Written by London swaminathan
Research article no.1882, Date: 22 May 2015.
Prasad in a Hindu temple is a vast subject. A Ph.D. thesis can be written on it. It is also a multi-billion dollar industry. It gives employment for thousands of workers. In India, temple itself is a big industry. If the temples are closed by some atheistic ruler, millions of people would lose jobs very next day; tourist industry and transport would grind to a halt. Directly and indirectly millions of people earn their livelihood through Hindu temples. People of other religions are also benefitted by the Hindu Temples.
What is Prasad?
Prasad is an offering made to a Hindu deity, usually eatable food items, which is distributed to the devotees as the deity’s blessings.
As a general rule “no onion, no meat, no garlic, no fish, no egg, no mushroom” policy is followed in all the holy centres and Hindu temples. They are strictly vegetarian. There may be exceptions. For instance Sri Lankan Tamil temples use garlic and onion. Indian temples won’t use them. In villages there are some strange customs of offering even toddy and meat to Grama Devatas (Village Goddesses).
A Ph.D, thesis can be written about Hindu Prasads. It is a billion dollar business.US temples sell Prasad. Tamil temples in Britain distribute free meals like Hare Krishna (Iskcon) temples and Sikh Gurdwaras. Hare Krishna people visit even universities and distribute food to students. I have seen long queues of students in London University.
Vadai, Sudal, Sarkkarai/sweet Pongal
Six types of Hindu Prasad
There are six types of Prasads:
1.Edible/ Cooked: Sweets, Different types of cooked rice, Sundal (boiled pulses mixed with spices).
Cooked Samba rice with Jeerak, Ven Pongal (cooked rice with pepper, butter and nuts), Sarkkarai Pongal (Rice Pudding), Payasam, (Liquid Rice Pudding) Puliyodharai (Tamarind Rice), Thayir sadham (Curd rice), Vadai (fried lentil snack), Modakam (Rice+ Sweet Coconut), Pittu (Rice+jiggery), Full square meal
2.Edible/ uncooked: Milk, Water, Panchamirtham(fruits, honey, jaggery, nuts, spices mixture), fruits, sugar candy, nuts, pepper, salt, sand from ant hill, Tulsi leaves, Powa (pounded rice mixed with coconut and sugar)
In Sankarankoil and Vaitheeswaran Koil in Tamil Nadu, people collect sand from anthill in the temple and eat it in minute quantities as Prasad and medicine.
Tamil Hindus take Coconut, Bananas, betel leaves and flowers into temple and take them home after offering it to God.
3.Applied on Body : Vibhuti, Kunkum, sandal, burnt Yaga ash, Bilva leaves and Yellow powder
In all south Indian temples Vibhuti (holy ash), Kunkum (red powder made up with turmeric etc), Sindhur (Red powder), Sandal paste, Homa pasmam (holy ash from the fire pit), Bilva leaves, yellow powder are offered as Prasad. If it is a Vishnu temple Tulsi leaves are offered to devotees from the feet of the statue.
All temples give flowers to women which they wear it in their hair. Flower industry is also a billion dollar industry in India. In Western countries flowers are offered to women. In India it is first offered to Gods and then women get it from there. No Hindu women wear it straight from the basket.
North Indian Temple Prasad
4.Worn on body: Talisman, medals, holy thread (kaappu on wrists), Kasi thread (black), Flowers, Garlands, Silk, rosaries (Rudraksha or Tulsi seeds).
Special Prasads like Rudraksha Malas, Tulsi malas, silk from the Gods’ statues, talismans are obtained with special arrangements.
In South Indian Temples, used sarees from statues are sold in auction to women. They buy it as good luck symbol or auspicious items.
Pictures and books are given in some places such as Ashrams, Holy Centres, which can be kept at home as Prasad.
Metal objects such as rings, talismans etc come under this category.
5.Sold Prasad: Nowadays Prasad is sold in big temples; but simultaneously free Prasad is also distributed. Whoever needs more than that have to buy it.
After seeing the demand for Prasad, South Indian temples also started selling special prasads in special counters.
6.Free Prasad: Flowers, Vibhuti, Kunkum, Sandal or the fruits, coconuts we take it into the temple are returned to us; but yet there is a small fee for that service.
So we can broadly classify the Prasad into Sold and Free Prasads. In the same way, we can broadly classify them into cooked and not cooked Prasads.
