In our latest photo-journalism piece blogger Manoj, an Indian living in Australia, shares a highlight of his recent trip to ISKCON’s headquarters in holy Mayapur, India. There, he caught a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the hard-working temple cooks prepare food for thousands of devotees.
Here devotee women chop vegetables, their bright saris blending with blood-red tomatoes, yellow melons, and green leaves to create a vividly colorful scene. “As they worked, they chattered away in Bengali, immersed in their service and completely oblvious to my presence,” Manoj says. “Obviously, they had no time to waste. In fact, for the half-day I spent in the kitchen, I didn’t once see them pause, look tired or complain.”
The result of the chopping team’s hard work. “I feel I’ve put in so much work after chopping a few veggies and soaking frozen peas for a one-person dinner,” says Manoj. “But they did all this; and believe it or not, what you see here is only the first run!”
As the ladies chopped the vegetables, this devotee prepared the rice, mixing some spices into it and stirring it with all his might. “Stirring rice is my favourite kitchen activity,” Manoj says. “There’s nothing like that fresh steam hitting your face – it’s almost therapeutic.”
Meanwhile, one of the head cooks was stirring tomatoes in quite possibly the largest pot ever made. “This gentleman was fun,” Manoj comments. “Although I told him I couldn’t speak Bengali, he insisted on lecturing me about cooking in the language. He also seemed to have a strong opinon on photography – every time I took a photo, he would come running, his chef cap wobbling atop his head, to inspect it. He was a hard man to please, and I kept snapping away until I took this one, which he finally approved.”
Another devotee added melons and zucchini to the mix. “He was obviously a seasoned cook, moving quickly around his stove many times to ensure that the spices were well mixed,” Manoj says.
Here, fragrant spices are mixed in a typical woven basket.
“You won’t believe the number of chapatis these ladies had to roll out,” Manoj says of this hard-working group, who were quiet and focused. They rolled out the dough with efficient speed, handing the flat breads to their friends nearby for cooking.
These women didn’t seem remotely phased by the intense heat radiating from their chapati-making stove, and were amused by Manoj’s inability to bear it. “Like everyone else in the kitchen, they worked quickly,” Manoj says. “The chapatis they tossed up into the air resembled flying saucers for a few seconds, before making a smooth landing on the hot plate.”
This devotee spent the entire day singlehandedly preparing thousands of gulab jamuns, or dough balls in rosewater syrup, for the temple guests. “He didn’t speak much, but looked up and smiled at me every now and then,” says Manoj.
This student from ISKCON Mayapur’s gurukula school made many trips to the kitchen to fill his bucket of rice. “He would appear in a flash, as if he were on a skateboard, fill the bucket with a few large scoops, and scooter back skillfully through the other kitchen workers,” Manoj recalls.
Here many stainless steel vessels, filled with various preparations, are ready to be served to hungry devotees from across India and the world.
“You know the food is good when the serving hall is silent,” Manoj says. Here hundreds of people quietly relish the sacred food offered to God.
“I will never again complain about dishwashing,” Manoj vows. “This lady cleaned every single utensil until it sparkled, a huge smile and a gentle song on her lips.”
Manoj told these cooks that he would be sharing his photos of their work with devotees across the world, and asked if they had anything to share. They responded loudly and in unison, “Hari Bol!” (“Chant the name of God!”)
“That’s what brings all these devotees together,” Manoj says. “Whether they are cooking, worshiping deities, singing kirtan or visiting the temple, its their desire to please the Lord and his devotees that keeps all of them going, no matter how tough the exercise might be. Any hardships or long hours are nothing compared to their desire to serve unconditionally.”[ mayapura ] [ photography ] [ prasadam ]