Food is more than just a means of survival in India. It represents love and respect. Festivals and celebrations are incomplete without a good spread of traditional foods. Every temple in India prepares food and sweets as ‘Prasad’ to offer to the lord as well as the devotees. It is a sign of the lord’s blessing and good wishes. A variety of Prasadams are prepared across the nation. For example, the Mahaprasad of Jagannath Puri, Lal Peda at Sankat Mochan, Modak at Ganpatipule, dried apples in Vaishno Devi and so on. One such special type of Prasadm is ‘Chappan Bhog’.
What Is The Meaning Of Chappan Bhog?
The term ‘Chappan’ means the number 56 in Hindi while the term ‘Bhog’ means food offering. Although the rule is not set in stone, Krishna devotees prepare this 56 Bhog on the eve of his birthday or Janmashtami. Food items like Makhan Mishri, Kheer, Rabri, Jalebi, Mathri, Ghewar, Poori, Tikkis, Cashews, Chhila, Khichdi, Pakoda etc. are a common part of the Bhog. Mostly the Prasadams are milk, Ghee, Dry Fruits, Panjiri Based. These offerings dedicated to Lord Krishna are prepared during special and auspicious occasions dedicated to Lord Krishna. From Janmashtami to Govardhan Puja and from Purushottam Maas to many more, Chappan Bhog has a special place in the heart of the lord as well as the devotees.
Why Does Chappan Bhog Have 56 Dishes Specifically?
For this, we will have to go back to the era when Lord Krishna was residing in Mathura. Legend has it that the Govardhan Mountain was held by Lord Krishna from torrential rains and thunderstorms. These storms were caused by Lord Indra. It was Krishna who held up the mountain for seven days consecutively. Furthermore, doing this made him skip his usual meals. As the rains abated, the villagers made sure to offer their thanks by preparing Annakuta or a mountain of food. The mountain of food consisted of a combination of 8 meals. These eight meals were further multiplied by 7 days. This resulted in the emergence of 56 Bhog.
Components of Chappan Bhog:
Preparation of Chappan Bhog depends on several factors. First aspect for its preparation depends on the deity for which the Bhog is being prepared. The Bhog which is offered after the sunder Kaand Katha is different from the one being made during Janmashtami. Second aspect for its preparation depends on the region where it’s being prepared. Actual Chappan Bhog varies across the region based on their culinary practices, customary beliefs, spiritual practices and the availability of core ingredients. One factor that binds together all these Chappan Bhog preparations in one string is that all these sacred foods are essentially Sattvic. Sattvic food means pure vegetarian meals without onion or garlic.
On a more philosophical level, the Chappan Bhog means a lot more. Our 5 fingers have 5 Rasas namely, sweet, salty, sour, spicy and savoury. The term rasa means the aesthetic flavour that elicits desired emotions from the reader or the viewer. While cooking food with our hand, these 5 Rasas get transferred into the meal. This grand feast of 56 Bhog is a much larger manifestation of rasas. Food is a source of emotions and respect. When any food is prepared for the gods it is believed to become even more sacred since it is consumed by the higher powers above. So, after the 56 Bhog is consumed by lord Krishna, and then distributed among his devotees. In this way a relationship between the lord and his devotees is established.
The Mahaprasad of Jagannath Puri Temple – Lets take into account the Mahaprasad of Jagannath Puri Temple. Its temple kitchen is known for having the largest kitchen in the world. Keeping up traditions, the Mahaprasad here is still cooked in earthen pots. These pots are then placed in the form of a pyramid and cooked over wood fire. This wood fire is lit from the Homa sacrificial fire. Earthen pots work well in retaining flavour of the food being cooked while also cooking the food evenly from all sides. The temple has the capacity to cook for over 1 lakh devotees everyday. The kitchen consists of 240 fireplaces and 60 cooks.
Chappan Bhog that is prepared for Lord Krishna includes all his favourites. Dishes are customarily made out of milk and other milk products like Khoya, Ghee, Butter, Cheena, and Yoghurt. All this also includes Rice, Pickles, Nuts, and Savory Snacks, Saag or cooked greens among a plethora of others.
Story of Govardhandhari:
According to various legends and scriptures, the people of Braj used to follow a common practice. This was preparing elaborate and lavish meals as an offering for Lord Indra (the god of rain). In return for this, Lord Indra promised a good rainy season. This came as good news for the people as they were heavily dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. However, Lord Krishna did not like this settlement. He opposed the idea of poor farmers having to make lavish meals just to please the Lord.
On the other hand, the lord also wanted the people of Mathura to acknowledge the importance of Govardhan Parvat. Lord Krishna went ahead and explained to the locals that it was not Lord Indra rather it was the Govardhan Parvat that has been saving the people from harsh climatic conditions. So the people should start worshipping the Govardhan Parvat and not Lord Indra. This greatly angered Indradev. In turn he flooded the entire village. He brought down heavy, torrential rains that destroyed the village.
The people prayed to Lord Krishna to save them from this misfortune. The lord immediately came to rescue. He lifted the Govardhan Parvat high up with the help of his tiny finger and successfully protected the villagers from the great wrath of Indra. Every one took refuge under the mountain including the animals. It poured rain for days consecutively while the lord stood there, unmoved, with a mountain on his pinky. Later, Indra realised his mistake and stopped the rains, restoring back to normal life. Since then, Lord Krishna was named ‘Govardhandhari’ or the one who held the Govardhan Parvat.
Lord Krishna was used to eating 8 meals a day by his mother, Yashodha. However, for these days, he did not consume any food. By the end of the 7th day, a the rains stopped eventually, the villagers calculated and offered 56 or Chappan Bhog to honour the selfless attitude of Lord Krishna.
This is the story of how Chappan Bhog came into existence and its importance. The concept is still preserved and is being practised on a regular basis across the nation by Krishna devotees.