Annadanam or Dana of food (Samskrit : अन्नदानम्) is one of the greatest danas practiced since ancient days. The practice of offering or serving food to any soul, be it an uninvited person or animals or birds is referred to with great reverence. The term "anna" or "annam" chiefly implies "ahara" or food referring to "what is eaten is anna" as per Chandogya Upanishad. "Atithidevo bhava" The term atithi applies to anyone who appears at the door unexpected and uninvited and he is treated as a devata; this teaching of the Taittriya Upanishad has been a sanatana siddhanta, accepted and adhered to at all times in this holy land of Bharatavarsha.
- 1 अन्नमहात्म्यम् || Anna Mahatmya
- 2 अन्नस्य जलोद्भवम्॥ Anna Originates from Jala
- 3 अन्नात्पुरुषः॥ Purusha Originates from Anna
- 4 अन्नदेवता ॥ Annadevata
- 5 अनन्नदानं गृहस्थधर्मः ॥ Annadana is Grhasthadharma
- 6 अनन्नदानस्य फलम् ॥ Consequence of Anannadana
- 7 अन्नदानं सदाव्रतम् ॥ Annadana is Sadavrata
- 8 अन्नबाहुल्यम् ॥ Sharing Food
- 9 अन्नदानमाहात्म्यम् || Annadana Mahatmya
- 10 Legends about Annadana
- 11 Annavitarana Vs Annavikrayana
- 12 References
अन्नमहात्म्यम् || Anna Mahatmya
The greatness of anna is proclaimed in several ways, since the Rig vedic times
- Rig Veda describes the greatness of Anna (food) as supreme and extols Annadata in Sukta 117 of Mandala 10, a few mantras as follows
Meaning : one who gives charity of food to the weak and emaciated, he is the Daata and he not only attains the complete benefits of conducting yajna, but enemies also befriend him for one who gives charity is a friend of every one.
स इद्भोजो यो गृहवे ददात्यन्नकामाय चरते कृशाय । अरमस्मै भवति यामहूता उतापरीषु कृणुते सखायम् ॥३॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.117.3)
- अन्नं न निन्द्यात् । do not look down upon anna : Taittriya Upanishad (Bhruguvalli Anuvaka 7) 
- अन्नं न परिचक्षीत । do not neglect anna : Tattriya Upanishad (Anuvaka 8)
- अन्नं बहु कुर्वीत । तद्व्रतम् । endeavour to secure an abundance of anna, it is a sacred observance : Tattriya Upanishad (Bhruguvalli Anuvaka 9)
- आहारशुद्धौ सतवशुद्धिः सत्त्वशुद्धौ ध्रुवा स्मृतिः। purity of food leads to purity of internal organs. From purification of internal organs comes unfailing memory : Chandogya Upanishad (7.26.2)
- अन्नमयँहि सोम्य मन आपोमयः प्राणस्तेजोमयी वागिति... । The mind is essentially formed of food, the prana is essentially formed of water and speech is essentially formed of fire. Chandogya Upanishad (6.5.4)
- अन्नं ब्रह्म यतः प्रोक्तमन्ने प्राणाः प्रतिष्ठिताः। Annam brahma, because upon the said anna rests the prana or life : Matsya Purana (83.42) 
- अन्नं ह्यमृतमित्याहुरन्नं प्रजननं स्मृतम्। अन्नप्रणाशे सीदन्ति शरीरे पञ्च धातवः॥ Food is indeed the preserver of life and food is the source of procreation. When there is no food, the five elements constituting the body cease to be. Mahabharata (14.108.38)
The following four verses in continuation with the above sloka from Mahabharata, Asvamedhika parva, define the pre-eminence of food in the creation and sustenance of all life.
बलं बलवतो नश्येदन्नहीनस्य देहिनः। तस्मादन्नं विशेषेण श्रद्धयाश्रद्धयापि वा॥ (Maha. Asva. Parv. 14.108.39)
आदत्ते हि रसं सर्वमादित्यः स्वगभस्तिभिः। वायुस्तस्मात्समादाय रसं मेघेषु धारयेत्॥ (Maha. Asva. Parv. 14.108.40)
तत्तु मेघगतं भूमौ शक्रो वर्षति तादृशम्। तेन दिग्धा भवेद्देवी मही प्रीता च भारत॥ (Maha. Asva. Parv. 14.108.41)
तस्यां सस्यानि रोहन्ति यैर्जीवन्त्यखिलाः प्रजाः। मांसमेदोऽस्थिमज्जानां सम्भवस्तेभ्य एव हि॥ (Maha. Asva. Parv. 14.108.42)
Summary : Without food even a strong man loses all his strength. Therefore, food, whether taken in reverence or otherwise, has a special place in life. Aditya or Surya, through his rays, draws out the vital essences, and Vayu gathers these and places them in the clouds. The vital essences thus collected in the clouds are showered back on the earth by Indra. Suffused with the showers, the Bhudevi, O Bharata! is verily in contentment. Out of the contented earth grow the food-crops, which sustain all life. Flesh, fat, bone, and marrow are formed of these alone.
