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The “Buddhist Cosmology in Food” project uses the research findings and outputs gathered in a one year project (2014/15). The “Feeding humans and non-humans in Theravada Buddhism” was part funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy and the University of Bristol.


The Buddhist cosmology of the Pali texts comprises 31 realms reaching from beings in hell at the bottom of the scale to the gods of the formless realms with humans somewhere in the middle. In practice, however, the relationship between humans and non-humans in South and Southeast Asia finds its expression more often than not by way of food offerings or feasts, which are prepared in the still largely female domain of the kitchens. This project explores the relationship in a series of mini documentaries filmed in Sri Lanka in mixed medium (film, stills, sounds) to be combined into a film and an accompanying article.


Kostas is a student in the Department of Music at the University of Bristol. He and Stathis scored the music for the videos.

Laura was responsible for populating and updating the website.

Azita is a free lance film maker and web designer. She was involved in the later editing stages as well as DVD authoring and cover design.

Stathis is a doctoral student in the Department of Music at the University of Bristol. He and Kostas scored the music for the videos.

Rita is an Indologist with philological expertise, fieldwork experience and some training in documentary filmmaking for fieldwork (Manchester University). She has been making short documentaries in 2011.

Jasmin assisted with Sinhala transcripts and voiceovers.

Upali plaid the table for “three fruit trays for Pattini”

Nanda arranged locations, transport, events and interviews and assisted with consent forms, etc.


Feeding creates a link between the food makers, the food consumers and the beneficiaries of the food transaction. This research is unique in that it explores the issues through the eyes of these participants. Food makers have as yet not attained the recognition as religious specialists they deserve. Looking at the theoretical cosmology through the lense of food offerings provides a unique perspective which highlights issues of religious practice that are often neglected. To name but few, the project explored the mechanism by which the desired result of the food offering is achieved (e.g. offerings to the dead require the mediation of monks), the function and hierarchy of the commensal community (with the Buddha at the top and animals and hungry ghosts at the bottom), the treatment and careful disposal of the leftovers from the food offerings (they can be particularly blessed or even dangerous).

Other topics include the religious and economic choices between more or less “Buddhist” options. The planetary deity Senasuru (Saturn), for example, can be appeased by doing a puja at the Bodhi tree or by feeding crows who are associated with the deity. Sometimes the choice is made on an economic basis (a puja of fruit at a Pattini shrine is far less costly than inviting seven milk mothers), and the economy of faith is another under researched area of Sri Lankan Buddhism.

And finally the close link between merit and food that can be observed, for example in alms givings to Buddhist monks, has been placed in the wider contextof other offerings, such as the "generosity stalls" associated especially with Vesak.

Some of the food offerings (feeding crows to appease Saturn, inviting milk mothers and generosity stalls) have never been documented or researched in depth before. But in my view the real strength of the project lies in combining the instances of food offerings to create an evocative picture of the everyday religiosity and cosmology of Buddhists in Sri Lanka.



Six documentary videos (filmed by Rita Langer, edited by Rita Langer and Azita Ghassemi; original music by Stathis Kampylis and Kostas Andrikopolous). All videos are published and uploaded to Vimeo as the channel “Kitchen Cosmology”; https://vimeo.com/channels/buddhistcosmologyinfood). The project favoured open formats and technologies over proprietary ones whenever possible.