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To Eat or Not to Eat

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

The other day my friend, a true Bhaagavata, brought me some “Prasaadam” (“Pongal”, to be precise) from the nearby Srinivasan Sannidhi. All of us at home accepted it with gratitude and consumed it with relish, as it was delightful fare. Incidentally, have you ever noticed how prasaadams from the temple “madaippalli” (kitchen) taste somehow more delightful than food cooked at home, even though we might prepare the latter with the choicest and highest quality ingredients? For instance, my mother is considered an expert at making “Sarkkarai Pongal”: however, the same delicacy from Sri Parthasarathy Sannidhi is somehow more delectable and its taste lingers on the palate for days together. The Tirupati Laddu is another delicious example-you can never hope to imitate at home its taste, fragrance and longevity, whatever be the ingredients you may use. The obvious reason is that anything prepared solely for the Lord at duly consecrated places of worship and consumed by Him, becomes tastier and healthier too, ipso facto.

However, an acquaintance of mine belonging to a different sect, who was present at the time the prasaadam was brought home, was horrified at our ready acceptance and consumption of the same. According to him, there were specific prohibitions against use of food which had been offered first to the Lord. Though he couldn’t lay his finger on the specific texts which proscribed consumption of prasaadam, he said he would consult Shivaachaaryas and let me know. I do not know whom he consulted, but he did come up with a few credible scriptural texts, which apparently forbade reuse by us of food and other items offered to Emperuman.

The first and foremost argument against consumption of divine prasaadam was that it represented “left overs” or “ecchil” (“Ucchisshttam” in Sanskrit), which we have been taught time and again from childhood to eschew. We might have bitten from the same mango as our friend during childhood in ignorance, but after upanayanam especially, the standards of “ecchil” and “theettu” have been so ingrained in us that we would be horrified to partake of anything that has already been partly consumed by someone else. However high and mighty the person who has consumed the food first, the fact remains that the left over is indeed “ecchil” and as such unfit for consumption by another. Even if the Lord is the person to whom the food has been offered first, it remains a left over and how can we even think of its consumption, leave alone relish and revere it? These were the questions raised by the scriptural texts furnished by my acquaintance.

I was puzzled. This had never occurred to me before and with good reason too, for we have been following from time immemorial the practice of eating only food offered first to the Lord and it has been a hallowed tradition with Sri Vaishnavas to consume only Bhagavat Prasaadam. Though I put the vexing question on the back burner, it continued to trouble me, till I happened to peruse the “Sat Charitra Raksha” of Swami Desikan. It should have occurred to me much earlier that whatever be the question, if it dealt with subtle points of Shastram, then an answer would surely be found in the works of Swami Desikan, the Master Teacher who left nothing to doubt. The very question which had been put to me, I found, was dealt with elaborately by the Acharya, with scores of scriptural texts adduced in support. The work dealt not only with my problem, but with several other connected issues where doubts could arise in the minds of the uninformed like me. As the matter occupied the entire third chapter of the work, I presumed that even in those days there must have been people opposed to consumption of Bhagavat Prasaadam. And since Swami Desikan had cited portions of Sri Alavandar’s Aagama Praamaanyam and Varadaraja Pandita’s Sanmaarga Deepikaa, the question must indeed have lingered for more than a thousand years.

There are indeed some apparent objections in the Dharma Shastras to food first offered to the Lord being consumed by us. Maharshi Manu, while listing items of food which are to be avoided, includes food offered first to the Lord-“anupakrita maamsam cha devaannani haveemshi cha”. Another Smriti tells us that if one happens to eat food left over after offering to Gods, we should perform atonement in the form of “Chaandraayanam” -“nirmalyam cha nivedyam cha bhuktva chaandrayanam charet”. Since there is a general prohibition of food left over after consumption (“ecchil”), it would apply to Lord’s left overs too. It can’t be said that just as the left overs of the husband can be consumed by the wife and those of the father by his children, “ecchil” of the Lord too is admissible food for us, who are but His children-for, here, the father-child relationship is indirect, flowing from the fact that the Lord is the root-cause of all universe and not our direct father. If we were to admit this, then the left overs of Brahmaa, who is touted to be actual creator of all beings, should also, by the same token, be acceptable to Sri Vaishnavas.