Thus in these five verses Srikrishna summarizes all that needs to be said about the importance of food. These precepts appear again and again in the Bharat's literature in different forms and different contexts.
अन्नस्य जलोद्भवम्॥ Anna Originates from Jala
Mahabharata, in Anushasana Parva lays down the importance of Jala or water giving rise to anna and the different forms that constitute anna for different beings.
नीरजातश्च भगवान्सोमो ग्रहगणेश्वरः। अमृतं च सुधा चैव स्वाहा चैव स्वधा तथा॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 13.67.12)
अन्नौषध्यो महाराज वीरुधश्च जलोद्भवाः। यतः प्राणभृतां प्राणाः सम्भवन्ति विशाम्पते॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 13.67.13)
देवानाममृतं ह्यन्नं नागानां च सुधा तथा। पितॄणां च स्वधा प्रोक्ता पशूनां चापि वीरुधः॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 13.67.14)
Soma, the devata for grahas, celestial bodies, is born of water and so are Amrta, Sudha, Svaha, Svadha. Oh Maharaja ! so are anna (food grains), oshadhis (medicinal plants), and virudhas (grasses). All living beings are born of and live on these various annas that are born of water. Of these, amrta is said to be the anna of devatas, sudha of the nagas, svadha of the pitrus, and virudhas of the animals.
That anna arises from rains and water is also given in Shrimad Bhagavadgita (3.14)
अन्नात्पुरुषः॥ Purusha Originates from Anna
In Taittriya Upanishad, the teaching of brahmavidya, starts with an exposition of how Brahman creates and manifests himself in the Universe.
तस्माद्वा एतस्मादात्मन आकाशः संभूतः । आकाशाद्वायुः । वायोरग्निः । अग्नेरापः । अद्भ्यः पृथिवी । पृथिव्या ओषधयः । ओषधीभ्योऽन्नम् । अन्नात्पुरुषः । (Tait. Upan. Brah. 2.1)
From that Brahman, who is also this atma, the individual self of the seeker, was born akasa, the elementary space. From akasa was born vayu, the elementary winds. From vayu was born agni, the elementary fire. From agni were born apah, the elementary waters. From apah were born osadhls, the elementary vegetation. From osadhis was born anna, the elementary food. And from anna was born purusa, the man.
The purusa here stands for the man — for the individuated self — according to Sri Sankara. To emphasize the annamayatva, the attribute of being born from anna, of the purusa the seer says:
स वा एष पुरुषोऽन्नरसमयः । तस्येदमेव शिरः । अयं दक्षिणः पक्षः । अयमुत्तरः पक्षः । अयमात्मा । इदं पुच्छं प्रतिष्ठा । तदप्येष श्लोको भवति ॥ (Tait. Upan. Brah. 2.1)
That, this purusa, is indeed formed of anna and rasa, food and the vital essences derived from food. Of him, the purusa, indeed is this head; of him is this right side; this left side; of him is this middle torso; and of him is this lower torso. It is about him that the following sloka is said.
Taittriya Upanishad reveals the annamaya-, pranamaya-, manomaya-, vijnanamaya- and anandamayapurusa, sequentially, in the manner of removing layers of husk to reveal the grain of rice, as Sri Sankara puts it. But in the beginning, and providing form to all those others, is the annamayapurusa.
