Prasadam – significance

Prasadam – significance

The Lord says in Bhagvad Gita, “Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam Yo Me Bhaktya Prayacchati; Tadaham Bhaktyupahritamasanami Prayatatmanah.

Meaning: “Whoever offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water with devotion, that I accept, offered as it is with a loving heart.”

Ever wonder why Prasadam invariably tastes delicious? Throughout the length and breadth of our country Prasad is made according to the cuisine of the state yet devotees from near and far, abroad too can be seen relishing the Prasadam; why so? We come back to the last line phrase of the above shloka; offered as it is with a loving heart. Prasad means that which gives peace. It is the sacred food offered first to the Lord and then shared amongst the devotees present in the temple at that time. The bhava or the attitude of the devotee offering Bhog or Prasada to the Lord makes all the difference. The attitude with which the Prasada is taken brings a change in the devotee.  The grace of the Lord descends through Prasada, brings peace and calm to the unsettled mind, resolving problems in a surprisingly simple way.

Prasad is also referred to as ‘Naivedya’; Naivedya means supplication or ‘a humble entreaty’ to the Lord offering the Naivedya and appealing for an acceptance of the same. Naivedya need not necessarily be food but is usually food which becomes Prasada and distributed to one and all. A beautiful meaning that comes to light is; we are offering our ignorance (avidya), the food symbolically represents our ignorant consciousness, which we place at the Lord’s feet for spiritual enlightenment. After HE charges or suffuses it with knowledge and breathes a new life into it, we share and partake of the same which in turn helps us become divine or move closer to divinity. When we share this Prasad we are actually sharing the divine knowledge; the Lord’s blessings thus gained with our fellow beings.

The faith of the devotee who is eating the Prasad is what makes it divine or any other edible thing. It was MiraBai’s faith alone which turned the poison to nectar; which she drank in complete remembrance of her Lord thinking of it as Prasad coming straight from her beloved Krishna.

Partaking of Prasada is considered to be a sacred act, irrespective of the quality or quantity of the Prasad. The fact that it is coming from Isvara, Lord himself changes the nature or attitude of the recipient of the Prasada. Prasada stands for Prasada buddhi, an attitude of graceful acceptance.

“Swami Tattvavidananda, in his book titled: ‘Heart is the Temple’ explains this beautifully thus: The serenity of the mind symbolised by the Prasada in the temple is eulogised by the Lord in the Bhagvad Gita as follows:

“Ragadvesaviyuktaistu visayanindriyaiscaran, atmavasyairvidheyatma prasadamadhigacchati.

Prasade sarvaduhkhanam hanirasyopajayate,  prasannacetaso hyasu buddhih paryavatisthate.” (2-64, 65)

One may interact with the objects of the world through the senses that are free from attachment and aversion, gaining mastery over them. One who has mastered the mind attains Prasada, the serenity and harmony, will be free from all sorrows. Such a person’s mind is readily absorbed (in Atman).

The Prasada buddhi helps us cultivate a mind that is equanimous in prosperity as well as in adversity out of recognition of the fact that whatever we receive, whether good or bad, is given to us by Isvara. Isvara is the Karma phala data, the giver of the results of our action. They are the outcome of Isvara’s karma niyati, the law regulating the results of the action. Isvara bestows the karma phala, the results of the action accordingly; we receive what we deserve. That is why Isvara is called as sarvagyana, the all-knowing. He does not favour one or discriminate against other. Therefore, we have to learn to treat both prosperity and adversity as Isvara’s Prasada.”

Thus, Prasada prepared, offered and partaken with the right attitude changes the person and the aspirant becomes the recipient of wonderful experiences. It is also said that Prasada should be taken exactly that little quantity which the aspirant can completely digest, and nothing leaves the body as excreta. If Prasad is also gulped and gobbled like any other food then most of it will be leaving our system before it has a chance to leave a lasting impression and good impact on us, and maximum benefit that can be derived is lost.

Prasada is panacea, if taken in the right measure with the right attitude. Prasad becomes the remedy for all ailments, emotional, spiritual and the aspirant feels light and unburdened after eating the Prasad. Prasad is the spiritual elixir, the alchemic preparation capable of bringing out one’s pure innocent self, revealing the true path to self- realization. Prasad is the Grace of the Lord Himself, a cure and an ideal sign telling the aspirant that the Lord has lifted the devotee, lifted the devotee up and going on the path of self- realization.  It is the embodiment of Shakti, energising the partaker and infusing him/her with energy and zest to walk the path of life with courage, and absolute devotion. The Lord manifests Himself in Prasada, but only to those who partake in true faith, with the correct attitude in the apt quantity. Thus, Prasadam should be taken with great faith.

