Many of the regulations given in the Dharmasastras relate to the kitchen, to food and the way it should be served and eaten. While many of the rules may seem foolish and outdated, there was a real reason why the Rishis promulgated them.
While the regulations about conducting our life should not obscure our basic aim and vision of the goal, which is Self-Realization, they should be followed with knowledge and not blindly. For instance, the Sastras advise us to bathe in running water or water drawn freshly from a well. Because of this many orthodox people do not bathe using tap water. But a person who visited a patashala found boys plunging into dirty water in a riverbed and bathing in it following the advice of elders that river water was clean and purer than tap water. This is a perfect example of the damage that blind faith can cause. The Sastras advise against use of stagnant water for bathing for two reasons. One is that stagnant water contains bacteria, which is harmful to us. Secondly, and more important, the Tejas and Shakti which exists in these five elements when in their basic form is lost when it is stored away from its natural receptacle, earth. This connection with earth (prithvi sambadham) energises and strengthens its natural power to strengthen, cure and nourish.
Most of the rules regarding acharam are based on the understanding that all beings are created of shakthi and are powered by shakthi and it is for us to decide whether our actions will bring us positive shakthi (punyam) or negative shakthi (paapam). Association with something that has lost its original tejas and has collected paapam through evil association will also harm us.
The reason why there are so many regulations regarding food and its preparation is because our food is the petrol on which our body works but also our minds. Food which is made in a clean environment free from harmful influences and prepared with love, consideration and humility and eaten will help not only the person who eats it but also the person who cooks it to advance both in worldly and spiritual matters.
The kitchen must be kept clean and in the old days cowdung was spread after the kitchen was washed. The medicinal and antibacterial properties are too well known for this point to be explained here. These properties are enhanced by the positive vibrations of the animal that produces it, the cow, which is mild and self-sacrificing, an embodiment of love.In the morning after necessary cleaning, a person who had bathed and offered worship in the puja room, which was often a part of the kitchen, lighted the stove. Most persons dislike the idea of bathing before cooking nowadays but it is quite necessary. Leaving aside the basic hygienic aspect, there is the shakthi aspect also to be considered. We are constantly in a state of relationship with the rest of the world collecting and emitting vibrations of our shakthi coloured by our minds and consciousness.When we sleep our minds continue to be active, reliving scenes which we have lived, relating to other beings in the astral plane. During the time we sleep, we are not conscious of the forces that are around us. They act upon us causing reactions in our minds and bodies which we are not aware of. The residue of these lie in our minds and bodies and affect our thoughts, actions and feelings. It is for this reason, in addition to basic personal hygiene, that we bathe early in the morning before attending to any other activities. The shakthi from the water washes away all the influences that have been gathered by us since our last bath.
It is for the same reason that we should not bathe after having Darshan at a temple.
After bath we must calmly enter the puja room and offer prayers with the japa or prayer of our choice, offering all our hopes, wishes aspirations and prayers for our spiritual and materiel betterment at His Feet. Then the stove must be wiped and then lit.
It is customary among orthodox people to offer namaskarams to the stove before it is lit. There are many reasons for this. Firstly this is obeisance to the fire, which cooks grains, vegetables etc into the food which we eat. Agni is the messenger of the Gods, when we offer namaskaram to Him it reaches all the Devas. When we do namaskaram before beginning cooking, we are doing that action also as an offering to Him. And most importantly, we are emphasising the sense of unselfishness and nishkamya with which this action must be done; the word namaha comes from the Vedic line which occurs in so many rituals “Idam na mama” this is not for me).Only after this should cooking commence.
Food which is made with love, kindliness and with a sincere desire to please the person who eats it and as an offering to God will do only good to the persons who eat it and those who offer it.
May Sri Sathguru at whose Feet this is offered bless us with sraddha and bhakthi.