Kitchen as sanctuary: The healing touch
I read this very interesting article in The Times of India. Its been written by MARGUERITE THEOPHIL. The writer is a Mumbai-based organisational consultant, personal growth coach and workshop leader. Many ancient medical texts refer to food as medicine. The kitchen was also the pharmacy where medicinal remedies were prepared, brewed and distilled from plants, herbs and spices. Plants and food have curative powers; they affect our moods, and they even contribute to spiritual growth, says the Catholic Rhineland mystic Hildegard of Bingen, in his treatise `Liber Simplicis Medicinae'.
What makes a kitchen sacred? I think it basically has to do with the idea of being a centre which nourishes and heals more than the body, when you respond and utilise the potential power of this place. There are many ways to make our kitchens sacred centres of nourishment, some connected with religious beliefs, others not. All involve love and attention.
In a Vaastu-inspired kitchen, a basic principle is to ensure that prana or vital energy can flow freely. As in Feng Shui, the simplest related practice is to make sure that the room is well-ventilated and free from excess clutter; this is also very practical. While older, larger Indian homes could accommodate a separate puja or prayer room, in most apartments in cities today a corner of the kitchen is designated as the puja-ghar. I asked my Chinese friend Mei Ling about the significance of the seemingly out-of-place ceramic fish and also the Kitchen God image in her otherwise hi-tech gleaming steel and glass kitchen in her Taiwan apartment. In Chinese, the word for fish, Yu, phonetically matches the word for abundance, and so is placed there to ensure plenty for the resident. And in traditional China, the Kitchen God, considered the inventor of fire, was also the guardian and assessor of household morals. There is a belief that the Kitchen God leaves the house at the end of each Chinese year to report to Heaven about the good and bad behaviour of the family. Around this time, the family does everything possible to obtain a favourable report from the Kitchen God, even giving him a ritualistic farewell dinner with sweet foods and honey, hoping it would sweeten his mouth to avoid saying bad things about them!
Isabel from Mexico, on a holiday in India and fascinated with Indian cooking, spent a lot of time in my kitchen, as interested in the space as in the recipes. She told me how her grandmother would "feed the fire-dogs" each morning, throwing tiny pieces of tortilla into the flames. This came from an ancient tradition from times when the cooking fire was contained in a very simple hearth, consisting of three stones. This fireplace was the most sacred part of the home, with the three stones representing the three "fire dogs", guardians of Huehueteotl, the fire-god. Both Vaastu and Feng Shui traditions caution "When creating a sacred space give special attention to choosing the objects that are placed there." There are rules, and loads of dos and don'ts but mostly, the things you cherish are good enough.
If your kitchen does not give you joy, it may be time to work on simple ways to make it feel as special as it truly is. This does not have to involve massive restructuring, but small changes with love and awareness. A friend recently gifted me a book, "The Sacred Kitchen" which talks directly of the consciousness and awareness we bring to the kitchen" Once you have taken every step to create a sacred atmosphere, if you have never felt sacredness within yourself... all you have really done is redecorate. We are invited to remember. "As the cook, you too are holy..."