If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. – Lord Krishna (Bhagawad Gita)
Food brings a sense of warmth, hospitality and loving awareness when it is prepared. In most Indian homes, we place considerable importance to the preparation of food and how it is served. For the same reason, in most Indian homes, food is served with care and love to a guest. I have found it interesting that food can bridge differences, bring people together rather than divide them. If you have missed my post on 'Three Types of Purity While Preparing Food,' you can read it here.
Food in Hinduism: Importance of Naivedyam
In Hinduism, food is considered to be an aspect of Brahman (the Absolute and Almighty one). The rationale for this in Hinduism is that - food nourishes, sustains and it is ingested into the body for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being. That is one reason why great spiritual masters such as Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda and the Avatar Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi emphasized that taste is not the prime function of food, from a spiritual perspective.
For as long as I can remember in my parents’ home, food is offered three times a day to the Almighty. An hour later, it is distributed as 'prasad.' Only after food is offered to the Almighty, we sit down for our meals. This is a discipline that my mother has instilled in us. Whether it is for daily meals, birthday, any celebration happening at home, it is offered to God first. Needless to say, it is a vegetarian home.
In the context of Hinduism, what we offer first is known as 'Naivedyam' and when it comes back to the offerer/devotee for consumption, it is called 'prasada.' The offering of food to God is one of the expressions of Bhakti yoga in Hinduism.
Food in Hinduism: How to offer to God
Different families have different traditions that are followed. So, I can only share here what is done at my parents’ home. A separate glass, plate and a place is kept for this. It is not used by anyone else except to distribute the prasad. The belief is that prasad has the blessings and divine energy of the deity invoked and therefore, it is divine.
Food in Hinduism: The Rite of Purifying Water Before Partaking it
Food is considered to be handled at many levels - in its raw form as vegetables and ingredients, then in the next level – where it may be prepared by one or more persons in the kitchen and then where it is served, which again, maybe by another person. This requires food to be ‘purified’ or ‘made clean’ of all or any unhealthy negative energies that are invoked during its preparation.
Thoughts have energy and can be transmitted easily. In spirituality, it is believed that if you prepare food in anger or hatred and serve it to others even your loved ones, it has consequences on their health.
In many Hindu homes, food is first 'purified' by sprinkling water drops on the plate/vessel on which it is served to a person. Also, in many traditional Hindu homes, the plate/plaintain leaf on which food is served is usually damp. This is due to the ‘purification’ rite.
The best form of purifying food before serving it is to chant a mantra. A mantra has the power to bless the food, neutralize negative energies and prepare the body and the mind to accept the same without any ill-effects. Where a mantra seems difficult to recite, it can be a thanks giving prayer instead.
The crux is this: What matters in spirituality is your 'bhava' (emotion and depth of sincerity) than anything else.
Food in Hinduism: Why offer food to God
Just as I finished writing this blog post and I was about to post it to my blog, I had a feeling that my Guru – Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba wants to convey something to me. This is unusual while writing a blogpost and happens very rarely.
So, I took one book that is on Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba from my shelf and when I opened it, this is what it read:
‘The Gita does not intend that you should pluck a leaf or flower or fruit from some plant or tree and place it before God. Nor does it ask you to bring water from a well or river or the roadside tap. The leaf is your own body, which like a leaf, will fade and finally fall off from the branch. The flower is the heart, freed from pests such as lust, anger, greed, pride, hate. Fruit is the mind, the consequence of its yearnings, which have to be dedicated to God. The water is the stream that flows from the eyes when one experiences ecstatic bliss at the contemplation of God’s glory. Giving these four to God is the real act of surrender.”
I felt breathless as I contemplated on the words and savored the beauty of this wondrous moment – that Swami is with me while I write and that He guided me to add this to the blog post that I was about to publish – and this is my act of surrender to His Will and Compassion.
I bow with gratitude to my God and Guru - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for conveying the real meaning of Lord Krishna’s words to Arjuna and for helping me to be an instrument of sharing it here. The knowledge that Baba is always with me gives me more courage and conviction on the spiritual path than anything else.
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