Though Shastras permit consumption of one’s father’s left over, they extend no such concession in respect of food consumed by one’s mother. And since Shastras tell us that the Lord, apart from being the Universal Father, is a common mother too to all of us-“Mata pita bhraata nivaasa: sharanam suhrit”. By this token, since the Lord is our mother too, His left over should not be consumed by us.

Some Paancharatra texts like the Sanatkumara Samhita tell us that such left overs-not only food, but also flowers and fruits– of the Lord are to be avoided with effort-

 

“Niveditam to yat dravyam pushpam phalam athaapi vaa
tat Nirmaalyam iti proktam tat prayatnena varjayet”

And strict atonement or praayaschittam is prescribed for eating such food offered to the Lord-that of drinking only milk for a whole month, the whole time reciting the holy Ashtaakshara mantra, for regaining purity lost due to the intake of prasaadam-

“Nirmaalyam bhakshayitvaa evam ucchishttam agururorapi
maasam payovratee bhootvaa ashtaaksharam japan sadaa
Brahma koorcha: tato peetvaa shuddhi: bhavati maanava:”
“Nirmaalyaani cha na asneeyaat na jighret na cha langhayet”

Not only should such food and flowers offered to the Lord not be partaken of, they should not even be smelt or stepped over.

However, against these negative texts, there are a thousand other quotes from the scripture which categorically lay down that it is only bhagavat prasaadam that is to be consumed by us. For instance, the Mahopanishad tells us that we should eat and drink only that food which has been offered to the Lord, smell only that which He has worn-“Vishnunaa attam asnanti, Vishnu peetam pibanti, Vishnunaa ghraatam jighranti, Vishnu rasitam rasayanti, tasmat vidvaamso Vishnu uphritam bhakshayeyu: “. The Lord Himself tells us in the Gita that whatever we eat or drink should first be dedicated to Him-

“Yat karoshi yat asnaasi yat juhoshi dadaasi yat
Yat pasyasi Kounteya! Tat kurushva mat arpanam”

Every morsel of food unoffered to God that we partake represents a great morsel of sin that we contract, says the Bhagavat Gita. Such is the insistence of Shastras on the prior offering of food to Lord, that even items of food which have not been offered to the Lord, but which were received only at the time of the meal, are supposed to be offered to the Lord at least mentally, before being partaken of by us. The Paarameswara Samhita tells us that such bhagavat prasadam should not only be consumed as a matter of course, but is to be partaken of for ridding oneself of all sin-

“Tatastu Bhagavat bhuktam praasneeyaat niyata; svayam.
Kshayaaya sarva paapaanaam koshtta siddhyayepi cha”

Such prasaadam, which is the holiest of holies, is not only to be consumed by us, but also to be shared with all bhaagavatas and bhaktas and with the entire family-

“Dattam bhaagavata shreshttai: Vishnave prabhavishnave
tat pavitram pavitraanaam pavanaanaam cha paavanam
daatavyam dvijaateenam bhaktaanaam paavanaaya cha”

If the mere touch of the prasaadam purifies us beyond measure and makes us sacred and eligible for all karmas, should we say anything about eating and drinking bhagavat prasadam?

“Svayam chaapi tat asneeyat sarva papa visuddhaye
Tasya samsparsanat bhojanaat dhaaranaat sadaa
Suchi: bhavati Viprendra! Sarva karmasu sammata:”

The Paadma Samhita tells us that partaking of bhagavat prasadam, which is the most sacred of foods, is a must and failure to do so would be sinful and lead to our down fall. While food offered to the Lord, His Consorts, Garuda, Sudarsana and other Ayudhas is to be accepted and consumed with eagerness, that offered to Brahma, Rudra, et al is to be avoided at all cost and not even to be touched-