The Hindus also believe that Prasadam is a mental state experienced by Gods and true seers; they bestow boons and are very spontaneously generous towards the devotee who offers Prasadam with the right attitude. It thus began with a mental state (as is mentioned in the Rig Veda)which the Lord ‘saw’ in the earnest devotee and with time changed to more materialistic forms of money, clothing, food items flowers etc. The essence nevertheless remains the same; the humble faithful offering of ‘avidya’ to the Lord to be able to peel away the ignorance and be able to walk the path of self- realisation. Prasadam teaches the aspirant acceptance, humility and tranquillity. It helps maintain equanimity in success and adverse situations of poverty and strife.

The lamp we light

The lamp we light

All Hindus light the lamp in front of the deity, without which our prayers and worship remain incomplete. This is a ritual we have followed since time immemorial. We all do so with utmost devotion and dedication. The meaning of these rituals has never been asked or questioned either. Apart for the simple meaning our folks gave us, ‘you should not, and must not keep the prayer room in dark! A light must burn always.’  Which is explanation enough for us and we stick to it with complete faith. When we run out of oil or clarified butter we become creative and improvise with the small bed light. We are all following instructions and trying to be as true to them as possible. Most of us do not delve deep and try to understand or ascertain why we need to light the lamp in the first place and when we are lighting the lamp, then which lamp should it be? What significance does an oil lamp have and why the effect is nullified the minute we switch on the night light to replace the oil lamp? In the hustle-bustle of our work-home-work routine we barely manage to spare a few minutes to light the lamp every day without fail, that itself is like a big accomplishment for us.

Swami Tattvavidananda, here talks about the lamp, the oil lamp; its’ significance and meaning which clears the soot of our minds and lights up the lamp of understanding explaining ‘why only oil lamp’. ‘In the inner shrine of the temple, the darkness unremittingly tries to envelope the lamp, and the latter in return is struggling to dispel that darkness. Such struggle is constantly going on in the devotee’s heart too between the ignorance and the desire for the knowledge. This is the symbolism of the tiny lamp in a corner of the inner shrine.

The lamp in the shrine is necessarily an oil lamp. It cannot be substituted with an electric lamp, though of similar appearance, for every aspect of the oil lamp has significance. Typically, an oil lamp is lit inside the shrine. The word ‘sneha’ means the oil and also love and affection. When the aspirant settles into devotion to the Lord, he acquires equipoise of the mind. In the metaphor, that devotional state of mind serves as oil for the lamp of knowledge. Oil has two characteristics: it is very sticky, and it flow is continuous and unbroken. The devotee should acquire these two characteristics in the heart in his devotion to the Lord.’

‘The symbolism continues further. There is a varti, wick made up of cotton, that sustains the flame. It stands for proper value system in the devotee’s life, e.g. discipline in the eating habits and speech, right attitude towards others and so on.’ Even after years of worship and temple going, keeping a light burning in the temple room also change is not visible and some of us wonder why so. Our prayers are a distracted mutli -tasking duty juggling between the kitchen getting our kids ready for school and mentally worrying whether the maid is going to come or do we have to do the dishes also before leaving for work. Can we honestly remember a day when we can say that ‘yes, today we only prayed’. Without any other thought sneaking in we are barely able to light the lamp every day, praying is very farfetched.

Oil – lamp has a wide base serving as a receptacle. It holds all the oil required to fuel the flame, and also provides stability to the lamp. The mind filled with vairagya or dispassion is the base. To summarize, the seers have incorporated the entire teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita in the temple worship. Once we understand correctly the symbolism of temple worship, the temple emerges from a seat of worship to a seat of learning.’

The base, the oil, the wick and the eternally burning flame, all have their own meaning and significance and definitely cannot be replaced with anything else. The minute we start replacing anything, we are filtering or diluting the process and the essence diminishes accordingly. We on our own can put ourselves to a test and decide why after all these years of praying and temple visiting, we are yet to really get there, find peace or see a change in ourselves. One among the above steps, maybe more than one will be missing or adulterated, hence the result, or the lack of it. Maybe the change is yet to come because a few steps are wrong or bereft of the essence of worship.

Hindu religion is a highly evolved and scientifically structured religion. The Brahmins used to perform the Pooja and all the rituals because they were given this education since childhood. The Gurukul system was so prevalent and compulsory for every child because only by living with the guru, watching the guru, learning from the expert in person is the only way you can assure yourself that you have learnt it all correctly, the method, the meaning and its significance. How else can anyone replicate it and achieve the same heights that the guru attained? This may be the reason why today’s India is lacking in true realized souls, even though we have an ever increasing number of devotees and Temples. We need to be with the guru or listen to the guru with all our heart to really know, learn and imbibe. It is strange that we eagerly accept a teacher when we need to learn any subjects, like English, Math or Science but when it comes to learning about the most important thing, worship, for our personal betterment some like me think we know it all, or some of us conveniently assign the task to the temple priest and continue to light the lamp with whatever is available at home unmindful whether what we are doing is beneficial or simply a routine duty.