This stream-of-consciousness yarn, spun on an impulse, was triggered by a current information merchandise and video doing the rounds on social media a few fight over pappadams at a feast in Alappuzha, Kerala, with the festive Onam season not far away. Absence or scarcity of pappadams, which have a rightful place within the high left nook of the standard banana-leaf ‘sadhya’ of the Malayalee, led to a verbal spat that rapidly progressed into fisticuffs, setting off this speculative flashback.
Statutory warning: This fib is to not be confused with mythology.
So, because the story goes, there as soon as was this king, Maveli or Mahabali, whose rule was so munificent and egalitarian, caring for all the things each considered one of his topics required or desired, that that they had no worries or troubles or unfulfilled wants or aspirations , and gave no thought to after-life and did not hassle to wish or worship their gods. The gods, in utter panic, convened an emergency assembly and determined one thing needed to be executed, and urgently, to get the folks again to prayer and worship – as a result of in any other case gods as a heavenly class supposedly in final cost of all the things could be rendered redundant and ineffective. After a lot divine liberation they got here up with a plan and entrusted Vishnu with the duty of executing it.
And that brings Vishnu disguised as a Brahmin dwarf, Vamana, to Mahabali beseeching the king to grant him a parcel of land measuring simply three steps for him to stay on. Mahabali noticed by way of the con sport immediately, as a result of there was nobody in his kingdom who wanted something, no less than of all a tiny piece of land for a house, and all the things about this Brahmin dwarf seemed suspicious. He, nonetheless, performed alongside and requested Vamana to go forward and measure out the three steps of land he wished. Within the blink of 1 eye, and with a mischievous twinkle within the different, Vamana (aka Vishnu) grew to as a lot top because it takes to measure all the earth in a single step, the entire sky within the subsequent, after which, one foot raised, checked out Mahabali, seemingly perplexed and irritated, as if to ask the place the hell he was anticipated to put the third step to finish the total measure promised to him. This was typical Vishnu in over-the-top show-off mode. As a result of one step was all that was wanted to cowl all of Mahabali’s kingdom; there was no want actually to proceed with the sky.
Anyway, to proceed with the story, Mahabali, to maintain his phrase to Vamana (now exhibiting his true colours as Vishnu), granting him the three foot measure of land, goes down on his knees muttering, “the place the hell is true,” below his breath, and proffers his head to the determine looming giant earlier than him saying, “OK, get on with it, place your third step proper right here.” Vishnu then proceeds to put his foot on Mahabali’s head and push him into the bowel of the earth, referred to as ‘pataala’ in Sanskrit and ‘hell’ in English, which was (and is) inhabited by demons. When solely his head was left to go below, Mahabali cried out, “Cease! I need you to know I already knew who you had been the second I set my eyes on that fancy-dress Vamana; and that simply because I used to be no pushover for any god as a result of I gave my folks an awesome life, you guys up there determined to push me below; and since there is not any one to name out this foul, I assume I’ve to go down. However earlier than I do, I’ve a boon to ask of you for a change. I might like to go to my kingdom and my folks for a few week every year within the Aashwin season (of September).” Pushing Mahabali into the earth was fairly an effort for Vishnu despite his vishwaroopa (or XXXXXXL) measurement. So all he might handle by means of reply to Mahabali’s parting request was a panting grunt. Which Mahabali took to be a sure.
Employees making pappads at Shri Mahila Thejus Pappad unit in Kochi. File photograph | Picture Credit score: Thulasi Kakkat
I am sorry I have never but come to the place pappadam figures in all this.
