Whether you name it God, higher power, the universe, or spirit, traveling to India adds potency to whatever you believe. India amplifies the point that there is something greater than us.
When we travel, many of our strongest memories revolve around mealtime - the family and friends we shared our time with as well as the delights we ate and drank. When I was in India I had many incredible meals in hotels and restaurants, prasadam from temples, as well as roadside snacks. I was well nourished and given an opportunity to truly taste the local flavor. But I had a very special opportunity to peel away the touristic layers when I was invited to a lunch of homemade bread and dal, which is lentil or split bean stew, in the outdoor kitchen of a local family. Their home was secreted away in a rose and marigold garden in the heart of Vrindavan, or Braj. Natives from this region are called Brijwasi.
I had been prepped for some of the best bread eating of my life. The Brijwasi ladies, in their exquisite sarees, crouched down in front of the clay oven and worked with only flour, water, possibly some salt, and generous slathers of ghee, or clarified butter. They offered us piles, literal piles of roti. Roti is an unleavened flatbread eaten in many countries across the globe. It's made with atta flour, a semi hard durum wheat flour that has a high gluten content. The word roti is derived from the Sanskrit word रोटिका (roṭikā), meaning ‘bread.’
These ladies never even made eye contact with us from behind their veils. They diligently rolled and flattened the bread, fed the oven with dried cow dung fuel and small pieces of wood, and flipped the bread discs on and off the screaming hot pan, or tawa
In many ways, this was an incredibly humble meal. Our surroundings were very austere and the menu was pretty limited. This is what their family lives off of daily: flour + water, and a handful of lentils mixed with water and chilis. Yet, they are nourished by many other things too. They are fed by their love of God and love for their family, the benefits of their generosity, and their loving spirit with which they welcome guests into their home. We could especially taste those last ingredients patted into each piece of bread that we ate. I'm sure the flavors of love and devotion that we tasted won't be found on a menu at any restaurant.
After the meal, we sang and danced with our host, the father/grandfather of the family. We didn’t exchange any words other than Hare Krishna, but we were bound by our humanity, by the flour and water that we had just shared. He pulled our heads down to his chest and gave us sweet blessings. It was a really emotional afternoon for me. My gratitude and love were pouring out of my eyes, my heart, and my very loud singing voice! This meal has become one of my favorite travel memories.
The afternoon was so graciously arranged by Dhanurdhara Swami, (lovingly shortened to DDS.) He is one of my spiritual teachers here in New York and it was my great fortune to have a week with him in Vrindavan before I joined the Yoga Of The Heart retreat for the rest of my adventure. Our days together were full of many teachings and activities that made Krishna’s past times in Vrindavan come to life. It was a very raw and intimate experience being guided through this magical land with someone of such devotion and commitment to God.
One of the things I love about DDS is his ability to crystallize a point. He’s a New Yorker, so he can get to the bottom line pretty quickly. A very attractive attribute of the Krishna movement is how applicable the philosophy is to whatever you believe spiritually. It’s inclusive, there’s plurality, and it’s really about Love. Ziggy Marley sang “Love is my religion.” Mine too. Here are some of Dhanurdhara Swami’s offerings:
- Happiness is a heart full of devotion.
- A softer heart is more reactive to the object it loves.
- Stay satisfied.
- When we are attracted to things that we like but are not good for us, we can only gain pleasure, not happiness.
- Time is passing. Get moving.
- Realization isn’t just jumping into something. It’s subtle movement, dealing with attachments. This becomes your vision, it becomes your faith.
- What can you do ALWAYS? Love.
- “Impossible is the word in a fool’s dictionary.” - A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
- Without a sacrifice, you cannot experience a benefit.
- There is more happiness in the expectation of getting something than in actually getting it. And then the happiness is temporary. Once we receive it, we become fearful of losing it.
- Faith is when you have strong trust in something sublime.
- Our social communities promote us into a higher cause. We forget the weariness of the journey when our associations elevate us.
- Crisis causes us to shift, to seek happiness internally, which is the only place where true happiness exists and the only place where we can control it.
- What do we need to give up? How practically can we live our lives to move towards our truest selves?
- Separation is when the greatest love is felt.
- Rules can be impediments to our devotion. Don’t be fanatical, find balance, practicality.
- The greatest poverty is not to have love and happiness in your heart. Many people have no home, no money, only their love for God and they are rich!
- If you had one week left to live, what would you change in your life? Why don’t you change it now?
Indian Flatbread - Roti
adapted from Journey Kitchen
Makes 10, 7inch roti
- 2 cups durum wheat atta or whole wheat flour, additional flour for dredging
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup water, preferably warm
- 1 tbsp oil/ghee to moisten the hands
- olive oil, butter, or ghee for the pan and for spreading
- Mix salt into the flour.
- Mix the flour with your fingers in a circular motion adding a little water at a time. First, it starts off looking like coarse sand. A little more water and it slowly starts coming together in a ball.
- Once it comes together, knead the dough with your fist and knuckles till it is soft for around 10 minutes. Get most of the dough off of your hands while kneading. The dough might look uneven and a bit sticky but that's okay.
- Cover it with a cloth and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
- Moisten your hands with some oil or ghee and knead the dough for another 5 minutes until it turns into a smooth, supple dough.
- Roll the dough into a log and squeeze off 10 equal size balls. Flatten one lightly and dredge it in flour on both sides. Keep the remaining balls covered with a damp cloth while you make the roti.
- Start rolling them with a light hand from inside out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. As a beginner, they won’t all come out in perfect rounds, but they will all taste delicious, no matter their shape!
- Heat a griddle/tawa, or skillet to medium and place a roti on it. Within 10 seconds flip to the otherside. Let it cook for a minute rotating the chapati every few seconds to ensure both the sides get cooked evenly. About every 3 rounds of dough, I add a bit of olive oil and butter to the pan to ‘fry’ them a bit and I got better coloring. Once you see there are brown spots on both sides, remove from heat. Drizzle with ghee (or honey butter!) and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
- Serve hot with curries, rice, chutneys, soups, or on their own as a snack.
***In the picture of my homemade rotis I served them with tamarind and cilantro chutney. And I made a batch with all purpose flour as well as whole wheat flour.