Raja Shveta and Anannadana (अनन्नदानम्)

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Anannadana (Samskrit : अनन्नदानम्) or not performing annadana to the needy and emaciated people, leads to dire consequences even in the heavens, is exemplified by the story of Raja Sveta.

अनन्नदानम् ॥ Anannadana

Srikrishna's advice to Yudhisthira to give food and to keep giving, appears at the beginning of the discourse on annadana mahatmya, the greatness of giving food, in the Bhavishya Purana.

अनन्नदानस्य फलं त्वयेदमुपभुज्यते । तर्ह्यन्नदानतो नान्यच्छरीरारोग्यकारकम् ।। (Bhav. Pura. 4.169.22)[1]
नान्यदन्नादृते पुंसां किञ्चित्सञ्जीवनौषधम् । महीं गत्वा महाराज कुरुष्व वचनं मम ।। (Bhav. Pura. 4.169.23)

anannadānasya phalaṁ tvayedamupabhujyate । tarhyannadānato nānyaccharīrārogyakārakam ।। (Bhav. Pura. 4.169.22)

nānyadannādr̥te puṁsāṁ kiñcitsañjīvanauṣadham । mahīṁ gatvā mahārāja kuruṣva vacanaṁ mama ।। (Bhav. Pura. 4.169.23)

O Sveta, you are reaping the fruit of anannadana, of not having performed annadana. Except for annadana there is nothing that can keep the body healthy. And except for anna, there is no other sanjivanaushadha— life restoring medicine — amongst men.

Sveta 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. After satiating him, Sveta offered sage Agastya an iridescent necklace in dakshina, as a token of gratitude for having accepted his worshipful offering of food. That same flamingly iridescent necklace of Sveta was given by sage Agastya to Srirama, when the latter visited him at his ashrama.[2]

Srirama and Agastya Samvada

Srirama, according to the Valmiki Ramayana, visits the ashrama of sage Agastya during a journey that he undertakes to establish and protect dharma on earth. As a mark of respect for the visiting Raja, sage Agastya offers him Sveta's necklace and begins to tell him how he came to acquire that celestial ornament. Sage Agastya says:

"Srirama, what I am narrating to you happened long ago, in an earlier tretayuga. At that time, there was a great forest, that extended to a hundred yojanas on all sides. But there were no animals, nor any birds, within that vast expanse."

"I entered that lonely and quiet forest in search of a place to perform tapas —high austerities. The grandeur of that forest was beyond description. There was a lake that was a wonder to behold. Its water tasted like none other. A drink from it left one greatly refreshed.

"In the vicinity of a serene lake of clean pure water swarming with birds of rare grace, there was an ancient ashrama. The ashrama in its grandeur rivaled the lake: it was big, it was a place of great piety, it was a wonder to behold. And there was nobody inhabiting it.

प्रभाते काल्यमुत्थाय सरस्तदुपचक्रमे । अथापश्यं शवं तत्र सुपुष्टमजरं क्वचित् ।। ७.७७.८ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.77.8)[3]

prabhāte kālyamutthāya sarastadupacakrame । athāpaśyaṁ śavaṁ tatra supuṣṭamajaraṁ kvacit ।। 7.77.8 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.77.8)

"O Srirama, the best amongst men, I spent that summer night in that ashrama, and getting up early in the morning began to prepare for a bath, on the banks of the lake. Suddenly, I saw a dead body floating on the waters. It was a well-formed and well-nourished body. It was clean and fresh. It showed no signs of decay. And, it was lying on the waters irradiating great splendour. "I was baffled by the sight of that body. Wondering about it, I sat on the banks of the lake for a while. And soon I saw a celestial chariot descending there. On that celestial chariot there sat a man from the heavens. He was surrounded by thousands of apsaras who were all adorned with celestial ornaments. Some of them were singing, some were playing on various musical instruments, while others were dancing.

