Food-varieties to Celebrate and Food-entity to Worship in Hinduisminduism
Discourse by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, January 2014)
The role of food in Hinduism is a fascinating subject like its menu card. You have already listened to my lecture on Hindu Diet Codes, Scriptural Sanctions and Ethics”. While sizable number of people die of hunger in India multitudes celebrate and also waste food in tons in rituals, festivals, social celebrations and ceremonies. Swami Vivekananda lamented “In India religion has entered the cooking pot”. This is no exaggeration if you look at the variety of food that is offered to the deities in temple worship and elaborate specialty food preparations at home during festivals to offer to God. Upanishads and Puranas dwell at length on food. Taittareeya Upanishad even directs spiritual seekers to meditate upon food as vyaahriti (representation) of Supreme Principal with the following Mantras— Annaad vai prajaah prajaayante,--all people that are on Earth are born from food; Annam na nindyaat--Don’t abuse food; annam na parichaksheeta—One should not discard food; annam bahu kurveeta—one should make food in plenty; na kanchana vastau pratyaachaksheeta—one should not refuse shelter to anyone who has comes for it; etad vratam—this is a vow enjoined on that individual.
Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion, with a rich collection of hundreds of spiritual and philosophical traditions followed throughout Asia for more than 5,000 years. Hindus believe all living beings are sacred because they are parts of God, and should be treated with respect and compassion. This is because the soul can be reincarnated into any form of life. Most Hindus are vegetarian because of this belief in the sanctity of life. Yajur Veda says: “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever” (Yajur Veda, 12.32). Human teeth are meant for eating only vegetarian food. The human intestine which is long and narrow is not designed to digest any type of meat. So Hinduism promotes vegetarianism but leaves the choice open for meat eaters.
It is strange some of the festivals in Tamil Nadu are named after the favorite dish of the region for example Pongal, Karadiyan Nonbu, and others diverting one’s thoughts from the Gods who are propitiated. It is also surprising this comes from one of the oldest Hindu religious tradition which should have its own strong reasons to do so. A festival of Tamils called Koodarai Vellum Govida referring to Lord Krishna is often misinterpreted as Koodaarai vellam, meaning with an additional 50% jiggery because the sweet pudding out of rice, dal and Jaggery (vellam) is a must for the festival as described in this couplet of reference from Tiruppavai. In reality Pongal Day is celebrated as Makra Sankranti in other traditions directing worship to Mother Earth and Sun heralding the dawn of Uttaraayana Punyakaala (Sun’s travel towards Northern solstice). Kaaradiyan Nonbu of Tamils named after a food stuff called Kaaradai is a festival celebrated as Vata Savitri Vrat in Orissa and other parts remembering the story of Sati Savitri and Satyavan. Tamils worship Lakshmi on this day tying sacred thread around their necks with the same significance as in Vata Savitri Vrat. In the North, women go round the banyan tree three times and tie threads round in the hope that their husbands will live as long as the banyan tree. There may be other festivals named after foodstuff in Tamil tradition and other traditions too. It looks rather strange that in many Hindu Festivals and Vrats (rituals) the main concentration is on the preparation of specialty foodstuff for the occasion and offering to God!
Hindus have an elaborate menu for offering food to the manes and also the divines. This is very much tradition bound as witnessed in Shraddhas performed by Brahmins in the South. Mahalaya Paksha has its own menu for feeding the manes as well as feeding the poor. Perhaps you are all aware how Danasoora Karna was forced to come back to earth after his death to finish the job he left unfinished. Though known for his charity somehow he never paid attention to food charity. He could not ascend to heaven because of this and so came back to observe Mahalay Paksha to complete his mission. Annadana (food charity) is very important for a Hindu, in fact for all humans. In water oblations it is customary to offer sesame seeds for manes and rice grains for divines along with food. Annadaana is essentially Bhoota Yajna for all animates besides humans. The Pinda (oblation of food balls offered to manes) also varies in composition from North to South based on their food habits.
As a matter of fact in every religion food variety is closely linked to rituals. Christmas celebrates with variety of cookies and cakes. Easter is celebrated with eggs. Turkey is the special food for Thanksgiving and Pumpkin pie for Halloween or Samhain. During the Feast of Passover wine and bread are served symbolic of flesh and blood of Jesus who sacrificed his life for the sin of others. In Bakrid Muslims kill a goat or sheep and enjoy the meat as blessed from Allah. When Ismail attempted to sacrifice his son before the altar with closed eyes Allah was merciful. When Ismail opened his eyes he found that he had killed a lamb instead which Allah substituted for Ismail’s son sparing the life of the son of his dear devotee.
FOOD VARIETIES FOR DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS, RITUALS AND RITES
The Hindu calendar has at least 18 feast days. Dates vary according to the lunar calendar, including Holi, Ramanavamni, Dusshera, Pongal, Janmashtami, and Diwali. Food also plays an important role in the celebration of birthdays and marriages and also in funeral rituals. Hindus believe providing food for the poor and needy and to the devout is good karma. Hindu Vishnu temples often distribute food to people at the end of religious worship.
