Annadana Murugan
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Annadanam: Theory and practice

annadanam at Teyvanai Amman Devasthanam, Kathirkamam
Annadanam at Teyvanai Amman Devasthanam, Kathirkamam

The Sanskrit word annadānam literally means the offering or sharing (dānam) of food (annam). In every ethnic and religious community across the Indian subcontinent, no festival or ceremony is complete without annadānam, or at least with the distribution of prasādam, the edible items offered during pūjā.

Accordingly, the importance of food is stressed in ancient scriptures, including the Vedas, Upanisads, Dharma Sastras, Dhamma Pāda, etc. Taittiriya Upanishad declares, All life force comes from food.’ (annam vai prānah) and ‘Let food be produced in plenty’ (annam bahu kurveet). In Bhagavad Gita, Śrī Krishna declares, ‘From food all beings are evolved’ (annād bhavanti bhūtāni).

Even simple folk practices preserve traditions that have endured since time immemorial. Ancient peoples believed that spirits or deities may move upon the earth in human guise, and that such beings possess special powers or abilities that may help those who are open-hearted and generous towards such unusual strangers.

Hence, it is considered prudent in traditional societies to regard every stranger or sudden visitor with the utmost courtesy, respect, and hospitality–including the offering of choice food items.

Manu Dharma Sastra’s aphorism ‘atithih devo bhava’ (‘regard the guest as a deity’) plainly expresses this worldwide tradition among ancient societies that deities may move upon the earth in human guise, and that one should therefore regard them with the utmost courtesy and respect.

Annadānams too are conducted with this very principle in mind, for among the hungry crowd there may also be the anonymous genuine devotee, saint or even a deva or deity. Indeed, each and every poor person is regarded in this way, as expressed in the Sanskrit saying daridra Nārāyana (‘God dwells in the poor person’).

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