पश्यतो मे तदा राम विमानादवरुह्य च । तं शवं भक्षयामास स स्वर्गी रघुनन्दन ।। ७.७७.१५ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.77.15)

तथा भुक्त्वा यथाकामं मांसं बहु सुपीवरम् । अवतीर्य सरः स्वर्गी संस्प्रष्टुमुपचक्रमे ।। ७.७७.१६ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.77.16) [3]

paśyato me tadā rāma vimānādavaruhya ca । taṁ śavaṁ bhakṣayāmāsa sa svargī raghunandana ।। 7.77.15 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.77.15)

tathā bhuktvā yathākāmaṁ māṁsaṁ bahu supīvaram । avatīrya saraḥ svargī saṁspraṣṭumupacakrame ।। 7.77.16 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.77.16)

"And then, what do I see, O Srirama, the delight of Raghukula! Like the sun, the god of light, descending from the peaks of the Meru mountains, that man from the heavens got down from his celestial chariot, and he, in front of my very eyes, began to eat the flesh of the dead body floating on the lake. After taking his fill of the well-nourished and plentiful flesh of that body, he entered the lake and began to wash. Having performed his ablutions with ceremonial thoroughness, he was getting ready to ascend his celestial chariot, when I approached him and asked:

'O gracious and heavenly one, who are you? And why do you partake of such vile food? Who can have such divine attributes and yet be eating of such food? I am perplexed. I cannot conceive that this dead body is the proper food for you. I want to hear the truth behind these strange happenings.'

Raja Sveta's Story

Upon being questioned by Agastya rishi out of curiosity, Raja Sveta recalls his story to him. Agastya maharshi continues thus - "Paying heed to my enquiry, couched in proper and pleasant words, that man from the heavens replied with folded hands, thus:

'O Brahman, the great one, listen to the story of my past, which is the irrevocable cause of both my good and bad fortune in the present, and about which you have sought to know.

'It happened long ago. My illustrious father, Sudeva, was then the Raja of Vidarbha. His prowess was great and he was renowned in the three lokas. He had two wives. In time, both of them gave birth to a son each. I was the elder of the two. I was named Sveta, and my younger brother was given the name of Suratha.

'On my father's ascension to the heavens, the people anointed me the Raja. There I ruled, carefully observing the dictates of dharma. I was engaged in protecting the people and running the state in accordance with dharma, and thus a thousand years passed by.

'Then, as luck would have it, I somehow came to know of the destined extent of my life on earth. Knowing of the inexorability of kala, of the unchangeable flow of time, I left the kingdom and took to the life of a forest-dweller.

'It was then that I came to this forest, which is difficult to reach and where there are neither animals nor birds. And I sat on the banks of this auspicious lake to perform tapas.

'Having placed my younger brother, Suratha, on the throne, I performed tapas on the banks of this lake for a long long time. I was immersed in severe tapas in this great forest for three thousand years, at the end of which I attained to brahmaloka, the heavenly world where Brahma himself resides.

तस्य मे स्वर्गभूतस्य क्षुत्पिपासे द्विजोत्तम । बाधेते परमोदार ततो ऽहं व्यथितेन्द्रियः ।।। ७.७८.११।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.11)[4]

tasya me svargabhūtasya kṣutpipāse dvijottama । bādhete paramodāra tato 'haṁ vyathitendriyaḥ ।।। 7.78.11।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.11)

'However, O Agastya, the first among the twice-born, even in that heavenly world of Brahma I was harassed by persistent thirst and hunger. I was sorely distressed; My hunger and thirst were so great that I felt their pangs tormenting everyone of my sense organs.

Flesh as Food

गत्वा त्रिभुवनश्रेष्ठं पितामहमुवाच ह । भगवन्ब्रह्मलोको ऽयं क्षुत्पिपासाविवर्जितः ।।। ७.७८.१२ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.12)[4]

gatvā tribhuvanaśreṣṭhaṁ pitāmahamuvāca ha । bhagavanbrahmaloko 'yaṁ kṣutpipāsāvivarjitaḥ ।।। 7.78.12 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.12)

