Ranpis or the professional cooks are an integral part of the Chaturthi celebrations in Goa. These experienced hands make some of the best Goan vegetarian dishes. NT BUZZ speaks to few ranpis and experts to understand why and how this job of cooking is done by men, and their dwindling tribe
ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
In these festive days if you happen to visit a home where the annual Ganesh Chaturthi or ‘Chavath’ is celebrated and come across an individual who is wearing a lungi, sacred thread around his torso, and is busy cooking in a kitchen, then he is that guy who is most wanted during the days of festivities. He is a ranpi which translates as ‘cook’ who can prepare some of the most delicious and authentic Goan vegetarian dishes.
Cooking is an activity predominantly done by women especially when it comes to cooking for religious festivals. But in many Goan homes you will come across this male cook who can prepare food for hundreds of people in just a few hours.
But, then who are these guys who always dress up in their traditional attire and are indulged in a women centric job of cooking?
Lecturer and writer Sumedha Kamat-Desai who is an expert in Goan food, explains, “These ranpis are mainly Brahmins who are involved in this activity. Brahmins are usually temple priests, but sometimes due to some reasons not all get a chance to get educated. Thus, those remaining people tend to turn to cooking,” says Sumedha.
Sumedha also informs that in few places in Goa ranpis also hailed from the Kumbhar community. “They worked as ranpis whenever required as it was their secondary profession. They mainly cooked for the families of their own community,” says Sumedha.
She further explains that cooking is one of the 64 art forms and even some of the mythological characters like Laxman and Bhim were considered to be good cooks. She even shares an interesting story which she heard from her mother.
When asked how this women-oriented job is taken by men, Sumedha says, “Cooking at home is mainly done by women. But this cooking which is done on a large scale involves lot of physical work like lifting huge metal vessels, stirring with big stirring spoons. So, that could be one of the reasons that why men got involved in it.”
A ranpi is easily recognised not only because of his outfit, but also for his props. “A ranpi would always be seen with big spoons like ‘davlo’, ‘zaaro’ and a ‘dai’ which he religiously carried with him wherever he went to cook. These items in a way became a mark of his identity,” says Sumedha. The ranpi will also generally smoke a bidi and would love to have tea while making the scrumptious meal. He is accompanied by ‘Aaitekar’ or helpers who do all the secondary work of chopping, cutting, etc.
Sumedha shares an interesting story which she heard about a helper. “During one samradhana there were huge metal vessels placed on huge chulhas. It was so high that the cook had to climb on a ladder to make the dish. There was one old lady helper who was very frail. So she climbed the ladder to stir the dish. But, it was so heavy for her that she fell into the vessel. Everyone started looking for her and then spotted her head in the vessel. This may be a story, but it shows the amount and volume of the food that was cooked in olden days,” says Sumedha.
Ranpis are in demand almost throughout the year and not only during Chaturthi. They are required for events like Samradhana, 12th day (on this day no family member should cook), shraddha (women should not cook for this), house warming, puja and also at temples.
Ranpis may be cooks but they also enjoy a social status. “His status is equal to that of a Brahmin. In olden days they were given veedo (beetle nut leaves) with money, vaalo (pure cotton towel) and some sweets. For shraddha sometimes he is the fifth Brahmin who is required according to the ritual,” says Sumedha.
Harish Nayak is a ranpi for the last 15 years. He is in demand during these days. He can cook a meal even for 10,000 people. He not only cooks the typical vegetarian delicacies like khatkhate, uddamethi, karam, etc. but he is one of the few who even cooks non-vegetarian dishes. Interestingly, he didn’t aspire to be a cook, but circumstances have made him one. “When I was in college my father passed away. He used to work as a cook in Mumbai. As there was no other option I took up this job,” says Nayak who originally hails from Udupi.
Most of the ranpis found in Goa are from neighbouring state of Karnataka and are mainly from Udupi, Kumtha, Ankola. “The best ranpis in Goa are found in Canacona and being a border taluka and where Partagali math is situated, you will find many ranpis coming from Karnataka,” says Shankar Mhamai Kamat, former director of archaeology and archives of Goa.
Nowadays the ranpis are almost extinct as the youngsters do not consider it as an ideal profession. “Nowadays people want government job,” says the ranpi Malyar who has been working in Loliem, Canacona for the past 25 to 30 years. He can cook 10 to 15 items within few hours and can earn maximum of Rs 600 per house. He however, maintains that there are no other benefits and thus one has to have a secondary profession. “When I was five-year-old my father died. At that time my mother used to work as a cook. So, I learnt the art of cooking from her and I started enjoying it. That’s how I became ranpi. I like this profession as I tend to learn new dishes,” says Malyar. He also informs that a ranpi can earn Rs 1000 from one house during Chaturthi. If they are cooking for a family who are celebrating five-day Ganesh Chaturthi a ranpi can earn upto Rs 16,000. He not only cooks but also makes masala and even fetches water from well, which is required for cooking.
Now these ranpis are also getting involved in catering business as it becomes difficult for them to go to different houses and cook, all at the same time. “As now there is a shortage of ranpis we get the ordered food. This person is not a ranpi but a temple priest. But now ranpis are few and they take catering orders. Also we have to give this order at least two months in advance for Chaturthi,” says Priya Verlekar from Panaji.
Kamat further informs that the even priests or bhats sometimes don the hat of a ranpi. “There are many families where the bhat himself cooks the naivedya (food which is offered to god), which he offers after the pooja.”
Kamat who hails from the illustrious Mhamai Kamat family, who’ll celebrate the famous Anant Chaturdashi on the tenth day of Chaturthi, says that ranpi is an integral part of this celebration. “To cook for Anant Chaturdashi we get 13 ranpis. Out of these 13, only four are Goans and the rest are from Ankola. Nowadays not only ranpis but even bhatjis are dwindling. Like we had one ranpi, Gurudas Sangaokar, who has three sons, but none of them want to be a ranpi. Also we need to understand that to cook, and additionally on a large scale, one should have basically a liking for that job. You just can’t force anyone,” says Kamat.