In Food for worship, based on the season of Hindu festivals, special dishes are prepared and offered to respective deities. Here the seasonal background plays an important role in the celebration. Makara Sankranti falls in January. The new kharif crop is in. Surya in the form of Vishnu, and Mother Earth (or Bhudevi) in the form of Lakshmi are worshiped on the occasion with dishes prepared out of new rice, new pulses, oil seeds, jaggery etc. During Pongal and Sankranti, khichadi, undhiyo and sweets of sesame seeds are eaten. Exchange of jaggery and til (sesame) is very common with sugar-cane pieces, turmeric etc. during Yugadi, as the summer sets in. Hindu New Year and Ramanavami are celebrated with cool drinks and pachadi of cucumber (yogurt-vegetable preparation) and soaked pulses. Shravana is the month of monsoon bloom and dishes of green vegetables, fresh coconuts, bamboo shoots, roots, special leaves and flowers are used. Milk pudding, butter, and curd preparations signify cowherd Krishna's birthday, Krishnaashtami. Modakas (Sweet cakes) of fresh coconut, regional varieties of murukku (chakli), laddu, obbattuu (poli) and kajjaya (South India food delicacies) are thought to be favorites of Ganesha and are offered on Ganesh Chaturthi day. Then comes the Dasara associated with Rama and Durga -- both warrior deities. Fasting signifies Shakti or Durga's worship. Some offer meat and liquor following some tantric practices. During the Diwali festivities, fried delicacies are common. Ghee, dried nuts are used in plenty. In a warm-climatic country like India, winter is the only time you can eat calorie-rich food, which keep the body warm. Some rare sweets like halwas, barfis etc. which require elaborate cooking are prepared and exchanged.
In olden days when the transportation of food stuffs and vegetables was difficult, only seasonal food, typical of the region was cooked and offered to the deities. These food items came to be identified with particular deities, and the practice has continued till today. In India, the tradition does not disappear easily, and we find that the traditional food habits in fact, trace the ethnicities of the people. The festival food habits speak volumes of the imaginative and God-fearing attitudes of ancient Hindus who associated food offerings of different seasons to their favorite gods and goddesses.
It is also interesting to note how the religious menu changes with the festival season. Starting from Ganesha Chaturthi and ending with Deepavali festival one does not fail to notice heavy culinary indulgences of Hindus in celebrating many festivals from August to November. Then in the winter season Hindus observe festivals and rituals with fasting in between starting from Vaikuntha Ekadasi to Maha Sivaratri where fasting and vigilance is scrupulously observed. That takes care of their over-eating in winter months as checks and balances when people are confined to homes with little physical movement and tempted to eat more. In South India even Rama Navami, marking the end of lean food season started on Vaikuntha Ekadasi Day is celebrated with soaked lentils and butter milk unlike heavily loaded Krishna Jayanti in August. Even Pongal on Makara Sankranti Day should be a lean food, called Kichadi in the North, usually prescribed for sick persons. This festival is also named after Pongal (kichadi) by Tamils. Only of late this Pongal has been made rich and heavy by food lovers. Hinduism has also focused on imposing food restrictions and diet control on a regular basis to compensate for heavy culinary indulgence during festivals. A religious Vaishnavite is required fast on all Ekadasi days which come 24 times in a year, (twice a month during full moon and new moon fortnights). Similarly Saivites are required to fast once a month on Sivaratri nights which culminates in Mahasivaratri or on all Shashti days, sixth day in each fortnight. There are also other prescribed religious days for fasting that varies on customs or traditions. Fasting days a in a week are also associated with a particular deity, for example Venkateswara on Saturday. For those who cannot starve fully there are also prescribed lean menus for fasting days just to keep the spirit going while fasting and praying.
Strangers to Hinduism who are on casual visit to pilgrim centers like Kancheepuram, Tirupati, Guruvayur, Srirangam, Puri-Jagannath etc., will be surprised to find how these temple kitchens are busy 24 hours round the clock, preparing variety of food preparations for the Lord while the deity can be visited only during stipulated hours of the day (Pooja Kaala). Puri Jagannath temple prepares everyday 32 different kinds of food varieties for offering to the deity. One can also find that many varieties of preparations if they happen to visit any South Indian Brahmin home of Vaishnava tradition on Krishna Janmaashtami Day. I do not know why only Vishnu temple kitchens are so busy and why Krishna deity in particular is pampered with so many snacks on his birthday? Is that the way Vaishnavites want to make Vishnu worship more popular at the same time curbing the popularity of Siva temples offering special goodies I cannot tell (for their philosophies contradict each other- Advaita and Vishishthaadvaita)! Ganesha is happy with his one item Modakam (Sweet stuffed cake) on Ganesha Chaturthi Day and Murugan with Panchamritam (banana-jaggery-ghee-milk and honey preparation called five-in-one nectar) on Kartikai Deepam festival of Tamils. Hanuman being a health conscious saint is happy to have vada mala (a garland of south Indian delicacy).
A learned Vedic scholar and religious head Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram (Paramaacharya) in Tamil Nadu has spent some time in researching favorite South Indian food delicacies which is reproduced in the Appendix. He now and then turns philosophic and dwells on spiritual thoughts influenced by Veda mantras on food, while describing these South Indian delicacies he is familiar with.
SPIRUTUALLY THINKING OF FOOD AND WORSHIPING FOOD…..
Upanishads dwell at length on food and even suggest food can be meditated upon as Brahman because creation of all beings is based on food. Wisdom of Vedas say food is the cause for creation of all beings; it is the sustainer of all beings and it can be the cause for his destruction too. When the body dies the food also merges with nature to recreate itself. It is therefore worth examining spiritual aspects of food as revealed in Hindu scriptures.
