Indians make an offering of food to the Lord and later partake of it as prasad – a holy gift from the Lord. What we offer to God is Naivedyam. When it comes back to us, it becomes Prasada.
Literally, a gracious gift. Anything, usually edible, given by a saint, Perfect Master or the Avatar to their followers. Anything, usually edible, that is first offered to a deity, saint, Perfect Master or the Avatar and then distributed in His name. The prasad has the deity’s blessing residing within it.
In its material sense, prasada is created by a process of giving and receiving between a human devotee and the divine god. For example, a devotee makes an offering of a material substance such as flowers, fruits, or sweets — which is called naivedya. The deity then ‘enjoys’ or tastes a bit of the offering, which is then temporarily known as bhogya. This now-divinely invested substance is called prasāda, and is received by the devotee to be ingested, worn, etc. It may be the same material that was originally offered, or material offered by others and then re-distributed to other devotees.A flower accepted for one’s sense gratification is material, but when the same flower is offered to the Supreme personality of Godhead by a devotee, it is spiritual. Food taken and cooked for oneself is material, but food cooked for the Supreme Lord is spiritual prasäda. This means the mercy of the Lord. Thus, the food we eat after it is offered to the Lord becomes a means for our purification and spiritual development.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.”So offering what we eat to the Lord is an integral part of bhakti-yoga and makes the food blessed with spiritual potencies. Then such food is called prasadam, or the mercy of the Lord.
The Lord says in the Gita :
Thus, we can see that the Lord does not need anything, but if one offers fruits, grains, and vegetarian foods, He will accept it.
Prasadam is also called Bhagwan Bhog or Sacred food which we offer to god and then distribute to every one for blessings.
To most of us, prasada means something edible and that is all ! But the real meaning of prasada is “purity, cheerfulness, bliss, joy, peace”. This is our true gain upon tuning our minds with the Lord during the worship. The real prasada is the feeling of peace we experience in our hearts while looking at the idol of the Lord after we have performed our daily puja with love and devotion. Experiencing the peace and joy is how we tune our minds to the Lord.There is a Bhavana, an attitude involved in it. This attitude is born of the vision of God. Prasada is not an object. It is purely born of understanding. The understanding of the reality is the basis for prasada.
Anything that comes from the Lord is Grace or Prasada. Let us learn to look upon the results of out actions given to me by the Lord as prasada.When a ceremony is performed all the devotees should share the prasad and thus receive the blessings of the Deities. There is no restriction of any kind in taking prasad. Time, place or condition does not affect one. Prasad is all purifying. Prasada is the most sacred object for a devotee. One should consider himself lucky to take the Prasada, and there is no restriction of any kind in taking Prasada.
Why do offer food to the Lord before eating it?
According to Hinduism, food is verily an aspect of Brahman (annam parabrahma swaroopam). Because it is a gift from God, it should be treated with great respect. The gross physical body is called annamayakosh or the food body, because it is nourished by food and grows by absorbing the energies from the food. Traditional Hindus offer food to God mentally before eating.
Food is identified with the element of earth. According to Prasna Upanishad, “Food is in truth the Lord of Creation (Prajapathi). From food is produced retas (the sexul energy or semen) and from it beings are born.” According to Manu, “Food, that is always worshipped, gives strength and manly vigor; but eaten irreverently, it destroys them both.” Food should be eaten for the survival and strength of the body, with a religious attitude, to practice austerities and gain self control, but not for pleasure. Eating is therefore any other human activity which can be made into either a sacrificial act that would help in the liberation of soul or a mere pleasure activity that would lead to bondage and suffering.
The Bhagavad-gita (17.8-10) divides foods into three classes: those of the quality of goodness, those of the quality of passion, and those of the quality of ignorance. The most healthful are the foods of goodness. “Foods of the quality of goodness [milk products, grains, fruits, and vegetables] increase the duration of life; purify one’s existence; and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Such foods are sweet, juicy, fatty, and palatable.”
Foods that are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry or hot, are of the quality of passion and cause distress. But foods of the quality of ignorance, such as meat, fish, and fowl, described as “putrid, decomposed, and unclean,” produce only pain, disease, and bad karma. In other words, what you eat affects the quality of your life. There is much needless suffering in the world today, because most people have no other criterion for choosing food than price and sensual desire.
Bhagavad Gita (3.13):
Yajna-sistasinah santoMucyante sarva-kilbisaihBhunjate te tv agham papaYe pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sin because they eat food, which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin”.
