Heavenly Meal

For worshippers at Odisha's Jagannath Temple, a dish of lentil stew with coconut is itself a form of prayer

Lenti Stew at Jagannath Temple
James Roper

The Hindu deity Lord Jagannath, creator of the universe, is worshipped all over India, but with particular intensity in Puri, Odisha, where Jagannath Temple is located. On the day of my visit there, late one hot, spring morning, Brahmin priests gathered in the temple kitchen to oversee the preparation of steamed white rice and dalma, a common Odisha-style stew of lentils bolstered with the ingredients fundamental to the cooking of the region. The dish is offered to Jagannath and then distributed among visitors to the temple as prasad. For worshippers, the meal is a means of bringing the divinity of the temple into themselves, the act of eating a form of prayer. As devotees received their meal, I, too, was handed a platter of food. The lentil dalma was fragrant with coconut and enriched with silky, thinly sliced cooked onions and long-simmered sweet potatoes that fell apart at the touch of my spoon. Enraptured, I ate every blessed drop.