USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food offerings’
Foodways
Material

Panchamrutham Recipe

  1. The main piece: Panchamrutham Recipe

“I make panchamrutham for puja [Hindu prayer]. It’s a sacred offering for God. So panch means 5, amrutham means nectar [in Sanskrit]. Five different things put together to make this nectar. So you put cow’s milk, yogurt, sugar, honey, clarified butter or ghee, and this is supposed to be the sacred offering to God.

“It is made in a silver bowl. And, uh, this is supposed to be…how do they say? Theertham. God’s deity…you pour this panchamrutham over God’s deity, then pour it back into the silver bowl. Like you take a plate, put a small deity of God, then pour this panchamrutham. Then you pour it back in the bowl, and it becomes the…the sacred nectar for us. And you do it for special occasions. Special pujas. You don’t just do it every day. So for us, coconut water is sacred, and this is even more sacred.

“You have to take shower in the morning, and then make it. And usually, you don’t eat any meals before the puja. After the prayer, you have this panchamrutham first, before you break the fast.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“I learned it from my mother? Everyone does it for prayer.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This recipe requires very much attention to specific details, and the informant was keen on mentioning that it is not an everyday recipe—it is only for very special pujas, or Hindu prayer sessions. The high specificity of preparations for making Panchamrutham show how important it is in the Hindu religion—it literally symbolizes the nectar of God. All of the preparations, therefore, are symbolic attempts to purify oneself as much as possible before creating something that will come into contact with God. The name itself shows that Panchamrutham is not a fancy recipe found in a cookbook—it has been passed down for thousands of years, and is known for being composed of five simple materials that have been prevalent in Indian cooking for all those years.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.

Festival
Holidays
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hungry Ghost Festival — Singapore

Interview Extract:

informant: “So in Singapore, around August or September, I forget which month but somewhere there, we have this festival sort of, called the Hungry Ghost Festival. And it’s where all our deadancestors come alive again for a day, but we sort of like, celebrate it for a whole week kinda. And what we do is we buy lots of paper money…it’s like square paper with a gold leaf…impression on it, and we’ll fold it into shapes, like ingots. It’s kinda like origami. And this represents money, which we’ll dump into bins that everyone has. Not like every person, but like, every apartment complex or every house. Like any public complex or space, we’ll dump the paper money shapes there.”

Me: “What does the money signify, or rather, why would it be necessary on the day the dead come back?”

Informant: “Oh, well in Singapore, when someone dies, you’ll burn paper money for them, sorta like to send them off with good fortune and wealth. And we do the same thing for like, when our ancestors come back.”

Me: “I see. So what else do you. You celebrate for a whole week?”

Informant: “Yeah. We’ll burn incense, have lots of food. Like there’s cakes, oranges, eggs…boiled eggs, I don’t really know why, but boiled ones, and rice and fruits, and just like, donations or offerings. It’s for the dead. And it’s really one day but we have the preparation last a while and there’s concerts and performances too.”

Me: “It’s a bit like Halloween or Day of the Dead celebrations.”

Informant: “Yeah, kinda. You have something similar here. But ours isn’t focused on like, creepiness so much.”

Analysis:

The Hungry Ghost Festival is indeed like Halloween, a day in which past spirits are recognized, but it is also much more like the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, where past ancestors are treated with respect and given offerings. The ghosts don’t seem to pose any danger to the people celebrating, and are in fact welcomed since these are the old ancestors of families. The donations and offerings are there as signs of respect and a way to ensure comforts of passed family members. The fact that there are performances and concerts, as well as a whole community effort to make the paper money shapes, demonstrates that this is a bonding festival, bringing people together.

My informant was very eager when talking about this festival. She especially seemed to enjoy paper ingots that she would make and that the whole apartments would collect. It is a very neighborly tradition, and brings not only families close, but communities. The ancestors’ ghosts become a communal experience, instead of just focusing on personal ties. Everyone participates in buying the special paper, folding it, and collecting it, also showing that this festival is extremely inclusive, and unlike Halloween, does not limit who can join based on age.

Had my informant been back in Singapore this past year during the festival, I’m sure she would have joined in on the celebrations. It seems like a tradition heavily embedded into South Chinese culture, emphasizing money and food, the basic things needed to provide comfort and security. Evidently, it is a kindness to bestow these things to those in the afterlife as well as the living.

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