In western tradition food is partaken after a thanksgiving prayer – grace. Indians make an offering of it to the Lord and later partake of it as prasada – a holy gift from the Lord. In temples and in many homes, the cooked food is first offered to the Lord each day. The offered food is mixed with the rest of the food and then served as prasada. In our daily ritualistic worship (puja) too we offer naivedyam (food) to the Lord. Why do we offer food to the Lord?
The Lord is omnipotent and omniscient. All that we do is by His strength and knowledge alone. Being the totality, all that we receive in life as a result of our actions is really His alone. We acknowledge this through the act of offering food to Him. This is exemplified by the famous aarti words in Hindi tera tujko arpan – ‘I offer what is Yours to You’. Thereafter what is received is His gift to us (prasada), graced by His divine touch.
Knowing this, our entire attitude to food and the act of eating changes. The food offered is pure and the best and shared with others, before consuming. We do not demand, complain or criticize the quality of the food we get. We do not waste or reject it. We eat it with a cheerful acceptance (prasada buddhi). When we become established in this attitude, we are then able to cheerfully accept all we get in life as His prasada.
Before we partake of our 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 plate acknowledging the debt owed by us to: a) Divine forces (देवता ऋण, devta runa) for their benign grace and protection. b) Our ancestors (पितृ ऋण, pitru runa) for giving us their lineage and a family culture. c) The Sages (ऋषि ऋण, rishi runa) as our religion and culture have been “realized”, maintained and handed down to us by them. d) Our fellow beings (मनुष्य ऋण manushya runa) who constitute the society, without the support of which we could not live as we do. e) Other living beings (भूत ऋण bhuta runa) for serving us selflessly.
Thereafter the Lord, the life force, who is also within us as the five life-giving physiological functions, is offered the food. This is done with the chant
ॐ प्राणाय स्वाहा, ॐ अपानाय स्वाहा, ॐ व्यानाय स्वाहा, ॐ उदानाय स्वाहा, ॐ समानाय स्वाहा, ॐ ब्रह्मणे स्वाहा !
Om Praanaaya Swaahaa, Om Apaanaaya Swaahaa, Om Udaanaaya Swaaha, Om Samaanaaya Swaaha, Om Brahmmane Swaaha!
[referring to the five physiological functions -respiratory (praanna), excretory (apaanaa), circulatory (vyaanaa) digestive (samaana), and reversal (udaanaa) systems]. After offering the food thus, it is eaten as prasaad – blessed food.
To remember this concept, many chant following verses of
ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविः ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम्।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना॥ (4.24)
brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma haviḥ brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam !
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahmakarmasamādhinā!! (4.24)
अहं वैश्वानरो भूत्वा प्राणिनां देहमाश्रितः।
प्राणापानसमायुक्तः पचाम्यन्नं चतुर्विधम्।।15.14।।
ahaḿ vaiśvānaro bhūtvā, prāṇināḿ deham āśritaḥ
prāṇāpāna-samāyuktaḥ, pacāmy annaḿ catur-vidham (15.14)
Brahman is the oblation; the clarified butter; the fire; the oblation… Brahman (the Supreme) shall be reached by him, who sees the Supreme in all actions. Residing in all living, beings as the digestive fire, I digest the four types of food eaten by them (as an offering to Me).
Swami Vimalananda, Radhika Krishnakumar, Chinmaya Mission