I just came back from my 4th trip to India…
Those of you who are my friends on Facebook got a little glimpse of my trip thru the pics I posted as I went along – We started in Allahabad to attend the Maha Kumbha Mela. Then on to Varanasi, the most ancient city in the world. Both of these cities are located in the banks of the River Ganges. Then, went for the first time to the South of India and to finish off, upwards onto Rishikesh, the city of ashrams and yoga education.
It was a very significant and magnificent trip in so many ways I can’t express into words. To be in the presence of so many saints who have achieved spiritual enlightenment, is a blessed experience to say the least. I have a spiritual guru… so we visit India not in search of anything, really… but more to witness how so many people dedicate themselves to a spiritual path and to give a little bit of ourselves to Mother India.
I practice yoga… not Hinduism. I want to make that clear. And something I always identified with Yoga is that it’s a non-denominational philosophy. You do not need to believe in anything specific to practice yoga conscientiously. Spirituality comes from God. Religion comes from Men. But Yoga and Hinduism stem from the same origin, so when you visit India as a yogi, we indeed spend a great deal of time visiting Hindu temples.
In India, people offer their respect to God, the Supreme Being, in the form of fruits, flowers and other edible goods. People have this idea that in India people revere many gods. Which is a way, it’s true, because these deities all have different names and are represented by different images. But as I’ve come to learn is that these are just manifestations and representations of THE one and only energy that is our very essence. In our limited relative world vision is difficult for people to imagine an all-mighty, all-powerful, all-encompassing being that has no form or image. So to facilitate devotional needs, people gave mortal qualities to these deities so people can “wrap their head” around the power of that what we can’t see but can certainly feel.
People treat the deities as if they were people too!! Very important and powerful beings at that… but deities in temples they get washed, cleansed, dressed, adorned and even fed on a daily basis. When a temple is erected, priests perform certain ceremonies and sing sacred mantras where images of the different deities acquire the qualities and characteristics of that deity. And from then on, that image is no longer a piece of stone; it now becomes a sacred physical representation of the Supreme Being on Earth.
It is once said that the more fruit a tree bears, it vows lower to the Earth… I hope I am making that phrase justice with my translation. Basically meaning that the more we have, the more we need to be appreciative and of service to others. So we in Yoga show our respect and appreciation at temples and at the presence of saints by offering fruits and flowers. After these offerings are received by the priests in the temples or the saints themselves, these goods are blessed and immediately they become PRASAD. Prasad is something – fruit, vegetable, flower, candy, anything… – that has been blessed by a priest or saint.
We received lots of Prasad on his trip… Prasad is sacred. Prasad should never be rejected and should always be eaten if it’s edible. Here are a few examples of the Prasad we were given:
My mom eating some sweet Prasad at Kalyani Mata camp in Kumbha Mela
Chai Masala and Rice with Lentils served to us by Devraha Hans Baba
Bananas, Water and other candies and crackers at an ashram in Allahabad
Gulab Jamun in a sweet syrup at Satwa Baba’s Ashram in Varanasi
Bananas and Flowers from various temples in the south of India
At the Yoga Center I attend, we also have Prasad… Every time we cook any food at the center, before anyone gets a taste of it, we offer a serving of it to the Supreme Being. It’s like we’re serving the first plate to God. This way, the food we prepared is blessed and carries a very special positive energy. That special first serving we then try to divide it among all the guests that day so they can have a little morsel from “the God’s special serving”.
You can too adopt this same practice in your own home… you can either offer a little sampler plate of food to God before serving the rest of the family, or when eating out you can mentally offer your plate to God. Kinda like saying grace in your own head. Doing this will add a positive blessed energy to your food.