FOOD AS GIFT FROM GOD
According to Hinduism, food is a gift from God and should be treated with great respect. Devout Hindus offer food to God before eating and are careful about what and how they eat. Food plays an important role in Hindu worship. According to the Vedic scriptures, all food should be offered as a sacrifice to God before it is eaten, and food offered to God (prasada) is considered to bestow religious merit, purifying body, mind and spirit.
According to Hinduism, what we eat determines our mental as well as physical state. Eating sattva (pure) food helps us to become saattvic ourselves. If we eat animal and intoxicating foods, we may develop animal qualities; killing animals for food is also regarded as bad karma with negative consequences for everyone involved, including those eating the food. Meat can never be obtained without inflicting pain to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to [the attainment of] heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun [the use of] meat - Manu Smriti 5.48. For these reasons, many Hindus avoid meat, fish, poultry, eggs, alcohol, caffeine and very spicy or sour foods. Strict practitioners also refrain from onion, garlic, mushrooms and leeks. The cow is revered by Hindus. Not all Hindus avoid eating meat, but almost all avoid beef. The cow is revered in Hinduism and the very name for the cows is aghnaya which means “not to be killed”. The five products of the cow (panchagavya) – milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung – are used in puja (worship).
Praanaahuti Mantras (dining table Mantras) are administered at the time of Upanayanam (thread ceremony). The twice born, dwija (one gets the title of Dwija after the Upanayana Samskaara) is expected to do his Nityakarmas (daily duties) as per the injunctions of the Saastras. Praana-Aahuti Mantra is an essential Nityakarma. Every religion has its own code of religious conduct to pray to God before starting the meal and receive Lord's blessings for getting the proper nourishment. It is therefore necessary that every Hindu should chant at least a portion of these mantras thanking the Supreme before and after meals.
MANTRA BEFORE TAKING MEALS (PARISHECHANA MANTRA)
Satyam tvartena parishinchaami--“Amritoepa-staranamasi”
Oh Immortal Lord! Thou art the ‘upastarana’ or the sheet spread for the food (You are my support).
This mantra is prescribed for sipping water before food. Vishnupuraana says that liquid substance should be taken at the beginning and at the end of the meal.
Then food is first swallowed in small bits without biting, offering to five vital Life-forces (pancha- praanaas) and to the Supreme (Brahman) through the medium of notional fire sacrifice to the fire-god in the stomach called ‘Jatharaagni’ with the mantra:
Om Praanaaya swaaha, Apaanaaya swaaha, Vyaanaaya swaaha, Udhaanaaya swaaha, Samaanaaya swaaha, Om Brahmani Aatma amritatvaaya //
I offer this oblation to Praana with reverence; I offer this oblation to Apaana with reverence; I offer this oblation to Vyaana with reverence; I offer this oblation with reverence to Udaana; I offer this oblation to Samaana with reverence. By these oblations may my Self be united with the Supreme so that I may attain Immortality! (Life is maintained by the various vital actions in the body subsumed under the five-fold praana which is a manifestation of the Supreme on the physical plane)
MANTRA AT THE END OF MEALS (UTTARAAPOESANA-LATTER INTAKE-MANTRA)
You are the cover of the form of nectar. (You are my shelter. May I live under your protection)!
This mantra is chanted in sipping of water after taking food. It is to be chanted holding the water in the palm of the hand for uttaraapoesana (sipping water after food).
Aahaara suddhau sattvasuddih sattvasuddhau dhruvaa smritih // (Chāndogya Upaniṣhad 7.26.2)
If the food that is taken is pure his mind will be pure. When the mind is pure the meditation upon God will be steady.
Hindu fast is a ritual to purify the body and mind, and to enhance concentration during meditation and worship. Fasting controls passion. It checks the emotions. It controls the senses also. It destroys multitude of sins. Fasting overhauls the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and urinary systems. It destroys all the impurities of the body and all sorts of poisons. It eliminates uric acid deposits. Just as impure gold is rendered pure by melting in the crucible again and again, so also this impure mind is rendered purer by repeated fasting.
SCRIPTURES GLORIFY FOOD
A Sanskrit saying declares “annat praanam and pranaat parakramam”—food is vital to life and with life comes strength. Some quotes on food from Hindu scriptures are given below as examples:
Annam vai prajaapatis-tato ha vai tadretah tasmaasdimaah prajaah prajaayante iti ||(Prasnopanishad- 14).
Food is verily the Lord of all creatures. That human seed is from that Prajaapati. From that all these people are born. [The state of food and also the state of the seed are also called by the same name Prajapati and are verily Brahman. So all beings are created by Brahman who is in the state of matter, purusha, time of the form of year, month and others, food and the seed; so to say that everything is born of Brahman is in order.]
Etaavadvaa idam sarvam -annam chaiva annaadascha / soma evannam-agnirannaadah –This universe is only the food and eater of food; Soma juice which is offered as oblation in Yajna to the fire is itself food and eater of food. Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 1.4.6 [Agni is the eater of food as it is of the form of burning. Soma is annam (food) as it is consumed.
Yanmanushyaan vaasayate yadebhyo-asanam dadaati tena manushyaanaam-When he provides food and shelter to human beings, he becomes thereby the object of enjoyment to humanity [vaasayati means Good lord accommodates the guests providing them beds, sheets, food and others; asanam means eatables or food] Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 1.4.16
Sattva – lucidity…full of joy, something of pure light which seems to be entirely at peace-- The Laws of Manu 12.27
Chandogya Upanishad says; rough portion of the food consumed becomes the feces; the middle portion becomes the flesh, and the subtlest portion becomes the mind.
