“Annam para Brahma swarupam” (Food is the essence of life/ the Lord of Creation.)
This age-old quote from the Upanishads has a very deep meaning. Food gives life. As you read this, thousands of people starve, living only on scraps of food. They do not know when the day will come when they can no longer find the scraps they rely on, the scraps that, for them, mean the difference between life and death. They long for good food that we take for granted.
For people like them, Annadhanam is a blessing. Annadhanam refers to the practice of donating food to those in need. As mentioned previously, food gives life. So annadhanam is also considered pranadhanam (donation of life), thus it is known to be divine. Donors of annadhanam are said to directly attain salvation.
Today we can see annadhanam being practiced in many places of worship all around India. If you are like me, you might wonder why there was a need to connect this to religion. But when you think about it a bit more, it starts to make sense. You see, food to be donated is first offered to God before being given to the people. So those who prepare the food do so with utmost care because it will be offered and so the quality is ensured. Here are a few examples of annadhanam practiced on a large scale:
- Golden Temple, Punjab
- Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams
- Golden Temple, Vellore
Apart from these, however, there are countless other places where annadhanam is practiced regularly. In most of these places, it is noted that the kitchens are modern, automated, and run on alternate sources of energy to cause less pollution. Organic plantain leaves are used as plates. In the Dharmasthala, kitchen waste is used to make biogas, which in turn is used to light the fire, thus making the kitchen self-sufficient. Cleanliness of the food is maintained.
In some places, not only food, but also milk, tea, and coffee is offered. Some of these places get up to 75,000 people per meal, but nobody leaves hungry. The food is checked for its quality, and only the best food is served to the people. In most places where annadhanam is practiced, despite being places of worship, people of all faiths are welcome, and vegetarian food is offered to ensure that no one is offended.
Annadhanam is yet another reminder of how kind and generous Indians can be. This tradition is every Indian’s pride!