Prasada (in Sanskrit and Kannada), Prasadam (in Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil), Prasad Hindustani pronunciation: [prəsaːd̪] (in Marathi), Prasad (in Hindi) or Mahaprasada (in Odia) is a material substance of food that is a religious offering in both Hinduism and Sikhism. It is normally consumed by worshippers after worship. It is derived from the same verb सद् (to sit, dwell)prefixed with प्र. (before, afore, in front) and used as finite verb प्रसीदति - dwells, presides, pleases or favours etc. (To preside and president from Latin praesidere thus have the same etymological derivation in Latin but with slightly different meaning).
'Prasada' literally means a gracious gift. It denotes anything, typically an edible food, that is first offered to a deity, saint, Perfect Master or an avatar, and then distributed in His or Her name to their followers or others as a good sign. The prasada is then considered to have the deity's blessing residing within it. In contemporary Hindu religious practice in India, the desire to get prasada and have darshana are the two major motivations of pilgrimage and temple visits.
As a spiritual state prasāda has a rich history of meanings in the Sanskrit tradition from Vedic literature onwards. In this textual tradition, prasada is a mental state experienced by gods, sages, and other powerful beings and is marked by spontaneous generosity and the bestowing of boons. In the earliest literature (Rig Veda) onwards Prasāda is understood in this sense of a mental state, not as an aspect of ritual practice. In later texts such as the Shiva Purana, references to prasada as a material substance begins to appear alongside this older meaning.
In its material sense, prasada is created by a process of giving and receiving between a human devotee and the divine god. For example, a devotee makes an offering of a material substance such as flowers, fruits, or sweets — which is called naivedya. The deity then 'enjoys' or tastes a bit of the offering, which is then temporarily known as bhogya. This now-divinely invested substance is called prasāda and is received by the devotee to be ingested, worn, etc. It may be the same material that was originally offered or material offered by others and then re-distributed to other devotees. In many temples, several kinds of prasada (e.g., nuts, sweets) are distributed to the devotees.
Some strict Gaudiya Vaishnavas, most commonly initiated ISKCON devotees, will eat only prasada, i.e., everything they eat is first offered to Krishna, not simply a few items as with most other Hindus. In addition, the cooking of prasada is done without tasting, because it is not for the believer's own consumption, but to offer to Krishna — they will receive the remnants of Krishna's food, which they consider to be NON-different to Krishna. ISKCON temples are known for providing free prasada meals to all who come, as they believe that this is not only feeding the poor but providing them with Krishna's mercy as well.
One way that Prasada is commonly prepared is to place the food in offering before an image or deity of the spiritual figure to be honored, sometimes on a plate or serving vessel reserved only for spiritual purposes; and only then, after some time is allowed to pass, does the food become holy Prasad for further distribution.
The tradition of offering Prasad to the deity may have started with a very logical explanation that finds its root in the power of positive thought. The Prasada is believed to foster multiple positive thoughts. Firstly, the Prasada is offered to the deity and His blessing is sought for a wish, a task in hand, blessing etc. Herein, it is believed that the Supreme Power has accepted our request in the form of the Prasada and given us the approval or the power to move on. Secondly, this Prasada is considered to be sacred, and thus all being receiving it are believed to be blessed. Thirdly, the most important aspect is that when the primary prayer gives the Prasada to fellow beings he (primary prayer) repeats his wish to the each one of them. Each fellow being in turn accepts the Prasada and prays that the wish of the primary prayer comes true. The more the Prasada is distributed,the more positive thought is concentrated on the wish of the primary prayer, and this in turn causes the universal power of positive thought or belief to work towards the fulfillment of the wish of the primary prayer.
- Glossary of Sanskrit Terms in Integral Yoga Literature
- Natu, Bal, Glimpses of the God-Man, Meher Baba, Sheriar Press, 1987
- Bhagavad-Gita 3:13
- Bhagavad-Gita 9:27
- Harsh Sarawgi, Guwahati
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