Om annapate annasya no dehyanameevasya sushuminah pra pradaataaram taarisha oorjam no dhehi dwipade chatushpade—May the food I eat be beneficial for the body and may everyone be blessed with food (from Veda)
Garlic (and) onions… are not to be eaten -- The Laws of Manu 5.5
Sattvaanuroopaa sarvasya sraddhaa bhavati bhaarata | sraddhaa mayo-ayam purusho yo yacchraddhah sa eva sah || The faith of each person is in accordance with his innate nature. One is made of one’s faith; as one’s faith is, so is one. [Sattva food increases the duration of life, purifies one’s existence and gives strength, health, happiness and satisfaction… Such foods are wholesome and pleasing to the heart – Bhagavad Gita, 17.3]
Aham vaisvaanaro bhootva praaninaam deham aasritah | praanaapaana-samaayuktaa pachmya-annam chaturvidham || [I am the Universal fire (Vaiswanara0 , I dwell in the bodies of the living beings, and united with the rhythm of inhalation (praana) and exhalation (apaana) mechanism and I digest the four kinds of food -- Bhagavad Geetaa 15.14]
Brahmaarpanam brahma havir brahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam /
brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahma-karma-samaadhina //
The act of offering (Sacrifice) is Brahman; the melted butter and oblation is Brahman; the oblation is offered by Brahman into the fire, which is Brahman; thus, Brahman alone is to be reached by the seeker, who meditates on Brahman in his devotion. [It is the one and only power which manifests through everything and works its way out through everything—in the food, in the act and the result in act of Yajna ritual of the devotee]
FOOD GLORIFIED IN BRAHMA-ANANDAVALLI OF TAITAAREEYA UPANISHAD
It is worth recalling here the famous Vedic mantras that contemplates on food and Annamaya kosa (food sheath) as the physical body of human beings. Taittareeya Upanishad deals at length on the subject in its Anuvaka (section) of Brahmaananda Valli. Truth is directly explained in this section but explained indirectly through a scientific analysis of personality construction of human body. We have learnt from Tatva Bodha that the divine spark of life called Atman or Self as being enveloped by the various layers of matter of varying degrees of grossness. Outermost shell the grossest is the body and we almost go through our conscious existence go about conceiving ourselves to be only this body. The five distinct sheaths are—the Food sheath (Annamaya Kosa), the outermost, the Vital air sheath (Praanamaya Kosa) lining it internally, the Mental sheath (Manomaya Kosa) within still interior, the Intellectual sheath (Vijnaanamaya Kosa) and lastly, the subtlest of all, the Bliss sheath (Aanandamaya Kosa). Of these we are concerned now on the grossest sheath Annamaya Kosa as described in Taittareeya Upanishad.
Brahmanandavalli starts with the description of Brahman as Satyam (truth), Jnaanam (knowledge) and Anantam (Infinity). Vedas thus declare that Absolute Reality (Brahman) is at once immanent and transcendent. Brahman thus defined can be realized within our own body. Therefore this Upanishad dwells on the subject of food at length in this section.
Tasmaad vaa etasmaad –aatmana aakaasah sambhooytah / aakaasaad vaayuh / vaayoragnih / agneraapah/ adbhyahprithivee/ prithivyaa osahadhayah /oshadheebhyoe-aannam / annaat purushah //
From that Brahman, the Aatman of this nature, the space or Aaakaasa (ether) is born; from Ether, air or Vaayu was born; from air fire or Agni was produced; from fire water or Aapah was produced; from water came earth or Prithivee; from earth herbs were produced; from herbs food was produced and finally that food produced this human body. The space has the quality of sound; air has the quality of sound and touch; fire has the quality of sound, touch and form; water has the quality of sound, touch, form and taste; and the earth has all the five qualities sound, touch, form, taste and smell. These have given rise to five sense organs Aakasa (space) in the ears; Air in the skin; Fire in the eyes; Water in the tongue; and Earth in the nose as often described in poetic language. Out of the gross earth rose up the entire world of vegetation, the source of food. The food that is taken in large quantities by the father crystallizes into its essence as the seeds in him and a seed fertilizing an ovum in the womb of the mother grows into its full maturity, to be born as an individual called Purusha.
Sa vaa esha purushah annarasamayah tasyedameva sirah / ayam dakshinah pakshah / ayamuttarah pakshah / ayamaatma / idam puccham pratishthaa / tadapyesha sloko bhavati //
That body, such as it is, is the product of the essence of food. Of that self of the form of the body this is indeed the head. This is the right side. This is the left side. This is the self the chief part. This is the stabilizing tail. Here is a hymn pertaining to that. Here the rishi means the physical body constituting head, the trunk and the limbs as Annamaya kosa or the food sheath described in Vedanta. The sage of this Upanishad dramatically points to his own parts of the body and says that constitutes the Annamaya Kosa or Food sheath.