The Lord is fully satisfied in Himself. He is the creator of all so everything is already His. He supplies us with food through nature, but we give thanks to Him by offering it back in a mood of loving devotion. So if His devotee offers something with love, out of His causeless mercy God accepts it. This is exemplified by the Hindi words “tera tujko arpan”– I offer what is Yours to You. Thereafter it is akin to His gift to us, graced by His divine touch.
Knowing this, our entire attitude to food and the act of eating changes. The food offered will naturally be pure and the best. We share what we get with others before consuming it. We do not demand, complain or criticise the quality of the food we get. We eat it with cheerful acceptance (prasaada buddhi).
Before we partake daily meals we first sprinkle water around the plate as an act of purification. Five morsels of food are placed on the side of the table acknowledging the debt owed by us to the : Divine forces (devta runa) for their benign grace and protection. Our ancestors (pitru runa) for giving us their lineage and the family culture. The sages (rishi runa) as our religion and culture have been “realised” maintained and handed down to us by them. Our fellow beings (manushya runa) who constitute society without the support of which we could not live as we do and Other living beings (bhuta runa) for serving us selflessly.
The purpose of food, however, is not only to increase longevity and bodily strength, but also to purify the mind and consciousness. Therefore the spiritualist offers his food to the Lord before eating. Such offered food clears the way for spiritual progress.
What is Prasad?
Prasad is an offering made to a Hindu deity, usually eatable food items, which is distributed to the devotees as the deity’s blessings.
As a general rule “no onion, no meat, no garlic, no fish, no egg, no mushroom” policy is followed in all the holy centres and Hindu temples. They are strictly vegetarian. There may be exceptions. For instance Sri Lankan Tamil temples use garlic and onion. Indian temples won’t use them. In villages there are some strange customs of offering even toddy and meat to Grama Devatas (Village Goddesses).
Hindu Prasads: It is a billion dollar business.US temples sell Prasad. Tamil temples in Britain distribute free meals like Hare Krishna (Iskcon) temples and Sikh Gurdwaras. Hare Krishna people visit even universities and distribute food to students. I have seen long queues of students in London University.
Six types of Hindu Prasad
There are six types of Prasads:
1.Edible/ Cooked: Sweets, Different types of cooked rice, Sundal (boiled pulses mixed with spices).
Cooked Samba rice with Jeerak, Ven Pongal (cooked rice with pepper, butter and nuts), Sarkkarai Pongal (Rice Pudding), Payasam, (Liquid Rice Pudding) Puliyodharai (Tamarind Rice), Thayir sadham (Curd rice), Vadai (fried lentil snack), Modakam (Rice+ Sweet Coconut), Pittu (Rice+jiggery), Full square meal
2.Edible/ uncooked: Milk, Water, Panchamirtham(fruits, honey, jaggery, nuts, spices mixture), fruits, sugar candy, nuts, pepper, salt, sand from ant hill, Tulsi leaves, Powa (pounded rice mixed with coconut and sugar)
In Sankarankoil and Vaitheeswaran Koil in Tamil Nadu, people collect sand from anthill in the temple and eat it in minute quantities as Prasad and medicine.
Tamil Hindus take Coconut, Bananas, betel leaves and flowers into temple and take them home after offering it to God.
3.Applied on Body : Vibhuti, Kunkum, sandal, burnt Yaga ash, Bilva leaves and Yellow powder.
In all south Indian temples Vibhuti (holy ash), Kunkum (red powder made up with turmeric etc), Sindhur (Red powder), Sandal paste, Homa pasmam (holy ash from the fire pit), Bilva leaves, yellow powder are offered as Prasad. If it is a Vishnu temple Tulsi leaves are offered to devotees from the feet of the statue.
All temples give flowers to women which they wear it in their hair. Flower industry is also a billion dollar industry in India. In Western countries flowers are offered to women. In India it is first offered to Gods and then women get it from there. No Hindu women wear it straight from the basket.
4.Worn on body: Talisman, medals, holy thread (kaappu on wrists), Kasi thread (black), Flowers, Garlands, Silk, rosaries (Rudraksha or Tulsi seeds).
Special Prasads like Rudraksha Malas, Tulsi malas, silk from the Gods’ statues, talismans are obtained with special arrangements.
In South Indian Temples, used sarees from statues are sold in auction to women. They buy it as good luck symbol or auspicious items.
Pictures and books are given in some places such as Ashrams, Holy Centres, which can be kept at home as Prasad.
Metal objects such as rings, talismans etc come under this category.
5.Sold Prasad: Nowadays Prasad is sold in big temples; but simultaneously free Prasad is also distributed. Whoever needs more than that have to buy it.
