Today I want to dig deeper into the role of dal in Indain culture and mythology. What better place to start than one of major epics of ancient India, the Mahābhārata. I’m passingly familiar with the epic due to another of the audio books offered by The Great Courses, Great Mythologies of the World.
For those wholly unfamiliar with the tale, I’ll try to summarize as best I can. At its most basic, it’s the story of the struggle for the throne of Hastinapur, a non-fictional Indian city. The eldest sons of two branches of the ruling family both claim to be the next in line to the throne. The princes of the Kaurava line plot in many different ways to rid themselves of the princes of the Pandava line, including building a palace out of lac, a flammable secretion from insects that can be processes into shellac, and ghee, clarified butter that is commonly used in Indian cooking and is smothered on the bread rolls I’m currently eating, which was meant to be set aflame and burn away the Pandavas.
Dal comes onto the scene after the five Pandava brothers have fled from those who would trap them in the inferno of a semi-edible house. It is believed that Bhima, the brother most skilled in cooking, created the dish Panchratna Dal to give himself and his brothers strength during this exile.
It’s also worth mentioning that panchratna means five jewels, referring to the five dal used in its creation and also, possibly, the five Pandava brothers who were said to be the five jewels of the Hastinapur kingdom.