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coffee, AhAra-niyamam and Sriman Narayanan

From: sudarshan (lucasfie_at_md2.vsnl.net.in)
Date: Sat Nov 28 1998 - 02:38:24 PST

Dear friends,
Coming as it does in the wake of Sri.Anbil's very informative series on
"AhAra-niyamam" (dietary regimen) the recent posts of some members on
"coffee" are very interesting to read.

There are several members of family and many friends of mine too who simply
can barely survive the first half-hour of the waking day without
first downing the customary steaming cup of what they regard as the
life-giving brew.For many of them a cup of coffee is more
satisfying, more energising than full breakfast of any kind----
continental, tandoori, American, Buddhist..... or strictly SriVaishnavite! 

In the days of my childhood, there used to be a different sort of brew
other than coffee which was made mandatory for young, school-going members
of the family. Very early office-goers too used to favour it. I am not sure
if Swami Desikan included it in his "AhAra-niyamam".... perhaps Sri.Anbil
can throw light on it.

The unusual cold brew is known even today in some Tamilian houses as
"pazhai-yathu".

"pazhai-yathu" has an exceedingly simple recipe.

In most households in those days, womenfolk always deliberately erred on
the safe side in cooking rice for supper. If they had 12 members in the
family to feed, the quantity of rice they cooked would actually be
sufficient to feed at least 20. The excess rice they reckoned would insure
them from the contingency of unexpected guests or up-country relatives who
in those days would suddenly drop by without notice. 

More often than not such "excess rice" would remain unconsumed. Instead of
dumping it down the trash-can (as is done these days) the womenfolk used it
for preparing "pazhai-yathu"!

Before retiring for the night, the "excess unconsumed rice" would be
decanted into a large earthen pot. The pot would then be filled with water
to a level that ensured the rice lay submerged. The pot would then be
covered and left in a corner of the kitchen.

Overnight due to a process of mild fermentation the mix of "cooked rice and
water" will churn into a rich cold brew called "pazhai-yathu". The next
morning, the womenfolk will retrieve the brew from the  pot, drain the
water away, rinse the rice with rarefied yoghurt and serve it with a dab of
salt and
generous dollops of delicious "lime-pickle"....

Believe me I have consumed lots of "pazhai-yathu" in my life... my paternal
grandmother, a devout SriVaishnavite all her life in Tirupati, was an
expert brewer of this home-grown specie of breakfast.... I have had lots of
"pazhai-yathu" and I can tell you from experience it is simply delectable
fare!   

Because its ingredient is "cooked rice" carried forward from the previous
night, the cold brew is called in Tamil as "pazhai-yathu"..... literally
"old brew".

Now I don't know what is the respectability this "pazhai-yathu" commands in
the "AhAra-niyamam" of hallowed SriVaishnavism.... I suspect it has no
credentials whatsoever ....but I remember my "manaseega-Acharyan"
Sri.Mukkur Swami II once speak of the brew in highly reverential terms!!

"pazhai-yathu", according to him, is Sriman Narayana personified as a dish
...... "AhAra-rupan"!!

I was dumbfounded by this absurd assertion and asked him how this could be
so.

"WHy not," he replied," Narayana is "giri-rupi" in TiruvEngadam.... the
Tirumala Hills are said to be verily the terrestrial form of Sriman
Narayana. Similarly in Pushkaram in Rajasthan, The Lord is said to be
"jala-rupiyan".... the holy "teertha" there itself is said to be the form
of the Lord. Again in NaimishAranyam in Uttar Pradesh the form of Lord
Narayana is said to be seen in the dark, lush and lovely woods there.... He
appears to us as "vana-rupan" there. Lastly, in the holy streams of Gandaki
in Nepal, we know, Narayanan appears in the form of "salagrAma"..... So why
should it not be possible for the Lord to appear before us in the form of
"ahAra", too?".

I was stumped by this argument of Mukkur Swami. Deep down it made me
vaguely recall too the familiar Vedic incantation,
"aham-annam-aham-annam......", where it is said that the nature of
para-Brahmam is not dissimilar to the nature of "annam" ie. a sustaining
morsel of food.

"SIr, but why should "pazhai-yathu"," I continued querying Mukkur Swami,
"why should "pazhai-yathu of all "AhAra" be so ceremoniously coronated as
"narayana-rupam"? Does poor Narayana deserve the relegation of being
equated with such a lowly form of cold, SriVaishnava house-hold brew? Is it
not unpardonable "bhagavat-apachAram"?".

"Not at all," said Sri.Mukkur Swamy.

"How so?".

"If you compare the essential characteristics of Sriman Narayana and of
those of "pazhai-yathu" you will see they are both identical.Therefore I
conclude the brew is verily the form of the Lord Himself."

"Narayana is hailed as "purAna-purusha", is it not? ....He is known as the
"old-Groom" in SriVaishnava theology and poetry.... remember
Goda-stuti?..... "nAgEshaya-ha sutanu pakshi-raThaha kaTham thE, jAtaha
svayamvarapati-hi PURUSHA-HA PURANA-HA ! " .....

"Similarly, "pazhai-yathu", as the name itself suggests is "old"
too.....!!".

"The real worth of Narayana was known to AndAl. It is known to this day
only to "bhaktA-s" who are extremely few in number and rare to find in the
world.("durlabham"). Similarly, the numbers of people who truly know the
nutritional worth and delicacy of the "pazhai-yathu" are very scant
(durlabham")."  

"Again, we all know that the deity of Narayana is fit to be worshipped
especially in the wee, early hours of the morning --- 'prAtah-kAla'. 

"pazhai-yathu" too is fit to be consumed only in the morning....isn't it?
In the villages even today farmers are known to consume this brew in the
morning and proceed to their fields for harvest where they labour for hours
under
the scorching sun. It is the special nutritional properties of
"pazhai-yathu"
consumed by them which sustains them through the day and prevents
de-hydration. Similarly worship of Lord Narayana in the small hours of the
morning, we know from our faith, protects us from the "samsAric" heat of
the
day.....and from spiritual de-hydration; remember the Sri-Stuti verse ?....
the one which says,"GharmE tApa-traya-virachitE gADa-taptam kshaNam
mAm.....
(Shed thy coolness on me who am
scorched by the summer-heat of the 3 afflictions (tApa-traya)  ...."

"Lastly, Sriman Narayana is known as the "jalE-sayAnin" .... the "Great One
that ever Dwells on Water". Your good "pazhai-yathu" too is a sort of
"jalE-sayAnin"..... the brew soaks in water all the time, after
all.......does'nt it?!!".

Ever since I heard Sri.Mukkur Swamy on the "pazhai-yathu", everytime I see
a bowl of the cold brew I am inclined to first worshipfully prostrate
before it ..... before I venture to consume it !!!

It is unfortunate one can never speak in the above terms about the most
popular hot brew
in the world --- your good old coffee.

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,
sudarshan