अन्नदेवता ॥ Annadevata
In the Taittriya Brahmana of the Krishna yajurveda we hear annadevata, the devata residing in food, himself speaking about the importance of food and of the inviolability of the discipline of giving before eating, in words that are often reminiscent of the teachings of Bhiksu Angirasa. The eighth anuvaka of the eighth prapathaka of the second astaka of the brahmana quotes the annadevata proclaiming thus:
अहमस्मि प्रथमजा ऋतस्य । पूर्वं देवेभ्यो अमृतस्य नाभिः । यो मा ददाति स इदेव माऽऽवाः । अहमन्नमन्नमदन्तमद्मि । (Tait. Brah. 2.8.8) 
I, the annadevata, am the first progenitor of yajna: the first yajna born of me. It is I who, at the earliest times, become the nucleus of amrta for the devas. The one who gives me is in fact the one who obtains me. On the other hand, the one who does not give is consumed by me. I am the annadevata, I eat the one who does not give anna.
अन्नं प्राणमन्नमपानमाहुः । अन्नं मृत्युं तमु जीवातुमाहुः । अन्नं ब्रह्माणो जरसं वदन्ति । अन्नमाहुः प्रजननं प्रजानाम् । (Tait. Brah. 2.8.8)
Anna is said to be both prana and apana, the two forms of the breath of life that permeate the body. Anna is the giver of life, and also the extinguisher of it. It is said that anna is the cause of aging. Anna is said to be the progenitor of all progeny.
अनन्नदानं गृहस्थधर्मः ॥ Annadana is Grhasthadharma
There arises many an occasion in Bharat's traditional literature to celebrate the centrality of the grhastha ashrama amongst the four ashramas, the four stages of life that a person is expected to follow sequentially in a lifetime.
गृहस्थधर्मः ॥ Grhasthadharma
One of the most attractive statements of this centrality occurs in the anusasanaparvan of Mahabharata, where Bhishma narrates how in earlier times Srikrishna undertakes great austerities on the Himalayas, and upon his urging, Narada begins to recall a long discussion, on different aspects of dharma reflected as Uma Shankara Samvada (उमाशङ्करयोः संवादः) while they are living the life of a happy man and wife on the Himalayas, which in the presence of the divine couple joyously blossom with natural splendour and beauty.
To answer the question as to who should perform annadana, the texts have laid down many principles to grhasthas regarding the offering to food to devatas, men and other bhutas (animals, birds, insects). Though annadana has to be performed by everyone based on their capacity, it is the responsibility of the grhastha to provide for the sustenance of the daily routine of life around him, which is celebrated in the Bharat's classical texts as the Panchamahayajna.
Panchamahayajna is such an important observance for the Bharat'ss that references to it are found in all Bharat's literature: in the timeless vedas, the ancient itihasas and puranas, and in the smrtis and dharmasastras of all ages.
वैश्वदेवम् ॥ Vaisvadeva
Grhyasutras lay down the principles that householders should offer cooked food to deities (Vaisvedeva) in grhya fires or ordinary fire. For example, Agni, Dhanvantri, Visvedevas, Prajapati and Svistakrt (Agni) are the deities according to Gautama sutras. According to Manu (3.84 to 86) the deities are Agni, Soma, Agnisoma, the Visvedevas, Dhanvantri, Kuhu, Anumati, Prajapati, Dyavaprthvi and Svistakrt (Agni). There are various versions of the rituals to be followed as given in different sutras.
बलिहरण ॥ Baliharana or Bhutayajna
In Bhutayajna, bali is to be offered not into fire but on the ground, which is wiped and cooked food is placed on it. These directions to give food even to outcasts, dogs and birds were the outcome of the noble sentiment of universal kindliness and charity, the idea that One Spirit pervades and illumines the even the meanest of creatures and binds all together. Shankhayana Grhyasutras (2.14) winds up its vaisvadeva section with this fine exhortation :
भोजयेच्छ्वभ्यः श्वपचेभ्यश्च वयोभ्यश्चावपेद्भूमाविति नानवत्तमश्नीयान्नैको न पूर्वं । तदप्येतदृचोक्तं मोघमन्नं विन्दते अप्रचेता इति २६ (2.14.25 -26)
Let him throw food to dogs, to svapachas (eaters of dog-flesh), to birds on the ground; let him eat nothing without having cut off a portion (to be offered as a bali); let him not eat alone, nor before others (relatives and guests) since the Rig Veda mantra says "the fool gets food in vain"
मोघमन्नं विन्दते अप्रचेताः सत्यं ब्रवीमि वध इत्स तस्य ।
नार्यमणं पुष्यति नो सखायं केवलाघो भवति केवलादी ॥६॥ (Rig Veda. 10.117.6)
The same idea is reverberated in Shrimad Bhagavadgita (3.13), Manusmriti (3.118) and Vishnu Dharmasutras (67.43).
