Food starts conversations, it brings people together, it nourishes not just the body but also relationships. While this might sound nostalgic in today’s Instagram era, the Dawoodi Bohra community know better.
The Bohris came to India from Yemen almost 900 years ago and made Gujarat their home. The dusty town of Siddhpur was their first settlement and they built magnificent havelis with design and architectural references borrowed from the Middle-East and largely from Europe. While each house boasts of intricately designed furniture, a dining table is conspicuously missing.
During mealtimes, each family member sits on Persian rugs that cover the entire floor area and food is served on a big thaal (2.5 ft diameter approx.); large enough for eight people to sit around it – a daily practice to foster relationships, maintain familial harmony and bring the community together in the broad sense. With millennials, a nifty rug from Ikea might have replaced Persian carpets and families have gotten smaller, but every home from their community around the world eats in this manner.
Why should the thaal be confined within family homes? The late spiritual leader of Dawoodi Bohras, Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin endeavoured to make nutritious food available to every member of the community. What followed was a large community kitchen called Faiz ul Muwaid Burhania (FMB), where a vast menu is charted out for lunch to serve the Bohras residing in a particular region. It is laid out in a massive dining hall, known as Jamaat Khaana, located within the premises of their mosque and men from all walks of life sit and eat together – eight people around one thaal.
There are thousands of such community kitchens and jamaat khaanas affixed with the name of the Bohra sect it serves, in India and around the world. As women do not enter mosques, lunch boxes or FMB are delivered to their homes. This also ensures that they can spend more time in academic and creative pursuits as well as tend to educating their children, instead of busying themselves in the kitchen.
Being business-oriented, the Bohris are an affluent class boasting 100 percent literacy within their community. The thaal is symbolic of this essence of inclusivity and community living. The Bohris believe that it is a cornucopia of abundance with the sheer grace of God and must be shared with all.
To sample the food served on the thaal and learn more about Bohri food, do watch Episode 2 of Utsav Thalis of India at 8 pm on October 17, 2017.