Why Do Indians Eat with Their Hands?
5 fingers – 5 elements
The practice of eating with one’s hands, specifically your fingers, originated within Ayurvedic teachings, where it is believed that our bodies are in sync with the five elements of nature and each finger is an extension of one of these five elements.
- The thumb is an extension of space
- The forefinger is an extension of air
- The middle finger is an extension of fire
- The ring finger is an extension of water
- The little finger is an extension of earth
When using your hands, you are supposed to utilize all fingers together. This brings together all of nature’s elements and brings awareness to the texture, taste, aromas and temperature of the food.
When you touch your food with your hands, you are creating a physical and spiritual connection with it, being more present in the moment.
Yes, it’s hygienic!
Eating with your hands is also very hygienic contrary to popular belief. We practice washing our hands before / after every meal and wash them more often than we wash silverware, especially now with COVID-19! Furthermore, the bacteria that lives on your palms and fingers is known to improve digestion.
Indian recipes such as chapatis, dosas and parathas are torn and wrapped around a side dish such as chutneys or raita. Indian rice dishes are usually hand-mixed with a side of curry and eaten in delicious sizable chunks.
Additionally, for me, eating with my hands takes me back home and keeps the culture alive in a small way. When we share a meal with loved ones, we create a beautiful environment of love, peace, togetherness and mindfulness. We feel one with nature and with each other.
Having meals on the floor
Before dining tables became essential in every household, Indians would traditionally sit on the floor to eat, with a cloth or mat serving as the seat . When one’s feet are beneath the heart (as in a position when sitting on a seat), the blood flow is directed to feet, whereas when one sits with folded legs on the floor, the heart gets the advantage of better dissemination.
Additionally, when an individual assumes sukhasana (sitting crossed legged Indian-style), it strengthens the lumbar region of the body by reducing stress and anxiety. This posture also induces calmness of mind.
When the individual sits to eat in an appropriate position, digestion-related juices are secreted in the stomach, which gets ready for processing the food. The plate or a banana leaf (practiced in south Indian cultures, sustainability for the win!) is placed in front of the individual, who bends forward to eat and then goes back to the starting position to swallow the morsel of food. The constant back and forth movement activates the abdominal muscles and helps with digestion.
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