“Brahma Eesaanaadi devaanaam naiva bhojyam niveditam
na sprisyam no langhaneeyam chandaadeenaam tathaiva cha
Deveenaam tu Sriyaadeenaam Vinata nandasya cha
Chakradeenaam Ayudhaanaam vastu yat yat niveditam
Bhoktavyam eva sarvesham vipradeenaam asankitam
Vishno: niveditam sarvam paavanaanaam cha paavanam
Praapanam durlabham bhojyam na tyaajyam syaat kadaachana
Bhunjaanaanaam edhate Sree:tyajataam pariheeyate
Vrata upavaasa tulitam asanam tasya paavanam”

Just as young men covet the “taamboolam” that has been sweetened by the saliva of their sweet hearts, bhaktas and Rishis long for bhagavat prasadam-

“Sesha bhuktim prasamsanti Munyaya: tattva darsina:
yuvaana:khalu vaanchanti taamboolam tarunee mukhaat”

Eating is akin to a Yagam-it is known as Anuyaagam. And the mantras used in this yaagam are, “praanaaya svaaha, apaanaaya svaahaa” etc., to the accompaniment of which food is to be taken with the middle finger, etc.

Srimad Ramayanam tells us that Sri Rama took prasaadam offered first to Sriman Narayana, on the night prior to His coronation-

“Mahate daivataaya aajyam juhaava jvalitenale
sesham cha havishastasya praasyaat aatmana: priyam
dhyaayan Narayanam devam”

Though several Pancharatra Samhitas have been quoted above to the effect that food offered to the Lord is to be partaken of as prasadam, Smritis are clear that such prasaadam should not be given to those ineligible for it-

“Apaatraanaam abhaktaanaam naastikaanaam duraatmanaam
mantrapootam cha naivedyam nishiddhanaam cha dadaati ya:
siddhopi yaati paatityam aarurukushustu kim puna:

Prasaadam is to be preserved with effort from such ineligible people, as also from dogs, cats, monkeys, birds and rats. In case such prasaadam happens to be partaken of by such people or animals, one should perform praayaschittam by reciting the Ashtaaksharam a 108 times with concentration.

We are indeed puzzled-there is a host of texts prescribing compulsory consumption of food offered to the Lord, while there appear to be many others proscribing the same. Swami Desikan tells us that such apparent dichotomy among the Smirits can be reconciled, if only we realize that both prescription and proscription of bhagavat prasaadam are true, but relate to food offered to different deities. While those offered to the Lord are indeed sacred and are to be partaken of with eagerness, those offered to other devatas like Brahma and Rudra are to be avoided at all cost, says the Brahma Puranam-

“Vishno: niveditam shuddham munibhi: bhojyam uchyate
anyat nivedyam nirmaalyam bhuktvaa chaandraayanam charet

Thus, Nirmaalyam/Nivedyam or left over, refers only to fruits, flowers and food offered to other deities like Rudra and it is to such food that the scriptural texts advocating avoidance should be attributed, says Swami Desikan.

Food or other items set apart for offering to the Lord is known as “Devaannam” and should not be used by us prior to such offering. If this is done, we attract sin, which is washed away only by due atonement, says Sri Poushkara Samhita-

“Praak saadhitam cha yaagaartham devataanaam prayatnata:
Tat samarpana paryantam yaavat devaannam uchyate
Anyatha bhakshanam tasya yadi mohaat kritam Dvija!
Praayaschitta shatai: cheernai: succhi: bhavati maanava:”

Manu’s strong advice to avoid Devannam (that which is set apart for offering to the Lord), indicates that food should not be used by us prior to being offered to Emperuman. After offering, it becomes prasaadam and it is perfectly in order for us to partake of the same.

Decrying or disregarding such prasaadam, whether it be food offered to the Lord, sandal paste, flowers, etc., is sure to make us rot in hell, as is pointed out by Sri Rudra to Skanda, in Ishwara Samhita. The same Samhita tells us whatever has come off the Lord’s divine body-Kumkumam, Chandanam, Tulasi, flowers, fragrant powder, etc.-are extremely sacred and one who applies the same to his forehead reaps the fruits of having performed a hundred Ashwamedha yaagas. This should teach us not to leave kumukumam, Manjal kaappu etc. which we receive in temples, either smeared on the pillars or on shelves in the temple.

