The interdisciplinary approaches presented here investigate food in India and Sri Lanka for its wide ranging cultural meaning and uses. The authors examine food in religious and literary contexts, where saints, ritualists, poets, and the divine often provide grounds for a practically inexhaustible hermeneutics. The Eternal Food focuses on reflexive cultural expressions and personal experiences that food elicits in the region. Concerned with food as an "essence" and as an essential experience, the authors give special attention to Hindu saints for whom food, firmly grounded in moral ideals and practice, represents a cosmic divine principle at one level, and a most immediate and intimate material reality at another. In the cultural diversity of India, the authors work with several conceptual models and meanings of food. They demonstrate how it reflects common social understandings about social caste, the cure and prevention of ailments, its ability to alter moods and motivations, or affect innate personal dispositions, personal spiritual pursuits and attainments.
In its sweep and depth, food presents a powerful cultural lens for seeing how practical, ritual, and spiritual spheres of life conjoin.
R. S. Khare is Professor of Anthropology and Chairman of the International Commission on Anthropology of Food at the University of Virginia.