Annadhanam Samam Danam Trilokeshu Na Vidhathe
These are the verses from the Vedas, meaning Annadanam is supreme and incomparable to any charity. Food is the basic requirement for all humans. Thus according to Vedas, the one who does annadanam to devotees, attains heaven (Punya Loka) in this Universe (Brahmanda) itself. In this whole universe, the creation and its progression depends on food. Hence giving food to the devotees is more than attaining heaven.
Gaja turaga Sahasram Gokulam koti danam
Kanaka Rajatha patram Methini sagarantham
Upaya kula vishuttam Koti kanya pradanam
Nahi nahi bahu danam Annadanam samanam
Donating 1000 elephants & horses, donating 10 million cows, donating any number of vessels of silver and gold, donating the entire land till sea, offering the entire services of the clan, helping in the marriage of 10 million women, all this is never ever equal to Annadanam, the feeding of hungry and needy.
Adi Sankaracharya in his stotram praising Annapurna, the personification of plentiful food, says:
Annapurne sadapurne SankaraPranavallabhe gyanavairagya siddhyartham bhiksham dehi ca Parvati
Annapurna Devi, Goddess of Plenty, you are Lord Shiva's eternal Consort, give us alms together with wisdom.'
"Give food, Give food. Give food", this is what Lord Krishna advises Yudhishtira in the Bhavishya Purana in his discourse on 'daanam' or the discipline of sharing, Yudhishtira asks Lord Krishna to enlighten him about the essence of Bhishma Pitamaha's erudite discourse on dharma in the 'santi parva' of the Mahabharata. Lord Krishna says: "The World, both animate and inanimate, is sustained by food. 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 make special endeavours to give food. Also Food should be offered with venerable hospitality to the old, the child, and the tired traveller".
Srivaraha says in the Varaha Purana, "One who gives food, gives all that is worth giving in this world". The Taittriya Upanishad says, "Do not send away anyone who comes to your door, without offering him food and hospitality". This is the inviolable discipline of mankind. Have an abundance of food and direct all your efforts to ensure that abundance. The Aswameda Yagna of Dasarathas, the Rajasuya Yagna of the Pandavas, and all the great yagnas described in the Ramayanam, Mahabharatham and all the other Puranas testify the importance of sharing food in abundance.
Taittiriya Upanishad declares:
annam vai pranah annam bahu kurveet meaning, "All life force comes from food" and "Let food be produced in plenty".
In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna declares:
annad bhavanti bhutani meaning, "From food all beings are evolved".
A popular saying among Kailas pilgrims, Baba Amarnatha barfani bhukhe ko anna pyase ko pani , exhorts listeners to offer food to the hungry and water to the thirsty in the name of Lord Siva. Among all gifts of charity, providing food to the hungry is the greatest of all gifts as food gives life, longevity, light and energy. Therefore if you offer food to even an enemy who had come to kill you, the Gods will be pleased and bestow their boons upon you. We can define the merit of all other charities, but even the creator, Brahma, cannot describe fully the merit of gifting food. Therefore, when a guest arrives at lunch or dinner time, always offer him or her food on a leaf or plate. There is no greater merit in this world than feeding the hungry. Even the Gods appreciate the deed of regular annadanam. Annadanam improves strength, sharpness of brain and divinity to both the donor and receiver. Food is to be served to all the inmates and visitors irrespective of caste, creed, colour, sex or age.
Benefits of Annapoorani Homam
Once Goddess Parvati was told by her consort Shiva that the world is an illusion and that food is a part of this illusion called maya. The Divine Mother who is worshipped as the manifestation of all material things, including food, became angry. To demonstrate the importance of her manifestation of all that is material she disappeared from the world. Her disappearance brought time to a standstill and the earth became barren. There was no food to be found anywhere and all the beings suffered from the pangs of hunger. Seeing all the suffering, Mother Parvati was filled with compassion and reappeared in Kasi and set up a Kitchen. Hearing about her return, Shiva ran to her and presented his bowl in alms saying, "Now I realise that the material world, like the spirit, cannot be dismissed as an illusion." Parvati smiled and fed Shiva with her own hands. Since then Parvati is worshipped as Annapurna, the Goddess of Nourishment.
Annapurna has many names. The Annapurna Sahasranam presents her one thousand names and the Annapurna Shatanama Stotram contains 108 of her names. She is variously described as: She who is full, complete and perfect with food and grains, She who gives nourishment, She who is the strength of Shiva, She who is the grantor of knowledge, She who takes away all fear, She who is the Supreme welfare, She who manifests truth and efficiency, She who is beyond Maya, She who is the cause of creation and dissolution, She who is adi sakthi.
Physically, Annapurna is described as holding a golden ladle adorned with various kinds of jewels in her right hand and a vessel full of delicious porridge in her left. She is seated on a throne. In some depictions, Lord Shiva is shown standing to her right with a begging bowl, begging her for aims.