मनुष्ययज्ञः ॥ Manushyayajna (Atithi and Abhyagata)
In the Mahabharata, Srikrishna, while advising Yudhisthira on the discipline of annadana, emphasizes this fundamental distinction between a guest who is already acquainted and the one who comes unknown and uninvited. The former, Srikrishna says, is called abhyagata (अभ्यागतः), the latter alone is an atithi (अतिथिः)
अभ्यागतो ज्ञातपूर्वो ह्यज्ञातोऽतिथिरुच्यते। (Maha. Asva. Parv. 14.101.57)
A grhastha, of course, must offer reverential hospitality to both the abhyagata and the atithi. But it is the feeding of the atithi that forms an essential component of manusyayajna or Nru Yajna. The abhyagata is like a member of the household and, as Manu would explain later, he eats after the atithis, along with the family of the host. The coming of an unknown, uninvited and unexpected atithi in the evening, Manu says, is like a fortune fetched to the householder's door by the setting sun himself. Such an atithi should be cared for with the greatest reverence. As Manusmrti puts it:
अप्रणोद्योऽतिथिः सायं सूर्योढो गृहमेधिना । काले प्राप्तस्त्वकाले वा नास्यानश्नन्गृहे वसेत् । । ३.१०५ (Manu. Smri. 3.105)
A guest who comes in the evening is brought to the householder's house by the sun himself. He should never be turned away. And, he should never be made to stay hungry in the house, whether he comes at the proper or the improper time.
Visnupurana says that the sin of turning away a guest arriving after sunset is eight times worse than that earned by turning away a guest during the day.
राजधर्मः ॥ Rajadharma
The king is a great grhastha, who is charged with extraordinary grhastha responsibilities. Like a grhastha he has the responsibility to provide for the sustenance of all beings, especially the humans, who happen to be in his care. But, unlike an ordinary grhastha, he also has the responsibility to provide sustenance to those who, though not his direct dependents, happen to lack sustenance in society. The whole of the land is, in a way, part of his grhastha responsibility.
Apastamba dharmasutra (Patala 9), in fact, begins its discussion on rajadharma with what reads like a prescription for the installation of the king as a great grhastha.
सर्वेष्वेवाजस्रा अग्नयः स्युः ६ अग्निपूजा च नित्या यथा गृहमेधे ७ आवसथे श्रोत्रियावरार्ध्यानतिथीन्वासयेत् ८ तेषां यथागुणमावसथाः शय्यान्नपानं च विदेयम् ९ (Apas. Dhar. 9.25.6 - 9)
Let the agni, the household-fire, burn unceasingly at all places: the vesma, the avasatha and the sabha. To all the three agnis, offer reverential worship everyday, in the manner prescribed for a grhastha. In the avasatha offer hospitality to all atithis, all those who come, beginning with the srotriyas, the ones who are well read in the vedas. To them, the atithis in the avasatha, offer proper room, bed and food, and let the offerings be appropriate to the accomplishments of each. The king being essentially a great grhastha, he shares as it were in the sin of all grhasthas who eat without having first fed the hungry. Thus says Bhishma, to Yudhisthira in the Shantiparva or राजधर्मानुशासनपर्व
अभृतानां भवेद्भर्ता भृतानामन्ववेक्षकः। (Maha. Shan. 12.57.19)
Be the provider of the unprovided. And carefully look after those who happen to be in your care. The Mahabharata, Vanaparva documents when Yudhisthira is seen feeling sorry about the loss of his kingdom. And the loss he laments is not of the power and prestige of kingship, but of the resources necessary for looking after others. He shares his grief with Rishi Saunaka that bound by the discipline of grhastha ashrama, he should fail to provide for even his followers. Then he goes on to define the duties of the king as a grhastha:
संविभागो हि भूतानां सर्वेषामेव दृश्यते। तथैवापचमानेभ्यः प्रदेयं गृहमेधिना॥ (Maha. Vana. 3.2.52)
There is a share of all bhutas, all beings, in everything. It is seen everywhere. Therefore, a grhastha must give a proper share of food to all those who do not cook for themselves. To the sick a bed to lie down, to the tired a place to sit, to the thirsty water to drink, and to the hungry a proper meal, must always be given. Yudhisthira's insistence on acquiring the means to provide proper share of food and sustenance to his followers is so intense that there seems no way he would leave it unfulfilled. He keeps worrying about the problem, and finally his kulapurohita, the family priest, Dhaumya, advises him to seek the blessings of the sun who, by virtue of his action of gathering and then raining water over the earth, happens to be the creator of all anna, all food:
Yudhisthira accepts Dhaumya's advice and propitiates the sun, who then offers him an aksayapatra, a pot that will provide him unending quantities of food for twelve years. The pot, blessed by the sun, would fill everyday and would exhaust for the day only after DraupadI and Yudhisthira, having fed all their guests and dependents, partake of the food themselves.
