Food Rituals in Hinduism

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Hindu Traditions: Food and Purification

Ashley LeBlanc

Introduction to Eastern Religions Dr. Patricia Campbell November 16, 2010



Hinduism is a religion that originated in India and is still practiced by most of the Natives as well as the people who have migrated from India to other parts of the world. Statistically there are over seven hundred million Hindus, mainly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Approximately eighty percent of the population in India is Hindu (Encyclopaedia Britannica n.d.). The word Hindu comes from an ancient Sanskrit term meaning "dwellers by the Indus River," referring to the location of India's earliest know civilization, the Pakistan. The religion suggests commitment to or respect for an ideal way of life known as Dharma. Hinduism absorbs foreign ideas and beliefs making it have a wide variety of beliefs and practices. This has given it a character of social and doctrinal system that extends to every aspect of life. One of the most important aspects of the Hindu tradition is the food and purification process. Not only is the concept of purity and food seen in sacred texts, but also is a daily practice within Hindu practitioners. According to the Bhagavad Gita, “All beings come into existence from food. Food comes from rains. Rains originate from the performance of sacrifices. And sacrifice is born out of doing prescribed duties” (3:13). Therefore, food is verily an aspect of Brahman, which according to Jeffery Brodd is “the eternal, unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe” (Brodd 2003, 17). Since the food is a gift from the gods, it should be treated with respect. Also in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states that there are three types of sacrifices, along with austerity and charity. Sattvic (cold) food is one that increases longevity, purity, strength, happiness, and taste; these foods are usually juicy or oily. These types of foods are allowed, and mostly recommended as offerings to the gods. Rajasic (or hot) includes foods that are bitter, sour, hot, spicy, and salty which is believed to lead to disease, unhappiness, and sorrow. When a

LeBlanc person eats these foods without sacrifice, it is believed that they will develop the qualities they convey and act upon them (Michaels 2004, 183-184). When it comes to preparing food, the person preparing it is closely speculated. Purity is the goal during preparation. Chants and purification rituals with incense and offerings are done before, and sometimes after every meal. In the Hindu tradition, purification is not only an expression of external status, but also make one pure internally and morally. For example, a butcher or a farmer’s products would be considered impure for the fact that they are harming innocent living creatures for sustenance, whereas bakers and milkmen are reaping products without harm (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery 1996). The age, status, and sex of the person cooking and serving the food are also taken into account. Hindus also believe food that has been purified can be re-polluted by touching or even looking at it. Because of this, women who are menstruating cannot prepare or serve food for the fear of pollution. At the same time, many sacrifices and offerings are performed based on reciprocity. Another method in Hindu tradition to keep food pure during consumption is to eat with the right hand, as the left hand is seen to be impure since it is used for cleaning after defecation.


Another aspect that is closely looked at is who may accept cooked food from whom. The usual custom goes that the young can accept food from the elder, the inferior rank from the superior, the wife from the husband, and so on. The only exception in Hindu tradition is in weddings. In this circumstance, the bride’s family cooks for the usually higher-ranking groom and his family. Another example noted in...
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