves religious studies, textual studies of premodern India, and anthropology of food in providing long-needed historical contextualization. It expands our understanding of courtly cultures of South Asia by revealing the kitchens and dining hall of the palace as arenas for exerting royal influence and displaying royal authority. This authority was enacted by producing texts on cooking (pākaśāstras) with kings as agents and authors producing this truly royal domain of writing. This dissertation gives due study to a long-obscured archive of early Indic sources on one of the few uniquely human activities: cooking.
PhD defended at
University of Texas at Austin
Art and Culture