Annaadvai prajaah prajyante / Yaah kaascha prithavee(ga)m sritaah ? atho annenaiva jeevanti / athainad-api yanty-antatah /anna(ga)m hi bhootaanaam jyeshtham / tasmaat-sarvaushadham-uchyate ? Annaad-bhootaani jaayante / jataany-annena vardhante / adyate-iti cha bhootaani ? tasmaad-annam tad-uchyata iti //
All people on earth are born of food; they live on food. Ultimately they go back to it to become food. So food is greatest of all beings. Therefore it is called the cure (medicine) of all. Those who meditate on Brahman as food, indeed obtain all food. All beings are born from food, having born they grow by consuming food. Food is that which is eaten by all beings and also in the end food eats them. Therefore food is called annam.
Medical science explains now-a-days that the general deterioration of health in the world today is because man is over-eating. Over-eating saps his vitality, ruins health, and in the end kills him. In right healthy proportions it is a blessing to the body and nurtures the body, like poison in small dosages may act as medicine.
Tasmaadevaa etasmaad-anna-rasmayaat / anyo-antara a atmaa praanamayah / tenaisha poornah sa vaa esha purushvidha eva /tasya purushavidhataam / anvayam purushvidhah / tasya praana eva sirah / vyaano dakshinah pakshah / apaana uttarah pakshah / aaakaasa aatmaa / prithavee puccham pratishthaa / /
Other than that the soul is made up of the essence of food there is an inner soul sheath made of Praana or Vital forces. With it this is filled. This Praanamaya life’s vital forces sheath is of the same form as the previous. Its human is exactly as the human form of the former. Of that Praana is the head, Vyaana is the right side. Apaana is the left side. Aakaasa is the trunk. Earth (Prithavee) is the tail or the support.
The vital life forces sheath which constitutes Praana, Apaana and Vyaana is described here as one interior to the food sheath, forming as it were, a silk lining to the outer food sheath. Molten metal poured into a mold should necessarily take the shape the mold; so too the Praanamaya sheath is occupying food sheath fully.
Vital activity of life is not centered at one point nor is it scattered at different points of the physical sheath. It being the very nature of life, expresses its nature through every conceivable point in the body. Life’s vitality functioning in the organs of perception is called Praana. Expression of life as vitality that presides over actions that throw out or reject the by-products from the physical body is called Apaana. The strength administering the department of digestion is called Vyaana. The energy behind the distribution of assimilated food to the various corners of the body politic is called Samana. The energy which helps the ego-center to leave one physical structure at the time of death to continue its trans-migratory travel seeking fresh pastures is called Udaana. This does not in any way contradict Science if properly understood as having five different Praanas. The Praana (Life) remaining one and the same, the five different names have been given in Vedanta to it indicative of various department of activities.
GROW MORE FOOD; FEED THE NEEDY; OFFER SHELTER; DON’T WASTE FOOD.
Annam na nindyaat / tad vratm / praano va annam / sareeramannadam / praane sareeram pratishthitam / sareere praanah pratishthitah /tadetadannmanne pratishthitam / sa ya etadannmanne pratishthitam veda pratitishthati / annavaan annaado bhavati /mahaan bhavati prajayaa pasubhir-brahmavarchasena / mahaan keertyaa //
One should not abuse food. That is a vow enjoined on him. The vital air is verily food. The body is the eater of food. The body is established in the vital air. The vital force is established in the body. Thus the food is established in another food. He, who knows that this food is lodged in another food, becomes established. He becomes the possessor of food and the eater of food. He becomes great by virtue of progeny, cattle, and brilliance of knowledge. He becomes great on account of fame.
Annam na parichaksheeta / tad vratam / aapo vaa annam / jyotirannaadam / apsu jyotih pratishthitam / jyotishyaapah pratishhitaah / tadetannamanne pratishthitam / say a etadannmanne veda pratitishthati / annaavaan annaado bhavati/ahaan bhavati prajayaa pasubhir-brahmavarchase / mahaan bhavati prajayaa pasubhir-brahmavarchasena mahaan keertyaa //
One should not discard food. That is a vow on him. Water is verily food. Fire is the eater of food. Fire is established in water. Water is established in fire. Thus this food is lodged in another food. One, who knows that this food is lodged in another food, becomes established. One becomes the possessor of food and the eater of food. One becomes great by virtue of progeny, cattle, and shining with knowledge. An individual becomes great on account of fame.
Annam bahu kurveeta / tad vratam / prithavee vaa annm / aakaaso annaadah / prithivyaama-akaasah pratisfthitah / aakaaso prithivee pratisshthitaa / tadetad-anne pratishthitam / say a pratishthitam veda pratishthati / annavaan annaado bhavati / mahaan bhavati prajayaa pasubhih brahmavarchasi / mahaa-keertyaa //
One should produce food in plenty. That is a vow enjoined on him. Earth is verily food. Space is the eater of food. Space is established on Earth. In space is Earth lodged. Thus this food is established in another food. One who knows that this food is lodged in another food becomes established. That individual becomes the possessor of food and the eater of food. That individual becomes great by virtue of progeny, cattle and shines with knowledge. That individual becomes great on account of fame.
Na kanchana vasatau pratyaachaksheeta / tad vratam / tasmaad yayaa kayaa cha vidhayaa bahvannam praapnuyaat / araadhyasmaa annamityaachakshate / etadvai mukhato-anna(ga)m-raaddham / mukhatosmaa anna(ga)m raadhyate / etadvai madhyato-asmaa anna(ga)m raadham / madhyato-asmaa anna(Ga)m raadhyarte / etadvaa antato-anna(ga)m raaddham antatoanna(ga)m raadhyate / ya evam veda //
One should not refuse shelter to anyone who has come for it. This is a vow enjoined on that individual. Therefore one should earn plenty of food by whatsoever means it may be. “Food is ready for this for the one who propitiates” the wise say. In the beginning food is ready for that individual. This food is ready for the individual in the middle part. This food is ready for the individual in the end. To the one who prays food is ready in the end. One who knows this will earn food in plenty.