Aravanai Prasad in Sabarimalai
There is a pattern in Prasad distribution:
In village temples they offer gruel made up of rice or millets
In Vishnu temples, they give Tulsi+water from a copper pots or silver vessels.
After the main Arti, they distribute Tamarind rice or Curd rice.
In Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu they distribute plain cooked rice with Jeera or Ven Pongal.
In Goddess Temples they offer Sweet Pongal, particularly Fridays.
But each temple has got something unique to offer.
As a student I used to go to the world famous Madurai Meenakshi Temple and get Samba rice or Ven Pongal in the day time and Sundal and milk after the last Arti (Palli Arai Deeparadhana).
In Krishnan temple,Madurai run by the Yadava caste, I used to queue up for tamarind rice or Curd rice.
On Fridays, they offer sweet Pongal to goddesses in the South Indian temples, Goddess statues are inside both the Vishnu and Shiva temples.
13 miles from my home town Madurai is Azakarkoil. They used to make unique ADAI (looks like Dosa but much thicker made up with grains,pulses and spices) two or three people can share it.
When we go to Tirupati we used to buy Ladoos and a small Adai like spicy snack. They do distribute rice items as well.
In the North Indian temples they distribute small sugar balls, sugar candy, nuts or coconut sweets as Prasad. In Swami Narayan temples, they offer sweets during Deepavali in huge quantity (Annakut festival).
Kerala temples are famous for the sweet liquid called Payasam. This is rice based item but can be made with jack fruit or sago or vermicelli or pounded rice.
In south India Tirupati (in Adhra Pradesh) laddu is the most famous Prasad. In Tamil Nadu, Panchamirtham of Palani Murugan temple is unique. Both these prasadas give work to lot of people.
Equally famous is the Mahaprasad of Puri Jagannatha Temple. It has fifty six cooked and non- cooked items in its menu.
Mahalaxmi Temple (Mumbai), Shirdi Sai Baba Temple (Shirdi), Viswanatha temple (Kasi) are offering sugar balls as prasad. In many of the temples people buy it from outside shop and offer it to God and take it back.
How to take Prasad?
Always take the Prasad with your right hand. Never use left hand. Both hands may be used but place your right palm over left palm, bow your head, and then receive it. You should not throw anything on floor even if you don’t want it. You have to dispose them in the containers for it.
List of Unique Hindu Prasads:
Puri Jagannatha Temple: Maha (great or big) Prasad with 56 items
Tirupati Balaji temple:Ladoo and Appam
Palani Dandayutha pani Temple: Fruit Mixture (Panchamirtham)
North Indian Temples: Sugar Balls or sweets
Maharastrian Temples: Powa +Sugar+Coconut
Kerala Temples: Ney Appam (fried sweet flour item with butter)
Ganesh Temples: Modaka on special days
Hanuman Temples: Vada (made up of Urad Dal) in South India or Boondhi in North India.
Sabari Malai Ayyappan Temple: Aravanai sweet, Appam, Ghee from Cow’s butter
Sri Rangam: Coconut, Butter, Spinach
Tiruvarur Temple: Ney Murukku ( Fried Rice snack)
Tirukkannapuram: special Pongal (rice item)
Kancheepuram Varadaraja Perumal: Kanchi Type Idli (boiled rice cake with pepper)
Kollur Mookambika and Kutralam: Medicinal concoction with herbs
Chidambaram, Madurai Temples: Cooked Rice with Jeeraka
Irinjala kuda Bharatha Temple: Brinjal/Aubergine preparation
Vaishnava Devi in Kashmir: Puffed rice+coconut+sugar balls
Ambalapuza in Kerala: Milk Payasam.
In Tamil Nadu, during Navaratri festival and Markazi (Month Margsirsha) Bhajans, Sundal is distributed. On the Saraswati Puja/Vijayadasami day Sundal+Vada+ Sweet Pongal are distributed.
This is not a comprehensive list. Each temple has got its own Madappalli (kitchen) and its own traditional menu. Anything can be a Prasad once it is offered at the feet of God. Hinduism is a colourful religion. There is no place for monotony. Variety is the spice of life (loko binna ruchi:), says Kalidasa. Hindus see god even in variety of food items.
Sweet Pongal for the Goddess in Kerala