Himachali Dham, the feast in the Himalayas
Himachali Dham is a vegetarain Feast practiced during special occasions like marriages, religious events, and family functions in the various parts of Himachal Pradesh. The feast has evolved with multiple local variants district-wise to give a distinct taste, like Kangri Dham, Mandiali Dham, Bilaspur Dham, and so on.
Dham is prepared by exceptional Brahmin cooks called “Botis.” Before starting the event, they are given a Dhoti and Parna(kitchen Cloth) and other clothing as a token of appreciation. The Kitchen called “Rasolu” is prepared outside in the open with bamboo pillars and tin sheets for a shade, thoroughly cleaned, and wiped with a cow dung paste. One foot deep and six feet long trench is dug up at one side of the Kitchen dug-up space for putting up wood for the fire. The Kitchen is treated as sacred, and no one is allowed to enter with shoes. No one is allowed to enter the Kitchen except for some people with duties bound to the Kitchen.
Brass vessels called “Charoti” or “Baltohi” with narrow openings are used for cooking food. People in the village and village societies own these vessels and sometimes give them to Villagers for preparing such feasts. The containers are washed, and the Chef prays for good tasty food and starts working on his work. The Vessels are kept on the edges of the trench, and the wood is lit with fire. The fire in the ditch is controlled to give a slow heat to simmer the food, giving it a unique taste. The mustard oil and desi ghee is used for cooking, and the local masala is used for cooking the food.
The narrow opening of the vessels keeps the taste of the spices intact during cooking, and the food also stays warmer for a long time.
People are made to sit on a mat on the floor in the verandah of the house, In rows. There are local stewards; usually, village boys volunteer to assist in getting the food served to all. One takes care of the distribution of glasses, and the other takes care of placing the leaf plate for all the people sitting in rows. In Himachal, the Dham is served in a leaf, stitched together with tiny sticks with other leaves of a particular vine called “Tor,” making it a big leaf. It is readily available in the market. One boy comes with chilies to distribute to the villages; whoever likes them can have them.
The first item served is plain steamed Rice Rice, then the Madra (yogurt-based chickpeas curry), Talley Mah (Black Lentils cooked in Mustard oil), chana dal, Curry (Buttermilk Soup), Sepu Badi, Chane Da Khatta(Black peas). Each dish is served once by the serving boys, and once everyone is done eating, the Mitha Bhat (Rice made with Jaggery) is served as desser
People have a special affection for this event as it gives a chance for the whole community to sit down and eat together. It is not only a gathering but, in fact, an excellent resource for recreation and family bonding. The Dham varies from place to place and community to community; however, the emotion remains the same.
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