These mantras focus on the theme: One should not abuse food; one should not discard food on the plate; one should earn so much food that will be adequate for the guests, visitors and one’s own people in the family. One should have regard for food. One should not refuse food to any person who comes to his house during night time for food (offer food and shelter to the needy). As it is incumbent on the individual not to refuse food to any one that comes to the individual’s house for food, the individual should earn adequate food by what so ever means it may be, even by un-fare means under dire circumstances. One should earn plenty of food by all means. These mantras echo the modern slogans, “Grow more food” and “Food for the Million” and “Food and Shelter for the Poor as an act of Charity”--(Taittareeya Upanishad, Vidyaanga vrataani—vows to be taken as part of Education)
“Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. Their mandate is to improve nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, raise the standard of living in rural populations and contribute to global economic growth”. These are the objectives of FAO of United Nations. Don’t you feel it very much echoes part of the above Mantras expressing Wisdom of Vedas that was directed to human society at the very beginning of the present civilization!
PRAISE OF FOOD IN MAHAANAARAAYANA UPANISHAD (ANNASTUTI)
Yaabhiraadityastapati rasmibhistaabhih parjanyo varshati parjanyena oshadhi vanaspatayah prjaayanta oshadhi-vanaspatibhir-annam bhavaty-annena praanaah praanair-balam balena tapas-tapasaa sraddhaa sraddhayaa medhaa medhayaa maneeshaa mano manasaa saantih saantyaa chittam chittena smritih smrityaa smaarah smaarena vijnaanam vijnaanena-atmaanam vedayati / tasmaad-annam dadan-sarvaanyetaani dadaaty-annaat-praanaa bhavanti bhootaanaam pranair-mano manasascha vijnaanam vijnaanaad-aanando brahma yonih //
Those rays by which the sun gives heat, the same rays transform water into rain-cloud which showers the rain. By the rain-cloud herbs and trees come into existence. From herbs and tress food is produced. By the use of food the breaths and senses are nourished. When the life-breath is nourished one gets bodily strength. Bodily strength gives the capacity to practice tapas in the shape of self-control, religious fast, and so forth. As the result of such tapas, faith in spiritual truth springs into existence. By faith mental power comes. By mental power sense-control is made possible. By sense control reflection is engendered. Calmness of mind results from reflection. Conclusive experience of Truth follows calmness. By conclusive experience of Truth remembrance of it is engendered. Remembrance produces continuous remembrance. Un-broken realization of Truth results from continuous remembrance. By such realization a person knows Brahman. For this reason, he who gives food gives all these. For it, it is found that the vital breaths and the senses of creatures are from food, that reflection functions with the vital breath and senses, that unbroken direct realization comes from reflection and that bliss comes from unbroken direct realization of Truth. Thus having attained bliss one becomes the Supreme which is the cause of the universe.
[This mantra praises food as the root cause of our very existence and therefore can be meditate upon as Brahman himself]
Recently food themed movies are in the fore front which includes an Italian movie Food Prayer Love. It would have been better if this was Prayer Food love. This reminds me of the theme of YMCA I talked about few times before. Its theme is development of Spirit Mind and Body, whereas our Yoga-saastras aim is development of Body, Mind and Spirit in the reverse and logical order. Devoted to loyalty to Jesus YMCA’s main focus is on Spirit firs and body last. It will be a wise thinking to include the following Mantra in our temple worship like “Asato maa sadgamaya” to bring home our awareness to respect food and our need to offer prayers before taking food. It will also be a good idea to display these along with Pranaahuti Mantras at the dining table in Prasadm halls of temples and at homes. –
“Annam na nindyaat; Annam na parichakshheeta; Annam bahu kurveeta; na cha vasatau pratyaachaksheeta”—Do not abuse food; Don’t discard food; Make food plenty; one should not refuse shelter and food to anyone--These are the messages of Upanishads. These are the vows that are accessories for meditation as sacred mantras on Supreme Principal, Brahman.
Kanchi Paramacharya on South Indian Food
[Provided by courtesy by a participant]
“To the awe and amazement of his devotees, Tamil Paramacharya (Sankaracharya of Conjeevaram), often discussed about down-to-earth colloquial (laukika) matters with keen interest, deep understanding and knowledge. In this lecture, he explains the origin and meaning of the names of common Indian dishes and their connection to spirituality.
A South Indian meal
A typical South Indian meal is served in three main courses: sambar saadam, rasam saadam and moru (buttermilk) saadam.
Sambar is also known as kuzhambu in Tamil, a term that literally translates to 'get confused'. Paramacharya explains how these three courses are related to the three gunas of spirituality: the confusion of sambar is tamo guna, the clarified and rarified flow of rasam is rajo guna and the all-white buttermilk is sattva guna. Our meal reminds us of our spiritual path from confused inaction to a clear flow of action and finally to the realized bliss of unity.
Saadam : Cooked rice, the main dish of a South Indian meal is called saadam. That which has sat is saadam, in the same way we call those who are full of sat, sadhus (sants). We can give another explanation for the term: that which is born out of prasannam is prasaadam. What we offer to Swami (God) as nivedanam is given back to us as parasaadam like paravidya. Since we should not add the root 'pra' to the rice we cook for ourselves, we call it saadam.
