The practice of eating food with the hands dates back centuries. In Indian culture, this practice is founded upon Ayurvedic teachings. The Vedic people believed that hands hold power and that our bodies have a sacred connection with nature. In Ayurvedic text you will find that each finger represents five different elements. The thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger and pinky represent space, air, fire, water and earth respectively. That is why Mudras, symbolic and ritualistic gestures used in prayer or spiritual practices like Yoga, are performed with the hands and fingers.
(Credits: The Daily Meditation)
When food is eaten with the hands, the fingers should come together to touch. This practice is believed to increase our awareness of our taste buds and creates both a physical and spiritual connection with the food. Many Indians believe that eating with your hands creates a mindful experience and is a mark of respect to nature and the food.
In the North of India, liquid dishes like dal and grains like rice can be eaten with a spoon. In the South, most people use their hands to eat their dishes, including rice, from a banana leaf.
Banana Leaf Rice in Chennai
When travellers are invited to local homes for meals, they are encouraged to use their hands to partake in meals with their hosts. Here are some tips:
1. Use Your Right Hand
In most cultures that practice eating with the hands, the right hand is used. This is because the left hand is considered unclean as it is used to clean up after using the bathroom.
2. Use Your Fingertips
In the South of India, it is considered disrespectful for the palm of the hand or outside of the fingers touch the food. This is related to the fingers holding the power of the five elements. It is also less sloppy and easier to wash up after!