Have you noticed that when you’re sitting down for a traditional meal at a wedding or during a festival, you are served a sweet first?
There’s a nice story behind this Indian tradition. It comes from the Ramayana. King Dasaratha had conducted a special pooja so that his three queens, Kausalya, Sumithra and Kaikeyi would have sons. The sage who conducted the pooja gave the queens bowls of kheer or payasam to eat.
Kausalya and Kaikeyi took their bowls into their pooja rooms, but Sumithra left hers on the terrace while she combed her hair and an eagle took away the bowl. Poor Sumithra was very upset, but the other two queens shared their payasam with her. After a while, Kausalya and Kaikeyi had a son each, and Sumithra had twin boys! Kausalya’s son was Lord Ram, and Kaikeyi’s son was Bharata. Sumithra’s boys were Laksman and Shathrugna. So the payasam or sweet is believed to have life giving force, and that’s why it’s eaten at the start of a meal.
Ayurveda, our Indian system of medicine, has another explanation for this practice. It is believed that sweetness activates the taste buds quickly, and sets the saliva flowing, which aids digestion. Nutrients and vitamins are absorbed better. On the other hand, ending a meal with a sweet actually interferes with digestion, according to Ayurveda.
This is quite different from the Western tradition, where dessert, or a sweet, is served at the close of the meal. The word ‘dessert’ comes from the French word ‘desservir’ which means ‘clean the table’!
Whatever be the reason, and whatever the order on the menu, it’s always nice to have a sweet isn’t it?