It is only after obtaining the aksayapatra, and thus the ability to look after those who are under his care and those who come seeking his hospitality, that Yudhisthira settles down to the life of an exile.
अनन्नदानस्य फलम् ॥ Consequence of Anannadana
The danaviras, the ones who give food and water to others, attain the best of lokas after their death and achieve great glory. They also live a long life and obtain great wealth in this world. While many texts extol the greatness of annadana, the consequences of consciously not doing so (anannadana) is explicitly described in many texts such as Bhavishyapurana, Varaha Purana, and in later day texts such as Chaturvarga Chintamani of Hemadri.
The Bhavishyapurana recounts the conversation between Srikrishna and Yudhisthira at the culmination of Asvamedha yajna after the war, in Mahabharata.
ददस्वान्नं ददस्वान्नं ददस्वान्नं युधिष्ठिर ।। (Bhav. Pura. 4.169.2)
"Give food! Give food! Give food! oh Yudhisthira". Thus spake Srikrishna to Yudhisthira, while advising him on annadana, the discipline of giving, in the Bhavishyapurana. Parva 4 (Uttaraparva) adhyaya 169 is dedicated to अन्नदानमाहात्म्यवर्णनम् । Srikrishna here recalls that even Srirama, during his days in the forest, had to run around in search of food. While thus searching for food, he along with his brother, Lakshmana, had to live in want. And he concludes that it must be because of their not having sufficiently given of food earlier (anannadana). Srirama says
यन्न प्राप्यं तदप्राप्यं विद्यया पौरुषेण वा । सत्यो लोकप्रवादोऽयं नादत्तमुपतिष्ठति ॥ (Bhav. Pura. 4.169.6)
Meaning : What we have not earned, we shall not get, neither by knowledge, nor by education. It is truly said that what is not given, cannot be enjoyed.
Recalling the Anannadana experience of Srirama, Srikrishna begins to tell the consequences of Anannadana by Raja Shveta, the raja who lived a life of dharma and who was generous with his giving at the proper occasion, but who gave no food to any seeker and therefore had to suffer the pangs of hunger even in the heavens that he had earned by his otherwise righteous conduct. Raja Shveta was finally relieved of his terrible fate by sage Agastya, who accepted food from his hands and thus freed him of the taint of anannadana.
अन्नदानं सदाव्रतम् ॥ Annadana is Sadavrata
The story of Raja Shveta also appears in the Varahapurana, where it is told by Sri Varaha to Dharani or Bhudevi, when she asks to be instructed about the vrata or sacred observance for earthly men. Sri Varaha says that long ago a similar request was made by Raja Shveta to Vashistha maharshi, to which the reply was
अन्नं देहि सदा राजन् सर्वकालसुखावहम् ।। अन्नेन चैव दत्तेन किं न दत्तं महीतले ।।६०।। (Vara. Pura. 99.60)
सर्वेषामेव दानानामन्नदानं विशिष्यते ।। अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि अन्नेनैव च वर्द्धते ।।६१।। (Vara. Pura. 99.61)
O King ! give food. Giving good ensures well-being at all times. One who gives food gives all that is worth giving on the surface of the earth. Having given food, nothing remains un-given.
However, Raja Shveta , unimpressed by Vashistha maharshi's advice, thought that food was too insignificant an object to be worthy of giving from the hands of a great king like him. The rest of the story follows as given in Raja Shveta and Anannnadana.
Hemadri in Chaturvarga Chintamani, Vratakanda, also describes the importance of Annadana and recounts the story of Raja Shveta . While attributing his section on annadanamahatmya to the Bhavisyapurana, Hemadri adds that annadana is sadavrata (सदाव्रतम्).
Literally, sadavrata implies a vrata, a sacred observance, that is performed at all times. And from the context in which Hemadri uses this term, it obviously implies that while the various fasts and observances described in the rest of the vratakhanda are all undertaken at particular times — at particular seasons, particular days and particular conjunctions of the celestial objects — the vrata of annadana is not subject to the considerations of time. It is to be undertaken always, at all times. Annadana is sadavrata, while all others are naimittikavratas, vratas of specified times and occasions.