“Kumkumam chandanam chaiva karpooram cha anulepanam
Vishnu deha paraamrishtam tat vai paavana paavanam”

If such is the greatness of food, etc. offered to the Lord, what about water used to wash His holy feet? Sacred water from the Lord’s feet is capable of washing away all sins and confers merits to be obtained from bathing in all the holy rivers of the land-

“Prithivyaam yaani teertthaani teshu snaanena yat phalam
Vishno: paadodakam moordhnaa dhaarayet sarvam aapnuyaat”

The Bhaagavata Puranam tells us that Sri Sankara has full realization of the holiness of water from the Lord’s feet, for it is he who bears the Ganga on his head, the Ganga which originated from the Lord’s tiruvadi during Trivikramaavataaram –

“Paadodakasya maahaatmyam jaanaati eva hi Sankara:
Vishnu paadodbhavaam Gangaaam shirasa adhaarayat hi sa:

Defining a Vaishnava, Bhaagavatam tells us that he is one who has Sriman Narayana’s glorious form etched deep in his heart, the Lord’s name on his lips, food offered to the Lord in his stomach and the water from His feet on his head-

“Hridi roopam mukhe naama naivedyam udare Hare:
Paadodakam cha nirmaalyam yasya moordhni sa Vaishnava:

Sri Paada Teerttham of Bhaagavaataas is as holy as sacred water from the Lord’s feet and is capable of destroying all our sins, says Sri Sounaka-


“Bhakta paadachutenaapi mat snaapita jalena vaa
nara: paapaat pramuchyeta snaana paanaadi karmabhi:”

Those who wear daily, garlands offered first to the Lord, are sure of a berth in paradise, says Sounaka again-

“Maalaam ya: dhaarayet nityam Vaishnaveem bhaktim aashrita:
sarva paapa vinirmukta: sa yaati paramaam gatim

From this, it appears to follow that when we are offered the Lord’s garland at a sannidhi, we should not remove it from our necks immediately, but should remember its holiness and the fact that it has had the fortune to adorn the Lord’s chest.

All of us eat food which has first been offered to the Lord during Tiruvaaradhanam. What if some item is served in the middle of breakfast, which has not been offered to the Lord first? We should, prior to consuming the same, offer it mentally to the lord, says the Bharadvaaja Samhita. This applies to anything and everything that we use-flowers, new clothes, jewels, etc-everything should first be offered to the Lord and then appropriated for our use, as bhagavat prasaadam. This is what Sri Periazhwar lays down as the principal attribute of the Lord’s devotees-they wear only what the Lord has worn and cast off, they adorn themselves with flowers and Tulasi which have first had the good fortune of association with Emperuman’s divine body-“Uduttha kalainda nin peethaka aadai, udutthu kalattha thundu, thoduttha tuzhaai malar soodi kalaindana soodum it tondarkalom”

The sacredness of bhagavat prasaadam can be gauged from the reverence with which Sri Vishvaksena is held. Though he is the Lord’s Prime Minister, he is popularly known as one who consumes with relish the leftovers of the Lord-“Seshaasana: “-Tvadeeya bhukta ujjhita sesha bhoginaa”(Sri Alavandar).

Swami Desikan says the practice in some places, especially in Kerala, of not consuming bhagavat prasaadam, is clearly wrong, in view of the aforesaid.

Another question that often troubles us is this–Does the Lord really eat what we place before Him during Tiruvaaradhanam? Since the quantum or variety of food that is offered doesn’t diminish even a little even after the offering, is it not evident that the Lord does not partake of the food, with however much devotion and love it is offered and by however devoted a person? If such be the case, are we deluding ourselves that we are partaking of food offered to the Lord, as the Lord doesn’t appear to accept the same? This calls into question the very basis of temple worship, for the huge quantities of food and other offerings to the Lord would apparently appear to be a waste, as the Lord doesn’t care for them nor has any use for them.