Rasam: Rasam means juice, which is also the name of filtered ruchi. We say 'it was full of rasa' when a speech or song was tasteful. Vaishnavas, because of their Tamil abhimaanam, refer to rasam as saatth-amudhu. It does not mean the amudhu (amrita) mixed with saadam. It was actually saatramudhu (saaru or rasam + amudhu), which became saatthamudhu. In kannda rasamis called saaru.
Vaishnavas also have a term thirukkann amudhu that refers to our paayasam (a kind of pudding). What is that thirukkann? If rudraaksham means Rudra's eye, does 'thirukkann' mean Lakshmi's eye? Or does the term refer to some vastu (article) added to paayasam? No such things. Thiru kannal amudhu has become thirukkann amudhu. Kannal means sugercane, the base crop of sugar and jaggery used in paayasam.
I was talking about rasam. If something is an extraction of juice, then would it not be clear, diluted and free of sediments? Such is the nature of our rasam, which is clear and dilute. The other one, served earlier to rasam in a meal, is the kuzhambu. Kuzhambu contains dissolved tamarind and cut vegetable pieces, so it looks unclear, its ingredients not easily seen.
Buttermilk: A western meal normally ends with a dessert. In a South Indian meal, desserts such as paayasam are served after the rasam saadam. Any sweets that were served at the beginning are also taken at this time. After that we take buttermilk rice as our final course. Paramaacharya explains that since sweets are harmful to teeth, our sour and salty buttermilk actually strengthens our teeth, and this has been observed and praised by an American dietician. We gargle warm salt water when we get toothache. The buttermilk is the reason for our having strong teeth until the end of our life, unlike the Westerners who resort to dentures quite early in their life.
Vegetable curry: Even though cut vegetable pieces are used in sambar, kootoo and pacchadi, in curry they are fried to such an extent that they become dark in color (the term curry also means blackness or darkness in Tamil. May be this is the origin of the name curry.
Uppuma (kitchadi): If the term uppuma is derived from the fact that we add uppu or salt, then we also add salt to iddly, dosa and pongal! Actually, it is not uppuma but ubbuma! The rava used for this dish expands in size to the full vessel where heated up with water and salt. The action of rava getting expanded is the reason for the term ubbuma.
Iddly: The term iduthal (in Tamil) refers to keeping something set and untouched. We call the cremation ground idukaadu (in Tamil). There we keep the mrita sarira (mortal body) set on the burning pyre and then come away. The term iduthal also refers to refining gold with fire. The (Tamil) term idu marunthu has a similar connotation: a drug given once without any repetition of dosage. In the same way, we keep the iddly wet flour on the oven and do nothing to it until it is cooked by steam.
Idiyaappam : This is rice noodles cooked in steam. Brahmins call it seva while others call it idiyaappam. But unlike an appam which is a cake, this dish is in strands. The term appam is derived from the Sanskrit Apoopam meaning cake. The flour of that cake is called Apoopayam. This word is the origin of the Tamil word appam.
Appalaam: The grammatical Tamil term is appalam. This dish is also made by kneading (urad dhal) flour, making globules out of it and then flattening them. So it is also a kind of appam. Because of its taste a 'la' is added as a particle of endearment!
Laddu: Ladanam (in Sanskrit) means to play, to throw. Ladakam is the sports goods used to play with. Since the ball games are the most popular, ladakam came to mean a ball. The dish laddu is like a ball, and this term is a shortened form of laddukam, which derived from ladakam.
Laddu is also known as kunjaa laadu. This should actually be gunjaa laadu, because the Sanskrit term gunjaa refers to the gunjaa-berry, used as a measure of weight, especially for gold. Since a laddu is a packed ball of gunjaa like berries cooked out of flour and sugar, it got this name.
The singer of mooka panca sati on Ambal Kamakshi describes her as Matangi and in that description praises her as 'gunjaa bhoosha' that is, wearing chains and bangles made of gunjaa-berries of gold.
Pori vilangaa laddu: Made of jaggery, rice flour and dried ginger without any ghee added to it, this laddu is as hard as a wood apple, though very tasty, and hence got its name from that fruit and the original pori (puffed rice) flour used to make it.
Indian Dishes of Turkish Origin: Our halwa is a dish that came from the Turkish invasion, ballava( bahu kalam--long ago). Before that we had a dish called paishtikam, made of flour, ghee and sugar. But then the Arabian term halwa has stuck in usage for such preparation.
Sojji: Sooji is another name from the Turks. It has become sojji now. It is mostly referred to these days as kesari. In Sanskrit, kesaram means mane, so kesari is a lion with kesaram. It was a practice to add the title 'kesari' to people who are on the top in any field. Thus we have Veera Kesari, Hari Kesari as titles of kings in Tamilnadu. The German Keisar, Roman Caesar and the Russian Czar -- all these titles came from only from this term kesari. What is the color the lion? A sort of brownish red, is it not? A shade that is not oange nor red. That is the kesar varnam. The powder of that stone is called kesari powder, which became the name of the dish to which it is added for color.
Vada: A Tamil pundit told me that the name vada(i) could have originated from the Sanskrit maashaapoopam, which is an appam made of maasham or the urad dhal. He also said that in ancient Tamilnadu, vada and appam were prepared like chapati, baking the flour cake using dry heat.