Sadavrata, incidentally, is the name that Bharat'ss across the country prefer to use for annadana even today.
अन्नबाहुल्यम् ॥ Sharing Food
The story of Raja Shveta , depicts the the terrible sin of eating with one's doors shut upon others; of having one's fill, while men, animals and birds around remain un-fed; and of enjoying a meal while young children watch with hungry eyes. The great and righteous Raja Shveta sitting all alone on the banks of a beauteous lake in the midst of a rich forest full of delicious roots and fruit, and eating the flesh of his own corporeal body, represents the culmination of such eating without sharing.
The fate that befalls Sveta is thus the fruit of his conduct. This attitude is enshrined in the most basic of Bharat's texts. Thus, the Taittriyopanishad advises in its resounding verses:
न कञ्चन वसतौ प्रत्याचक्षीत । तद्व्रतम् । तस्माद्यया कया च विधया बह्वन्नं प्राप्नुयात् । अराध्यस्मा अन्नमित्याचक्षते । ... । एदद्वा अन्ततोऽन्नँराद्धम् । अन्ततोऽस्मा अन्नँराध्यते ॥ १ ॥(Tait. Upan. Bhru. 10.1) 
Do not send away anyone who comes to your door, without offering him food and hospitality. That is the inviolable discipline of mankind; and the one, who prepares and gives food in a small measure with low care and veneration, obtains food in the same small measure and with similar abjectness.
Therefore, have a great abundance of food, and exert all your efforts towards ensuring such abundance; and announce to the world that this abundance of food is ready, to be partaken of by all.
अन्नदानमाहात्म्यम् || Annadana Mahatmya
The role of anna and annadana is greatly acclaimed in achieving the Purushardharas (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha) and this aspect is highlighted in various texts. The greatness of Anna and Annadana are stressed upon in Vanaparva, Anushasana parva and Asvamedhika parva of Mahabharata.
In the Mahabharata, Bhishma describing the greatness of annadana and jaladana to Yudhisthira, says
न तस्मात्परमं दानं किञ्चिदस्तीति मे मनः। अन्नात्प्राणभृतस्तात प्रवर्धन्ते हि सर्वशः॥ (Maha. Anush. 13.67.5)
तस्मादन्नं परं लोके सर्वलोकेषु कथ्यते। अन्नाद्बलं च तेजश्च प्राणिनां वर्धते सदा॥ (Maha. Anush. 13.67.6)
Meaning : I believe there is no dana greater than the dana of food and water, because all beings are indeed born of anna, and from anna alone they obtain sustenance for living. That is why anna is said to be highest in this world. The bala (strength) and tejas (vitality) of all living beings always depends upon anna. Teaching the greatness of annadana to Yudhisthira, SriKrishna says:
अन्नेन धार्यते सर्वं जगदेतच्चराचरम्। अन्नात्प्रभवति प्राणः प्रत्यक्षं नास्ति संशयः॥ (Maha. Asva. Parv. 14.108.28)
The world, both animate and inanimate, is sustained by food. Life arises from food: this is observed all around, and there can be no doubt about it. Therefore, one who wishes to attain well-being in this world and beyond should offer food to all who seek. One should give food in accordance with time and place, and should keep giving to the limits of one's capacity, even if it were to cause inconvenience to one's own family. Finding an old person, a child, a tired traveler or a venerable one at the door, a householder should offer him worshipful hospitality, with gladness in his heart, as he would to his own teacher. Desirous of well-being beyond this world, the householder should purge himself of all anger, all jealousy, and offer worshipful hospitality, with grace and courtesy, to the one who appears at the door. Never offer slight to a person appearing at your door, never let a falsehood escape from your lips in his presence, and never ever ask him about his lineage or learning. The one who appears at the door at the proper time, even if he were an outcaste or such a one as partakes of the flesh of dog, deserves to be worshipped with the offering of food by him who seeks well-being beyond this world.
O Yudhisthira! the one who shuts his door on all comers and indulges in the enjoyment of food for himself alone is certainly ensuring that the doors of heaven shall be shut upon him. And his virtue is indeed great who propitiates with food the ancestors, the gods, the sages, the venerable ones, the destitute and all those who appear at his door. The one who gives food to those who seek, and especially to the brahmana seekers, is rid of all sins, even if his sins were immense. The giver of food is the giver of life, and indeed of everything else. Therefore, one who is desirous of well-being in this world and beyond should specially endeavour to give food.