After seeing the demand for Prasad, South Indian temples also started selling special prasads in special counters.
6.Free Prasad: Flowers, Vibhuti, Kunkum, Sandal or the fruits, coconuts we take it into the temple are returned to us; but yet there is a small fee for that service.
So we can broadly classify the Prasad into Sold and Free Prasads. In the same way, we can broadly classify them into cooked and not cooked Prasads.
There is a pattern in Prasad distribution:
In village temples they offer gruel made up of rice or millets
In Vishnu temples, they give Tulsi+water from a copper pots or silver vessels.
After the main Arti, they distribute Tamarind rice or Curd rice.
In Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu they distribute plain cooked rice with Jeera or Ven Pongal.
In Goddess Temples they offer Sweet Pongal, particularly Fridays.
But each temple has got something unique to offer.
As a student I used to go to the world famous Madurai Meenakshi Temple and get Samba rice or Ven Pongal in the day time and Sundal and milk after the last Arti (Palli Arai Deeparadhana).
In Krishnan temple,Madurai run by the Yadava caste, I used to queue up for tamarind rice or Curd rice.
On Fridays, they offer sweet Pongal to goddesses in the South Indian temples, Goddess statues are inside both the Vishnu and Shiva temples.
13 miles from my home town Madurai is Azakarkoil. They used to make unique ADAI (looks like Dosa but much thicker made up with grains,pulses and spices) two or three people can share it.
When we go to Tirupati we used to buy Ladoos and a small Adai like spicy snack. They do distribute rice items as well.
In the North Indian temples they distribute small sugar balls, sugar candy, nuts or coconut sweets as Prasad. In Swami Narayan temples, they offer sweets during Deepavali in huge quantity (Annakut festival).
Kerala temples are famous for the sweet liquid called Payasam. This is rice based item but can be made with jack fruit or sago or vermicelli or pounded rice.
In south India Tirupati (in Adhra Pradesh) laddu is the most famous Prasad. In Tamil Nadu, Panchamirtham of Palani Murugan temple is unique. Both these prasadas give work to lot of people.
Equally famous is the Mahaprasad of Puri Jagannatha Temple. It has fifty six cooked and non- cooked items in its menu.
Mahalaxmi Temple (Mumbai), Shirdi Sai Baba Temple (Shirdi), Viswanatha temple (Kasi) are offering sugar balls as prasad. In many of the temples people buy it from outside shop and offer it to God and take it back.
How to take Prasad?
Always take the Prasad with your right hand. Never use left hand. Both hands may be used but place your right palm over left palm, bow your head, and then receive it. You should not throw anything on floor even if you don’t want it. You have to dispose them in the containers for it.
List of Unique Hindu Prasads:
- Puri Jagannatha Temple: Maha (great or big) Prasad with 56 items
- Tirupati Balaji temple:Ladoo and Appam
- Palani Dandayutha pani Temple: Fruit Mixture (Panchamirtham)
- North Indian Temples: Sugar Balls or sweets
- Maharastrian Temples: Powa +Sugar+Coconut
- Kerala Temples: Ney Appam (fried sweet flour item with butter)
- Ganesh Temples: Modaka on special days
- Hanuman Temples: Vada (made up of Urad Dal) in South India or Boondhi in North India.
- Sabari Malai Ayyappan Temple: Aravanai sweet, Appam, Ghee from Cow’s butter
- Sri Rangam: Coconut, Butter, Spinach
- Tiruvarur Temple: Ney Murukku ( Fried Rice snack)
- Tirukkannapuram: special Pongal (rice item)
- Kancheepuram Varadaraja Perumal: Kanchi Type Idli (boiled rice cake with pepper)
- Kollur Mookambika and Kutralam: Medicinal concoction with herbs
- Chidambaram, Madurai Temples: Cooked Rice with Jeeraka
- Irinjala kuda Bharatha Temple: Brinjal/Aubergine preparation
- Vaishnava Devi in Kashmir: Puffed rice+coconut+sugar balls
- Ambalapuza in Kerala: Milk Payasam.
- Pongal to goddess in Kerala.
- In Tamil Nadu, during Navaratri festival and Markazi (Month Margsirsha) Bhajans, Sundal is distributed. On the Saraswati Puja/Vijayadasami day Sundal+Vada+ Sweet Pongal are distributed.
This is not a comprehensive list. Each temple has got its own Madappalli (kitchen) and its own traditional menu. Anything can be a Prasad once it is offered at the feet of God. Hinduism is a colourful religion. There is no place for monotony. Variety is the spice of life (loko binna ruchi:), says Kalidasa. Hindus see god even in variety of food items.