While I always attended any functions. I remember in my childhood days we used to eat in Pangat system. What is this pangat system? Like today we have banquet halls and buffet gala diners earlier there used to be a function area and then there used to be this dinning area. Everyone in olden days used to wash their hands and come and sit. There is a system who sits in first line up. Pangat cooks will always finish first eating the food. Later as event guests kids, elderly people, women and helping people will sit in the pangat lines. There will be asan. A long strip of cloth for all to sit on ground.
The time used to be followed strictly. In sequence once all the sits are filled only then plates will be placed in front of each person siting. Kids who needed parents assistance will sit with parents. Then as per the tradition of thali serving will start. Either there will be caters to serve or the hosts participate in turn to serve. Serving sequence goes traditionally and not haphazard. Serving basic remains same. It starts from left hand side of the thali as you are eating the thali so on Top left corner in clockwise arrangement, it starts with, salt, lemon, salad, chutney/s, pakora o fried items, then one watery (with gravy) vegetable, one dry vegetable, lentil soup /daal till then we have reached at top right corner it will be always sweet in this corner. As we enter inner circle it comes two scoops of rice one has daal with ghee over it and other one will have curd/yogurt on it. Then there will be chapati/bread. Always the person serves will serve very little portion of the food. No one will touch food until full thali is served along with water. Then everyone will recite prayer and then start the food. There is one person who keeps coordinating and keeping an eye on the process. Sometimes serving person stands and chit chats with the guest, which hampers the flow of the serving particular item. The food serving persons will keep going in rounds and keep adding whatever anybody finishes or needs. In the villages there used to be on plates made of leaves collage. For auspicious occasions mostly food will be served on banana leaf. Serving was repeated but not in big portions. The host will take rounds and insist on having more sweets to be served to the guests. This is kind of hospitality manners for guests to feel loved and respected in public forum. On one side of pandal or dinning area the food used to be cooked freshly. There would be no non vegetarian item or alcoholic beverages served in these pangat. Not even any carbonated packaged cold drinks. Once the person finishes eating food they will pick up the food dropped outside plate, along with glass and spoon and remove the food in a place kept in one big vessel meant of the garbage food bin. While put plates for washing by himself or herself. Then the next pangat will sit and then the plates and sequence follows. This time those who have finished eating in first round of pangat will take charge of serving. In Indian pangat system server goes to each person moves to each person sitting and asks and serves food. Hair must be tied up, no loose clothes. Before serving hands must be washed well. This system also ensures that person eating gets whatever he/she wants. In this case no one touch the food serving units directly. Now due to pandemic the system of a dedicated person to serve is coming back again. Once I attended a pangat system very recently. There was a non Indian lady looking or monitoring the pangat system. Her concept wise she was watching everyone’s plate and was sending servers as per what she felt someone was needing the food item. This says that pangat system is so related to culture that even if a person is replaced in the process everything the outcome or result is not what used to happen culturally. The outcome changes and interpretation of gust changes. There was an other non Indian very old lady in same pangat shouting that she need okra vegetable. She does not want anything. She just used to pile up the vegetable in her plate. As per tradition if you like something you can ask for 10 times and you will get it 10 times but server will not give anything to you in bulk portions at a time. Here, I just explained this system to her that unless you finished existing portion server will not put more food in your plate so finish and ask for more, they will serve you. Finally she agreed and did as I mentioned. Only cook is supposed to enter the cooking area and the host to check on the making status or if they need any item to be brought. Earlier days pangat system in entire Indian sub continent, pangat system was sitting on the floor. Slowly it changed from floor to long tables and chairs. Still the system remained more or less same.
Pangat system ensures that food is finished in less than two hours and the rest of the program is carried out. So, if there is some entertainment program arranged, everyone will attending entertainment program. If food is set to be finished from this time to this time. It will be carried out in the same time. Entire public present will be sitting for food. In recent years the functions started this buffet system. In buffet system everyone touches the serving spoons. People tend to serve more food and fill plates of children and sitting arrangements goes on toss. While everyone does not get premium sits to sit. From start to end people are just eating starters, snacks and dinner. Mixing food and program gives a messy feel where nothing appears to be in sync. Also it does not fulfil the correct way of eating food habits. After a meal the food is eaten by all the guests and are socializing happily and comfortably. Wastage of food is more if the pangat system is not followed. Todays world is only about diet, plans, and fitness. While reality says eat and finish meal at once in 20 – 25 minutes. Here entire evening you just keep hogging over the food, from start to end. I have a full blog on understanding food. You might like to read about it. The link to blog will be given in the end of this blog or can be found under Yoga with Kanchan Vikram section on home page of this website.
Mostly when the food for bigger gatherings used to be made. First there will be 05 plates completely prepared as 05 thalis. Offered it to 05 elements of earth. In the form of elements it would be served to god as nievedyam or prasad. Then to a cow. Then to a priest. One kept on roof and one at the tulsi (holy basil) plant in premises. Once this offering is done the pangat are started. It is highly organized and without wasting a single minute of keeping guests hungry. Food serving is completed.
Even if I remember those functions I attended, I still feel hungry and feel the taste of that food. It used to be always black-eyed kidney beans, potato and brinjal vegetable with jelebi or gulab jamun as sweet and during summers we used to get freshly made butter milk to drink. In weddings after wedding is done they used to distribute pedhas and roses to men while pedhas and jasmine garland to ladies to put in hair. While in the end we used to get sliced ice-creams. What do you remember form those days of big gatherings.