Book Review: ‘Food & Faith’ by Shoba Narayan

What is religion, if not a way to inner peace? What is the purpose of it other than social betterment? And what are religious practices meant for if not personal well-being? What is faith if not a means to tap into one’s inner strength?

Religion is a living, breathing, multi faceted being that lives to serve. The god is an omnipresent entity – a personification of the same religion – they say and this book makes it clear. Shoba Narayan in her book, Food & Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through India, asks several questions and talks about the origins of religions, myths and legends in India, as she explores only one (fairly huge) aspect of religion that is food, as the name suggests.

This book has affected me deeply and I am sure it will affect others too who have always questioned the validity of religion and religious practices, similarly. As I began the book, I was in a similar state as that of the author and I could understand the meaning behind this utter complexity called faith, as the book ended. I had several questions abou religion, or at least about the one that was born in. The answers had become somewhat clear as I grew up but this book definitely sped up the process.

Food & Faith by Shoba Narayan (Tap to view IG post)

Why do we do what we do? Why do we offer flowers to gods? Why is a dip in a river filled with filth, that is Ganga, such a big deal? Why is waking up before sunrise and bathing been a basic necessity to offer worship to God? Why are temples usually built near water bodies? Why do we feast and why do we fast? Why do we eat certaim things during certain (hindu) months? I had come to the point where I thought that these must have some kind of scientific reason behind them but in order for the well-being of those that might not understand them, they have been termed ‘tradition’ but what they actually were, I did not. Shoba Narayan has clarified them in the book.and I have found my answers.

How can the devotee have such immense faith in the unseen? This was a common question in the author’s mind and my own. And it is surprising to see how her travels to the faith hotspots explained it, to a good extent, without words but only the experience of tranquility. This I could relate with what I have learnt about the Law of Attraction. Faith is the foundation of everything, and religion is no exception. Faith helps one lose themselves and hence let go of the worldly worries. Dancing, singing, socializing and merry making are ways to relax after a long day of work and that’s also what religion does. It encourages concentration as well as relaxation at regular intervals.

The prasadam or sacred food enjoys a special place in most religions and that too, is not without reason. This is the aspect that the book mainly focuses on and this exploration turns out to be utterly eye opening, to say the least. And if you, unlike me, are interested in the intricacies of the world of food, you are going to enjoy it a lot more! The prasadam or sacred food, as she makes clear, is usually related to the origin of the place or is made with the local ingredients and sometimes is an ‘acquired taste’. And so, the sacred food, that is unique to each sacred institution, echoes tradition as well!

As is the case with everything else in the world, this book too comes with it’s limitations. The limitations, let me tell you are minor, so the pros clearly outweigh the cons here.

Firstly, there is a certain heavenly unrealism that surrounds the author’s descriptions, which is natural when the myths and legends come attached with it. It is not necessarily a bad thing for a bad thing but the person, who intends to visit the places mentioned in it, is sure to face some minor, if not major, disappointment as there are only humans that you communicate with in the end, and they are not divine in their nature, no matter how close to God.

The other thing that did not really sit well with my ideology is at some places she seems to justify the ‘pay to get closer to God’ practices of the preists, that is not uncommon in India, on the grounds that they are underpaid. Although it is true that preists are underpaid, it is also true that such practices are wrong. But the good thing is that the instances are not prominent in the book.

Although what the author has covered in this book are mostly the Hindu hotspots but it would be safe to anticipate another book from her that covers a much broader area in terms of religion.

P. S.: I tried my best to review it as I received it as a review copy from HarperCollins India but it is one of the books that are so unique that one has to read it to know and so, #itneedsnoreview and I would like to keep it this way.

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