Vedanta through ‘Appalam’

If William Blake could see eternity in a grain of sand, Ramana Maharshi could experience vedanta even in ‘Appalam’. Appalam, a delightful & crispy eatable also known as papad in North India, is made with black  gram and rice fluor as the basic ingredients. While Ramana Mahrshi thought of Vedanta even while making an Appalam, many of us would perhaps do the opposite, that is, think of appalam while discussing Vedanta!

The famous appalam song was composed by the saint for his mother when the latter visited him in his Ashram and asked him to help her make Appalam. In this composition the saint describes in detail the recipe and the process of making the papad as if to suggest that the process is as important as the product. The song is metaphorical and conveys the essence of vedanta in a simple language.  Besides the underlying spiritual message, what impressed me most about the composition is its emphasis on mindfulness while making Appalams. I have no hesitation to say that the idea of mindfulness originated in Vedanta while Zen popularized it.

The opening line is inviting us to ‘see’ (Appalam ittu paaru). See what? See how a job well done with care and attention can give one instant joy or bliss. But there are some important steps and preconditions to be fulfilled before deriving that great joy. What are they? First and foremost, one has to grind the sun-dried lentil using a pestle and mortar to a fine powder. Isn’t it an excellent metaphor for destroying one’s ego? The visible individual entities of the coarse grains in the dried lentil, after grinding to a powder, completely lose their identity! Okay, after grinding what do you do? Mix the fine powder with the juice of Cissus (pirandai in tamil and nalleru in telugu)) which has its own unique flavour and adhesive or binding property  . This is aptly compared with ‘Satsanga’ – good company. One then adds Cumin, pepper and salt which represent steadiness of mind, self-control and dispassion(SAMA, DAMA AND UPARATI)respectively. Finally one mixes asafoetida which lends excellent flavour or ‘Vasana’. ‘Vaasana’ is a beautiful word in Sanskrit representing the sub-conscious and the  unconscious mind. By the use of this metaphor the saint is asking us to use positive ‘vaasanas’ as the ingredient to influence our minds.The recipe is now complete and the processing of the finished dough starts. The dough is flattened with a rolling-pin  or a chappati roller and then sun-dried. This is suggestive of keeping the mind pure and open to receive any spiritual message.

The flattened and sun-dried dough goes through the final act of roasting in the flame. The roasted appalam or papad is now ready to be consumed and enjoyed. To continue with the analogy, the prepared mind is now exposed to the teachings of vedanta(the flame of knowledge)and enquiry into Truth of our real self represented by the ‘Maha vakya’ – ‘Aham Brahmasmi’. The appalam is then eaten and enjoyed meaning we spontaneously experience the great bliss and joy once the knowledge is imparted and understood by the ripe and mature mind.

This brilliant composition condenses the entire vedanta into a few lines of a musical composition. The composition is all about preparing our raw minds to receive the spiritual knowledge.

Now listen to this beautiful composition sung by the child prodigy Abhishek Raghuram.

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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