Dadhya Araadhana : Someone asked me about the meaning of this term. He was under the impression that dadhi was curd, so dadhiyaaradhana(i) was the curd rice offered to Lord. Actually, the correct term is tadeeya aaradhanaa, meaning the samaaradhana(i) (grand dinner) hosted to the devotees (sadhus) of Perumal (Lord). It got shortened in the habitual Vaishnava way.
Tiruuppakshi: Vaishnavas offer the nivedanam of pongal with other things to Perumal in their dhanur maasa ushad kala puja (early morning puja of the Dhanur month). They call it tiruppakshi. The original term was actually tiruppalli ezhuchi, the term used to wake of Perumal. It became 'tiruppazhuchi', then 'tiruppazhachi' and finally 'tiruppakshi' today, using the Sanskrit kshakara akshram, in the habitual Vaishnava way. It is only vegetarian offering, nothing to do with pakshi (bird)!
The term dhanur maasam automatically brings up thoughts of Andaal and her paavai (friends). In the 27th song (of Tiruppaavai), she describes her wake up puja and nivedanam with milk and sweet pongal to Bhagavan (Lord), which culminates in her having a joint dinner with her friends. Vaishnavas celebrate that day as the festival koodaara valli, following the same sampradhaayam (tradition). The name of this festival is from the phrase koodaarai vellum seer Govinda, (Govinda who conquers those who don't reach Him) which begins the 27th song. It was this 'koodaarai vellum' that took on the vichitra vesham (strange form) of 'koodaara valli'.
Paayasam: Payas (in Sanskrit) means milk. So paayasam literally means 'a delicacy made of milk'. This term does not refer to the rice and jaggery used to make paayasam. They go with the term without saying. Actually paayasam is to be made by boiling rice in milk (not water) and adding jaggery. These days we have dhal paayasam, ravaa paayasam, semia paayasam and so on, using other things in the place of rice.
Vaishanavas have a beautiful Tamil term akkaara adisil for paayasam. The 'akkaar' in this term is a corruption of the Sanskrit sharkara. The English term 'sugar' is from the Arabian 'sukkar', which in turn is from this Sanskrit term. The same term also took the forms 'saccharine' and 'jaggery'. And the name of the dish jangiri is from the term jaggery.
Kanji: Before we become satiated with madhuram (sweetness), let us turn our attention to a food that is sour. As an alternative to sweetness, our Acharyal (Adi Sankara) has spoken about sourness in his Soundarya Lahiri. Poets describe a bird called cakora pakshi that feeds on moon-beams. Sankara says in Soundarya Lahiri that the cakora pakshis were originally feeding on the kaarunya lavanyaamruta (the nectar of compassion and beauty) flowing from Ambal's mukha chandran (moon like face). They got satiated with that nectar and were looking for something sour, and spotted the full moon, which being only a reflection, issued only sour beams!
Sankaracharya has used the term kaanjika diya, which gives an evidence of his origin in the Malayala Desam. He said that since the cakora pakshis were convinced that the nectar from the moon was only sour kanji, they chose to feed on it as an alternative.
The term kaanjika means relating to kanji, but the word kanji is not found in Sanskrit. It is a word current only in the Dakshinam (south). There too, kanji is special in Malayala Desam where even the rich lords used to drink kanji in the morning. This was the variety came to be known as the 'Malayalam Kanji'.
Kanji is good for deham as well as chittam, and less expensive. You just add a handful of cooked rice rava (broken rice), add buttermilk, salt and dry ginger, which would be enough for four people.
The buttermilk added must be a bit sourer. The salt too must be a bit more in quantity. With the slight burning taste of dry ginger, the combination would be tasty and healthy.
Taamboolam: It is customary to have taamboolam at the end of a South Indian dinner. In the North, taamboolam is popularly known as paan, which is usually a wrap of betel nut and other allied items in a calcium-laced pair of betel leaves. In the South, taamboolam is usually an elaborate and leisurely after-dinner activity. People sit around a plate of taambaalam items, drop a few cut or sliced betel nut pieces in their month, take the betel leaves one by one leisurely, draw a daub of pasty calcium on their back and then stuff them in their month, chatting happily all the while.
The betel leaf is known by the name vetrilai in Tamil, literally an empty leaf. Paramacharya once asked the people sitting around him the reason for calling it an empty leaf. When none could give the answer, he said that the usually edible plants don't just stop with leaf; they proceed to blossom, and bear fruits or vegetables. Even in the case of spinach or lettuce, we have to cook them before we can take them. Only in the case of the betel leaf, we take it raw, and this plant just stops with its leaves, hence the name vetrilai or empty leaf.”
1. Ananta Rangacharya, N.S., Principal Upanishads, Bangalore, India.
2. Various Internet sources, information gathered from talks of Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Kanchipuram, Chennai
3. Swami Chinmayananda, Taittareeya Upanishag, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai India. Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
4. Srinivasan N.R., Some Vedic Mantras used in Hindu Worship and Rituals, Hindu Reflections : <nrsrini.blogspot.com>;
5. Swami Vimalananda, Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
6. Prabha duheja, Bhagavad Geetaa , Govindram Hasanand, Delhi, India
[This is a prepared lecture compiled from above references and others for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville and to benefit those who are not able to attend the same in person. You are free to download and use it for your reading and reference as well as circulate to others to spread the wisdom of Vedas and Hindu values which goodact will be appreciated.]