by Jayaram V
Annam means food. According to Hindu
scriptures, annam is a form of
parabrahma swaroopam). In the Prasna Upanishad we find
this description of Brahman as food:
Food is in truth the Lord of Creation. From food seed is
produced and from this beings are born.
Hindu texts refer to the physical body as annamaya kosa or food body
because it is produced by food. It is the outermost sheath of our five sheaths. The remaining four bodies are the breath body, the mental
body, the intelligence body and the bliss body which surround the inmost
atman. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes these different
bodies in detail. The following verse describes the physical
All beings that exists on earth are being
born of food. Thereafter they live by food. Again ultimately they go
back to it and merge to become food. So verily food is the eldest of all
creatures. On that basis food is called the medicine (aushadham ucchyate
sarvam) of all. Those who meditate upon Brahman as food will obtain all
food. From food are born all beings and after being born the grow by
food. Food is eaten by all beings and in the beings all beings are eaten
by food. Therefore food is called annam.
The food body is also identified with the earth element (mahabhuta) because
it consists mostly of the earth matter. The gross body is the
seat of our senses and it receives nourishment through the
food. It is responsible for our bodily desires and bondage to earth.
When a person dies he leaves his food body behind and goes to other
planes of existence depending upon his previous karma. The
Taittiriya Upanishad explains the process in detail:
That which is in man is also in the sun. He who knows thus, upon
leaving this world and the self made of food first attains the self made
of prana (breath), next the self made of mind, next the self made of
buddhi (intelligence) and lastly the self made of bliss.
Food occupies an important part in the religious life of Hindus. Food
is offered to ancestors during rituals. Food is offered to gods during
their invocation ceremonies. Food is offered to deities in the temples.
Food is served to the poor and the needy as part of seva or charitable
service. Food is also served to the animals and birds as a part of
religious duty. Food is offered to one's personal deity before eating. It
is believed that when food is offered to one's personal deity before
eating it, the deity would neutralize harmful energies contained in the
food. In the Taittiriya
Upanishad. Varuna gives an advise to his son
Bhrigu (Chapter 3, Bhriguvalli) that he should consider it as a duty not
to disrespect food, not to reject food, keep plenty of food and provide
without fail whatever food that is made in the household to the guests
who come to visit.
Hindu texts also put heavy emphasis on eating the right kind of food.
Food is the main source of energy for the physical body.
Whatever food that we eat impacts the triple qualities of sattva, rajas
and tamas in our bodies, which inturn impact the balance of our minds and bodies.
The Bhagavadgita recognizes three kinds of food in terms of
the qualities each promotes. Food that is freshly made, juicy, oil,
tasty and agreeable is sattvic food. It promotes longevity, purity,
strength, health, happiness and cheerfulness. Food that is bitter, sour,
salty, hot and pungent is rajasic food. It causes pain, grief and
disease. Food that is half cooked, rotten, stored, stale, putrid, left
over, half eaten and impure is tamasic food. It promotes slothfulness,
cruelty and evil nature. The Bhagavadgita declares that the sacrifice
in which no food is distributed is tamasic sacrifice, in which food is
distributed with some selfish intent is rajasic and the sacrifice in
which food is offered without any desire for its fruit is sattvic.
The Hindu dharma shastras 1 prescribe a number of rules to be
observed before, during and after eating food. There are specifications
as to what kinds of food should be eaten, in whose company it should be
eaten or avoided, what vessels should be used to eat, most of which
would not make any sense in the present world. For example one of the
rules says we should not eat any readymade or prepared food from
the market or food that was prepared a night before. Likewise there are
rules prohibiting intoxicating drinks, sheep milk, camel milk, cow milk within ten
days after the cow gives birth, food mixed with herbs, mushrooms, garlic,
onions, leeks, meat of one hoofed animals, pigs, bulls, birds (like
cock) that scratch their feet, swans, cranes, five toed animals with
some exceptions and food touched or cooked by impure persons. The shastras also prohibit eating
food which is prepared in certain
places (in the house of a near relation where a person has died
recently) or during certain periods or offered by certain classes of
people (food prepared by a professional physician or a eunuch).
A majority of Hindus are non-vegetarians. They may not however eat
meat as regularly as in the west especially because meat is more
expensive in India. The number of strict vegetarians is comparatively
less but their number is growing as more and more people are drawn into spiritualism.
Jainism and Buddhism did bring some awareness about
vegetarianism because of their emphasis on non-injury to living beings,
but it is difficult to say how much influence they had on the masses.
Meat eating was not prohibited for Hindus in ancient
there is a religious permission to eat meat especially for those who are
not initiated into spiritual life or into priestly duties. Certain types
of meat was not allowed. So was meat eating on certain days in a week or
certain festival days.
If we go by the beliefs of Hinduism, meat eating impacts the
development of the five sheaths and delay our spiritual advancement.
Beside it is bad karma to indulge in the killing of animals or support
it through buying and eating animal flesh. Most important of all it
impacts the collective karma of entire nations and the planet itself and
delay our planet's further evolution. So long as we indulge in killing
animals on our planet either for pleasure or for food, violence and
aggression will continue to effect our lives in one form or the
Suggested Further Reading