In the laws and rules that govern Hinduism, marriage is the most regulated ritual. Second to that, though, is food.
Vasudha Narayanan, distinguished professor of religion at the University of Florida, will talk about Hinduism’s intricate relationship with food at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy. Her lecture, titled “The Flavors of Faith: Fasting and Feasting in the Hindu Traditions,” will provide a Hindu perspective to the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Nine theme, “Food and Faith.”
“When you offer food mentally to God, and ingest it, it’s seen as a marker of divine grace coursing through your veins, literally,” Narayanan said.
Narayanan, who is speaking in the Hall of Philosophy for the third time, said she was able to have a lot of fun developing this lecture because food has been a part of her faith for her entire life.
In 2000, Narayanan wrote an essay about how a peer at Harvard University, where she attended graduate school, dismissed the food traditions and rituals in Hinduism as “anthropological stuff.” But Narayanan said it hadn’t been simply anthropological for her and her grandmother, whom she was close with growing up in India.
“For my grandmother, the way in which the food was cooked, the way in which it was served and consumed … was very much part of (her) religious life,” Narayanan said.
Narayanan, who has been the author or editor of seven books and numerous articles on Hinduism, became interested in studying the faith after reading books on the topic. Although it was not traditional to study religions in India, she was entranced by the nuances.
Thursday, Narayanan will discuss multiple aspects of the intersection between Hinduism and food, including the various rules governing food rituals, the propensity and energy levels of different foods, and how it is offered to deities.
There are some important caveats, though, that Narayanan will note. The first is that it is nearly impossible to make clear-cut generalizations about food habits in Hinduism because communities have modified the rules so much.
“If you eat a slice of pizza you’re blowing about six different rules right there, which many of us do happily enough these days,” Narayanan said. “Domino’s and Pizza Hut are very popular in India right now.”
Although a lot of the rules have been bent, Narayanan said it astounded her how many are still followed some 2,000 years later. Those are usually the more “non-negotiable” rules, including not eating beef and fasting on certain days of the lunar calendar.
Narayanan, who is a former president of the American Academy of Religion, said another aspect of eating that has been lost over the years is the connection to the source of food, which has been a popular theme this week.
Reconnecting with the sources and all of the labor that goes into growing food will allow people to reconnect with the sacredness of eating, Narayanan said, which is especially important for Hindus.
“It’s through the body that you get to know the world and God,” Narayanan said. “And the body is the home of the divine spirit. There is a strong sense in the Hindu tradition that your body is the temple of God.”