Once, in my distress, I went to Brahma, and said,'Bhagavan! The brahmaloka, this heavenly world of yours, is said to be free of all hunger and thirst. Then why so I keep suffering from these even here? The consequences of what karmas of mine are thus being visited upon me? And, O Brahma, what is to be my food now? Please tell me what is it that I should eat to satisfy this thirst and hunger that persists in me even in your heavenly world?'. 'Responding to my request; Brahma said:

पितामहस्तु मामाह तवाहारः सुदेवज । स्वादूनि स्वानि मांसानि तानि भक्षय नित्यशः ।। ७.७८.१४ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.14)

pitāmahastu māmāha tavāhāraḥ sudevaja । svādūni svāni māṁsāni tāni bhakṣaya nityaśaḥ ।। 7.78.14 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.14)

'O son of Sudeva, you should eat the delicious flesh of your own corporeal body. That is assigned to be your food. Partake of it everyday. 'O Sveta, you indeed undertook tapas of high order in your earthly life. But you nurtured only your own body. Not even a morsel of food was ever given out of your hands. And you, with your high intellect, must know that what is not sown can never be reaped:

स्वशरीरं त्वया पुष्टं कुर्वता तप उत्तमम् । अनुप्तं रोहते श्वेत न कदाचिन्महामते ।। ७.७८.१५ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.15)
दत्तं न ते ऽस्ति सूक्ष्मो ऽपि तप एव निषेवसे । तेन स्वर्गगतो वत्स बाध्यसे क्षुत्पिपासया ।। ७.७८.१६ ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.16)[4]

svaśarīraṁ tvayā puṣṭaṁ kurvatā tapa uttamam । anuptaṁ rohate śveta na kadācinmahāmate ।। 7.78.15 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.15)

dattaṁ na te 'sti sūkṣmo 'pi tapa eva niṣevase । tena svargagato vatsa bādhyase kṣutpipāsayā ।। 7.78.16 ।। (Valm. Rama. Uttara. 7.78.16)

'Since you did not ever give food on earth, therefore, even here in the heavens,you are destined to suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst.

Therefore, partake of the flesh of your body that you have nurtured so well during your life on earth. That body is full of nourishing rasas, life-giving essences. That alone is your proper assigned food. Live off it. You shall be released from this state when, in the far future, sage Agastya arrives in this forest. He, the sage Agastya, is capable of granting moksha to even the devas. Offering a reprieve to you, who are so deeply in the grip of hunger and thirst, is a small matter for that great sage.''

"And Sveta continued his story thus:

'Bowing to the will of Brahma, I began to partake of the vile food assigned to me. I have been eating the flesh of this corporeal body of mine for many many years. Yet it has remained undiminished, and it has been satisfying my hunger. 'I am thus fallen in great misery. Please release me from this state. You, who have arrived in this forest, can be none else but the sage Agastya. O gracious sage, let all auspiciousness visit you. Please accept this ornament from my hands, and bestow your pleasure on me.

Ornament as Dakshina

'O sage, this celestial ornament provides gold, jewels, clothes, food and riches of all kinds. By giving this ornament to you I am also giving away all desires and enjoyments. Bhagavan, I beseech you, be pleased upon me and release me from this state.' "

Having narrated this sorrowful story of Sveta in Sveta's own words thus far, sage Agastya tells Srirama that he accepted that celestial ornament from the hands of Sveta. And as soon as he received that auspicious ornament, the corporeal body of Sveta disappeared from the lake without a trace. With the destruction of his body Raja Sveta was greaty relieved and, suffused with heavenly bliss, he once again ascended to brahmaloka.


  1. Bhavishya Purana (Parva 4 Adhyaya 169)
  2. Bajaj, Jitendra and Mandayam, Srinivas. (1996) Annam Bahu Kurvita. Madras: Centre for Policy Studies Madras
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chaturvedi, Dwarakaprasad Sharma. (1927) Valmiki Ramayana, Vol 10 Uttarakand Uttaradha. Allahabad : Ramnarayan Lal Publisher and Bookseller
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Chaturvedi, Dwarakaprasad Sharma. (1927) Valmiki Ramayana, Vol 10 Uttarakand Uttaradha. Allahabad : Ramnarayan Lal Publisher and Bookseller