by Jayaram V
"The saintly persons get relief from all kinds
of sins by partaking the food that has been first offered to
gods as sacrifice. But those who prepare food for their selfish
ends eat but only sins. (Bhagavad gita 3:13)
"All beings come into existence from food. Food
comes from rains. Rains originate from the performance of sacrifices.
And sacrifice is born out of doing prescribed duties. (Bhagavad
I speak the truth, it is indeed his death. He
who nourishes neither the god nor a friend, he who eats alone,
gathers sin. (Rig Veda X. 117)
From earth herbs, from herbs food, from food
seed, from seed man. Man thus consists of the essence of food.
'From food are produced all creatures which dwell
on earth. Then they live by food, and in the end they return
to food. For food is the oldest of all beings, and therefore
it is called panacea. (Taittiriya Upanishad)
Food is God
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. Orthodox 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.
In the Bhagavadgita Sri Krishna declares that food is of three
types as are sacrifices, austerity and charity. Sattvic (pure) food
is that one which increases longevity, purity, strength, health,
happiness and taste and which is juicy, oily, durable in nature
and liked by sattvic people. Rajasic (hot) food is that one which
is bitter, sour, salty, hot and spicy, burning and which gives unhappiness,
sorrow and disease. Tamasic (intoxicating) food is that one which
is stored and devoid of any juices, dried, foul smelling, decomposed,
left over and indigestible. When a person eats these foods
without offering them to God, he develops the qualities they impart
and acts according to them. One should therefore be very careful
in what one eats and when, where and how it is eaten.
In Hinduism several rituals are associated with food. A child's
first feeding is celebrated as a samskara known as annaprasana.
The funeral rites involve serving of of food, offering of food to
the departed soul and making of his astral body with food for his
continuation in the ancestral world. According to Manu," Food, that
is always worshipped, gives strength and manly vigour; but eaten
irreverently, it destroys them both." He therefore advices that
"a twice-born man should always eat his food with concentrated mind,
after performing an ablution; and after he has eaten," he should
"duly cleanse himself with water and sprinkle the cavities of his
head. Devout Hindus observe some rituals before eating food, which
are enumerated below.
- Cleaning the place. Food is always eaten in a clean place.
The Hindu law books proscribe eating food in unclean places.
- Sprinkling of water around the food. When food is served,
water is sprinkled around it, accompanied by some mantras or
prayers. This is meant to purify the food and make it worthy
for the gods. Some water is also sipped following this act,
in order to clear the throat.
- Making an offering of the food. Food is then offered to
five vital breaths (pranas), namely prana, apana, vyana, udana,
samanaya and then to Brahman seated in the heart.
Some offer food to their personal gods or divinities before eating
instead of the five vital breaths. The purpose of offering food
to the deities and God is two fold. It renders the act of eating
a sacrificial ritual and signifies internalization of sacrifice,
making ones body a sacrificial altar. Secondly it is believed that
offering food to gods is a mark of self-surrender and devotion.
According to Hindu scriptures, he who eats food after offering it
to gods or God would come to no harm as any rajasic or tamasic substances
or qualities hidden in the food would be neutralized by the their
positive energies and blessings. In addition to these, the twice
born were advised to perform five sacrifices every day which are
essentially sacrificial offerings of food to different entities.
- Ahuta, which is not offered to the fire, usually the vedic
- Huta, which is the burnt oblation offered to the gods,
- Prahuta which is usually food grains etc offered by scattering
it on the ground
- the Bali, which is the sacrificial offering given to the
Bhutas or ghosts,
- Brahmya-huta, which is the food offered to the digestive
fires of Brahmanas and guests invited to one's house,
- Prasita, which is offered to the to the ancestors.
According to the Bhagavadgita, he who eats food without offering
to God verily incurs sin. Food is also served to guests and poor
people during festive occasions and important ceremonies. In ancient
India young students who were initiated into Brahmacharya were expected
to beg for their food. Cooking food is also prohibited for those
who have entered the phase of Sanyasa or renunciation. While self-mortification
was not suggested, they were expected to gradually reduce their
dependence upon food in order to set themselves free from the cravings
of the body and the mind.
According to Hinduism, food is responsible for our physical birth
and also the development of our bodies. What we eat decides our
physical well being as well
as our mental makeup. If we eat sattvic food (pure food)
we become sattvic (pure) beings. If we heat rajasic food (hot and
spicy) we become rajasic (ambitious, temparamental, egoistic etc).
If we eat animal food or intoxicating foods, we may develop
animal qualities and lethargic nature. Therefore we have to be careful
about our food. Besides killing innocent and helpless animals for
the purpose of filling ones stomach is a bad karma with harmful
Apart from non vegetarian food, orthodox Hindus also avoid eating
spicy food, onions, garlic, mushrooms, intoxicating juices, very
sour food and some bulbs and tubers. The following are a few quotations
from the Manusmriti.
The eater who daily even devours those destined to be his food,
commits no sin; for the creator himself created both the eaters
and those who are to be eaten (for those special purposes). ( 5:30)
Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures,
and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to (the attainment
of) heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun (the use of) meat. (5:48)
There is no sin in eating meat, in (drinking) spirituous liquor,
and in carnal intercourse, for that is the natural way of created
beings, but abstention brings great rewards. (5:56)
Not all Hindus avoid eating meat. A great majority of Hindus
eat it. In ancient India even the Brahmins ate certain types of
sacrificial meat. Hindu law books do not prohibit the eating of
meat in general, but only certain types of meat. To a great extent
Jainism and to some extent Buddhism influenced the food eating habits
of the Hindu community in ancient India, although we cannot say
definitely that the concept of non violence and avoiding meat eating
were alien to them before. As early as the rig Vedic period, ancient
Hindu sages who spent their lives in meditation and seclusion subsisted
on roots and tubers and plant food only to gain control over their
minds and bodies and attain self-realization. Hiuen Tsang who
visited India in the 7th Century AD noted that Indian ate mostly
Hindus believe that serving food to the poor and the needy, to
the pious and the religious and to the birds, insects and animas
is a very good karma. In ancient India it was an obligatory religious
duty to serve food to the begging students and sadhus and to the
Brahmanas. Food is also associated with a lot of religious activity.
Food is invariably offered to God during most of the religious ceremonies.
On specific days in a year food is offered to departed souls. Food
is also distributed to people at the end of many religious ceremonies.
Many Hindu temples distribute food freely every day to the visiting
If eating is a sacrificial ritual, fasting is another kind of
ritual meant to purify the body and the mind and develop the sattvic
quality of detachment and equanimity. Devout Hindus observe fasting
on special occasions as a mark of respect to their personal gods
or as a part of their penance. At certain times in a year like the
Durganavami festival they do not take food for days together.
Suggested Further Reading