'To be Kitchen in Charge is to be Trouble in Charge; but also it's one opportunity to develop spiritually.' Swami Sivananda spoke very wisely about this department. 'The kitchen is the fighting centre in an ashram. All sorts of trouble and misunderstanding, hatred and jealousy among the workers emanate from the kitchen. I can easily find out the taste, temperament, spiritual progress and control of the senses of the students, by the stories I hear from the kitchen. That is the main centre of disturbance in an ashram. But it is the best field for quick spiritual evolution of the workers; for developing cosmic love, sympathy, mercy, patience and generosity. People are well trained to adjust and adapt themselves here in a marvellous way.'
Due to the large number of inmates and the heavy rush of visitors, arrangements have to be made to supply sufficient and nourishing food twice a day. Three varieties are required to suit the tastes of people from different parts of India and other countries abroad. These people gather here in all seasons of the year, in order to attend yoga sadhana and therapy courses.
In each season the kind of vegetables available varies. During the summer and rainy season, the preparation of meals is more difficult due to the lack of variety in vegetables and the fact that the digestion is more sluggish at this time of year. Therefore, a bland diet is required with a monotonous choice of vegetables.
Sometimes students come to the kitchen for this or that, expecting some special treatment. I remember one student who came to me asking for ghee. I told him straight, 'In this kitchen if you can't find ghee you can ask for butter; if butter is not available, then ask for milk. If milk cannot be found, definitely you can get plenty of Ganga water.'
Normally, the amount of food cooked daily is to feed 150-200 people. This increases when we have special courses for Kriya Yoga, Teacher Training or Children's Courses. During these, we may have to feed 500 people from all corners of India and the globe.
Although food is simple and basic, we adapt the menu according to the students' needs. At the same time, special provisions are made for therapy students, while a supply of sweets and fruits is kept for children.
After returning from one Australian trip, Swamiji announced that we were about to enter the 'Bread Era' at Ganga Darshan. Armed with designs for a coal fire oven (commercial size of course), Swamiji directed the construction of the first oven to be built at Ganga Darshan. The baking of sixty loaves of bread, was to replace the traditional chapattis, made twice daily for each meal. This would save time, money, and labour. The bread era was inaugurated by four days of solid baking, from four in the morning to late at night, with swamis up to their elbows in flour, yeast and thoughts of toast and jam.
Changes in diet also reflect necessary changes in the mind. Many had to adjust from a lifetime of chapattis to the 'solid sensibility' of bread. The digestive system also felt this dietary change, but I think it adjusted more quickly than the mind.
With Swamiji's modernisation, the kitchen has surely changed from the old days at BSY ashram, where two coal fires, two kitchen cooks and two medium sized pots were used. Now, even the pots which are the size of a man, aren't large enough. As the interest in yoga in India and around the world increases with Swamiji's inspiration, so too does the work and responsibility of this 'sensorial and fighting centre' of ashram life.