Not so, says the Saatvata Samhita. Food consists of two parts-the gross and subtle. The Lord accepts the subtle portion of the offering, when it is done with devotion. Thus, though there is no apparent reduction in the quantity of offering commensurate with the Lord’s acceptance thereof, the essence of the food-Rasam-is indeed consumed by Emperuman-

“Kapittasya phalam chaiva yathaa kunjara bhakshitam
tasya saaram cha grinheeyaat tathaa havirasam Prabhu:

When food is offered to other Devatas, is it proper to offer it first to the Lord and then to the former? For instance, while performing the annual ceremony (Pratyaabdhika shraaddham) for one’s father, those who are to be propitiated are the Pitru Devatas. Since the ritual is performed principally for them, should not food be cooked separately, rather than our offering them the left overs of the Lord?

The Paadma Samhita clearly lays down that only food that has been offered to the Lord should be submitted to other Devatas, including Pitru devatas-

“Vishno: nivedita annena yashtavyam Devataantaram
Pitrubhyascha tat deyam taccha aanantyaaya kalpate.”

Thus, in Shraaddham as well as in Vaisvadevam, it is food that has been offered first to the Lord that is to be used.

Are you surprised that there is so much behind the prasaadam which we routinely accept and consume? Yes, indeed, and what I have indicated is only the barest outline. I would invite readers to have a feast by perusing the original works of Swami Desikan, each of which is an invaluable gem, capable of destroying darkness and ignorance with its luster and luminance.

Srimate Sri Lakshmi Nrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

This article is written by Shri Sadagopan Iyengar of Coimbatore

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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5 Comments

  1. in geeta , krishna tells not to consume uchchishtam . but there are some xceptions. they are : deva , bhartru , jeshtha bhrata , pita , bhagavata , aacharya. (god’s , husband’s, elder brother’s , father’s , bhagavata’s and guru’s uchchishtam can/should be consumed .

  2. As per Bhagavad-Gita, anything we consume has to be done as prasadam. Otherwise, we eat only sin.

    Bhagavad-Gita 3:13
    Wise ones eat the food that remains
    after being offered to yajña;
    thus, they are released from all evils.
    Wicked ones prepare food for their own sake
    and indeed live on sin alone.
    {In the process of procuring our food, to some extent,
    we cause trouble to nature and also to other beings.
    So we purify the food by offering it to the supreme
    and then eating it with a sense of gratitude.
    Even if we eat a dry leaf that fell on its own accord,
    we must not do so with a sense of entitlement}.

  3. In Thirupallandu Periyazhwar says

    uduththuk kaLaindha nin peethaka aadai uduththuk* kalaththathuNdu*
    thoduththa thuzhaaymalar soodik kaLaindhana* soodum iththoNdar kaLOm.

    Kalathu atu undu ( so a true bhagawata cherishes the clothes worn by God, Eats the food partaken by him, and wears the tulsi and flowers worn by Lord Narayanaya.

    1. ஸ்வாமின்!
      நாராயணன் ஒருவனே புருஷன் நாம் எல்லாரும் அவனது தாசிகள் என்று ஆழ்வார்கள் அனைவரும் காட்டி நிற்க, புருஷன் எச்சிலை மனைவி உண்ண சாஸ்திரங்கள் அனுமதிக்கும்போது, ஆழ்வார்கள் காட்டிய வழியில் நில்லாத சிவாச்சாரியர்கள் சொல்வதை ஏன் பொருட்படுத்த வேண்டும்?

  4. Dear Sir,
    The naivedyam of Sri Siva temple in olden days will not be distributed to devotees.Nowadays like Sri Vishnu temples prasadam is distributed to devotees.
    01.06.2012.Times have changed.When people take food in restaurants,hotels it is not a sin.But due to various reasons people has to go to hotels.In kaliyugam old rituals which are healthy will become difficult to practice for various reasons.

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