So, to chop to the chase, come subsequent September, when Mahabali resurfaced in his erstwhile kingdom, he was happy to search out that the folks had been eagerly awaiting him. The rule of the gods wasn’t going too effectively for them. This was pushed dwelling to Mahabali forcefully within the very first home he was welcomed into. Because the hosts and quite a few visitors who had turned as much as partake within the feast for his or her beloved ex-monarch sat in rows on the ground tackling the splendid unfold earlier than them on plantain leaves, a commotion broke out in a single nook of the massive corridor. Mahabali heard the noise, however pretended he hadn’t, as a result of he did not need to embarrass his hosts. However quickly there was a gaggle standing earlier than him beseeching him to arbitrate on the quarrel. It needed to do with the pappadam. Extra particularly, it needed to do with the variety of pappadams anybody individual might count on or demand in a sadhya. Mahabali was taken unexpectedly, after which overtaken by guilt, in fast succession.
Stunned, as a result of there would have been no such challenge throughout the golden age of his rule. It was then well-known that every plantain leaf was entitled to 4 pappadams. It was impersonal, the entitlement. It was leaf-based. So if two individuals had been consuming off the identical leaf, they must share the 4 pappadams. This additionally discouraged communal consuming out of the identical leaf. There have been sufficient and extra leaves to go round for everybody. In fact, there have been sufficient and extra pappadams as effectively in Mahabali’s reign to appease appetites advert nauseam. The four-pappadams-per-leaf was a hallowed gastronomical precept.
A person dressed as King Mahabali seen greeting folks having fun with the Onam Sadhya, a standard feast on a banana leaf on Onam on the Kerala Home in New Delhi. File photograph | Picture Credit score: RV Moorthy
The pappadams had been meant to be spaced by way of the meal as follows: the primary with the opening course of rice and ghee and dhal, the second with the sambar, the third with the rasam and/or curd, and the fourth with the payasam and/or last top-up scoop of rice with curd. This was the fulsome, equitable fare in Mahabali-raj and there had by no means ever been any downside. Mahabali was stunned that there ought to now be such a fracas on this rating – it had, in any case, been a well-established conference.
However wait, did we are saying that Mahabali’s shock was adopted by guilt? Sure, as a result of Mahabali additionally realized, simply then and there, that he had damaged his personal rule. He had himself already consumed seven pappadams when the dispute erupted, and was two bites into his eighth when referred to as upon to settle it.
A phrase right here to clarify why the king fell foul of his personal rule. To start with, he was an ex-king and an exile. So, strictly talking, the rule did not apply to him any extra. However there was a extra sensible, compelling cause. You see, in paataal lokam, cooking oil is valuable and rated and never, as we might think about, used for cooking something to eat. As in occidental hells, oriental paataals too topic their residents to common deep fry in oil. That is the third diploma you join once you go to hell. So whereas Mahabali had a good concept of what it feels wish to be a fried pappadam, he hadn’t been in a position to style any ever since his ouster from his kingdom. So that you perceive why he went at it with such gusto at this feast on his first vacation again on earth.
Anyway, what was executed was executed, pappadams had been eaten. What was wanted was to resolve the issue readily available and set a brand new norm to keep away from unseemly pitched battles within the identify of the pappadam in future. Pushed partly by this name of fine governance that comes naturally to king and partly by the there-and-then guilt, Mahabali was seized with, aside from the slight embarrassment in being caught crimson handed into his seventh-plus-half pappadam, he then and there declared that henceforth the quota of pappadams per plantain leaf – based mostly on a brand new and extra developed gastronomical precept – could be seven and a half.
Mahabali might have been no king when he handed this decree. However his phrase was implicit legislation for the folks. And so for a lot of, a few years thereafter, peace and tranquility prevailed at strange or festive meal occasions all through the land. The tender crunch of pappadams in unison at communal feasts underscored the amity and bonding among the many folks. The pappadam pact stayed intact. Till, in the future, the intermediary of god-land, Narada, occurred to relate this anecdote to sundry gods lazing round on fluffy clouds – and all hell broke free in heaven. How dare Mahabali intrude in our divine rule and misuse his post-regal visiting rights! The gods instantly got down to re-undo what Mahabali undid.
However that is one other story…
(Sashi Kumar is Chairman, Asian Faculty of Journalism)