Mahabharata extols, in Asvamedhika Parva
यस्मादन्नात्प्रवर्तन्ते धर्मार्थौ काम एव च। तस्मादन्नात्परं दानं नामुत्रेह च पाण्डव॥ (Maha. Asva. 14.101.28)
O Pandunandana ! The conduct of Dharma, Ardha and Kama are by Anna, hence there is nothing greater than anna neither on earth nor in the other worlds.
Legends about Annadana
While texts abound with sacrifice and dana of great kings such as Shibi Chakravarti (who gave away his own flesh to save a dove) and Rantideva (who showed exceptional hospitality), there are legends about the greatness of Annadana given in Mahabharata.
नकुलाख्यानम् ॥ Nakulakhyana
Mahabharata contains a beautiful story called Nakulakhyana , where Yudhishthira learns how all his dana of gold and lands, may not be worth that of a fistful of sattu (सत्तू । dish made of barley), given by a starving Brahmin family to an unexpected guest.
At the end of Yudhisthira's asvamedhayajna — the great yajna during which mountains of grains and rivers of ghee were consumed, and kings and people from all over the world were served for days and months together — a mongoose gets up and adopting a human voice says:
"O kings of the earth, this great yajna of yours has not yet equaled the one single measure of roasted grain given away by a generous resident of Kuruksetra, who himself used to live off the left-over grains painstakingly collected from harvested fields and marketplaces."
And on being asked the reason for this unbelievable assertion, the mongoose begins to tell the story of Annadana by Unchavrtti Brahmana (उञ्छवृत्तिब्राह्मणः) austere, but generous, brahmana of Kuruksetra. (Maha. Asva. 90.7)
कपोतदम्पती कथा ॥ Story of Kapotadampati
The Mahabharata records another touching story of a host giving up his all, in fact his very life, to satisfy the hunger of the even an unworthy cruel guest. The host in this other story is a bird, a pigeon, and the guest a hunter who has earlier encaged the bird-wife of the pigeon. The story is in a way a premonition of the story that the mongoose tells towards the end of Yudhisthira's asvamedhayajna: the story of the brahmana who gathers his food grain by grain, like a pigeon, and gives up what he has gathered for the sake of a guest, putting his own life and the life of his entire family in jeopardy.
Bhishma tells Yudhisthira, the heart rendering story of Atithi Satkara by Kapotadampati (कपोतदम्पती) where a couple of self-sacrificing pigeons offer hospitality to a hunter, in the apaddharma-parva of shantiparva. Bhishma says that in earlier times it was told to Mucukunda by Parasurama, when the former had sought to know the dharma of looking after one who comes to the abode seeking protection.
Such is the foundation of the Bharitya Sanatana Dharma. This is the difference between western culture and our eternal Sanatana culture. The reason for poverty and hunger caused by scarcity can be traced to neglecting our civilizational principles. Culture cannot sustain on a hungry stomach. Basic necessities of life and wisdom that shape our life in family life and those who are instrumental in building and sustaining our family, like women, food, and beauty should never be on sale. Anna, Veda and beauty when commodified have dangerous consequences that destroy life and wellbeing. The principles enshrined in our shastras clearly reveal the degradation of ‘modern’ lifestyles due to the disconnect with our traditional systems and kind of life.
In traditional India anna was served to all through charitable centres patronised by kings. The most important duty of the king was to protect the citizens; not just by power but also by taking care of their needs. And for the satisfaction of the citizens, annadana was the greatest charity. To fulfill this duty, many occasions would present themselves where the yajnas would be conducted. The Mahabharata describes the Janmajeya’s Sarpayagya and its famous Saunaka Anna Satra. Annavitarana (distribution of food) became an intrinsic part of our cultural values and several cultural festivities were woven into it. It also provided opportunities for elevation of one’s soul.
In the final analysis, a clear distinction needs to be made between Annadana enveloped with daivabhava and Anna that is sold only for making profit (Annavikrayana). Arising from fear of not having control, politicians create artificial famines as people who do not have Anna will be meek and focused on gathering food that they can easily be fooled by these leaders. While this was seen in several parts of the world, its shadow seems to be falling on Bharatavarsha also.
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