Every Time You Prevent Food Being Wasted, You Perform An Act Of Worship Of The Devi
Hindu social ethics see food production and distribution as 'yajna'. And 'yajna' is what She is.
In fact, She is Sakambhari, the food-giving Goddess as also, Aaranyani—She who sustains and nourishes without tilling.
In the West, in pious Christian families, there is a tradition. The tradition of thanksgiving. Before the family eats, they thank their god for the food he has placed in their plates. ‘Give us our daily bread’ is part of their ‘Lord’s prayer.’ So to them their god gives the food.
The food is from god.
But for the Hindus, the food is God or rather, the food is Goddess.
In many modern Hindu organisations, before partaking food, a verse from the Bhagavad Gita is recited. It is ‘Brahmarpanam …’ Bhagavad Gita 4:24. It is recited in RSS camps; in Satya Sai Bal Vikas; in Mata Amritanandamayi satsang – before they eat and with folded hands. At one level, it may look like they are imitating the Christian thanksgiving before the meals. Perhaps. But that is where pop-mythologists would stop. 'See Hindutva imitates Christianity!'
But one needs to go beyond the form and into the content. This is Hinduism evolving, because it is Sanatana – eternal. Eternal does not mean frozen but it means life and life means evolution.
The importance is in what the shloka implies. The process of offering is Brahman. The offering itself is Brahman. The fire that consumes the offering is Brahman. The sacrificial pit is also Brahman. Now in the context of taking food – the shloka recited presents eating and the digestion as a yajna.
In fact, Hindu social ethics see food production and distribution as yajna. So, a Hindu cannot leave out anyone. Because production of food is yajna, its distribution is yajna and its consumption is yajna too.
And Yajna is what She is. Sri Lalita Sahasranama speaks of Her as Yajna Rupa – She whose form is yajna (Name: 769). She loves yajna (Yajna Priya) and She officiates the yajna (Yajna Karthee), She presides over the yajna (Yejamana Swarupini) (Names: 881-3).
And She is the giver of food – Annadha (Name: 669).
In Markandeya Purana, She proclaims: ‘Oh Devas, I support the whole word with the life-sustaining vegetables which shall grow out of my own body during a period of heavy rain. I shall gain fame on earth as Sakambhari.'
Sakambhari is the food-giving Goddess. She is the abundance of nature. She is the Puranic manifestation of yet an older Goddess - Aaranyani. Even before agriculture, which would have been the first extensive ecological interference humans made, Aaranyani fed humanity. Rig Vedic seers sang of Her as 'as the Goddess of wild and forest' who 'seeks not the village.' She who takes joy in the sounds of the insects, She who never slays unless one is destructive, She who gives fruits and vegetables without the need to till the land - She is Aaranyani.
Aaranyani and Sakambari are the two names of the same aspect of the Divine Feminine.
They bring to mind another Goddess from another civilisation.
She is a Goddess forgotten in day-to-day life of the region where she emerged. She was, or rather is, Diana of Ephesus. The one with multiple breasts. Very obviously they are fruits and vegetables. And as you look down you can see that her body is made up of many animals. Some wild and some domesticated; there are even spiders. To a Hindu, She in this form is verily a Viswarupa of Sakambari Aaranyani.
Today, She stands in the Naples museum. No adoration. No acceptance within. Only admiration from a distance.
‘For one grain of rice that falls off your plate, nine days you will go hungry and without food’, that is what grandmothers used to say to, or rather caution, their grandchildren in Tamil Nadu. It is a continuation of what the Upanishads said: never insult the food. We do not even know how many lives this traditional attitude to food has saved through generations. We do not see value in such studies.
But today, these values that emanate from the understanding of food as the Goddess, are very much needed. Not just for us but for the entire planet.
This is what Chad Frischmann and Mamta Mehra (who are part of Project Drawdown which aims to bring down Green House Gas emissions globally) wrote in Scientific American on 1 October 2021:
Food waste already accounts for roughly 8 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. ... Reducing food waste is one of the top-five means of achieving these goals among 76 we analyzed. Basic adjustments in how food is produced and consumed could help feed the entire world a healthy, nutrient-rich diet through 2050 and beyond without clearing, planting or grazing more land than is used today. Providing more food by eliminating waste, along with better ways of producing that food, would avoid deforestation and also save an enormous amount of energy, water, fertilizer, labor and other resources.'Massively Reducing Food Waste Could Feed the World'
As the West rediscovers the value of food, it is moving in nano-steps towards understanding the Goddess enshrined in it – the Goddess that had been driven away from their civilization by a jealous sky deity and is now imprisoned in a museum. Science and the ecological crisis are making them feel the impact of Her absence.
It was more than three years ago. It was night. We were tired. For the whole day we had toured the magnificent Chalukya temples and the Badami caves. At night we had come to the temple of Sakambari – Banaambika – bana/vana, meaning forest and Ambika, the Goddess. The Goddess of the forest.
In the Vedic literature, She revealed Herself as Aaranyani – She who sustains and nourishes without tilling. Many thousands of years later here at Sakambari temple, the Goddess who nourishes with vegetables and fruits from Her body, She who emanated from Yajna – worshipped with fervour.
Her fire is burning and it is burning for all humanity. It is also the fire of Pachama of the Mexican Indians. It is also the fire of Demeter. It is the fire of Diana of Ephesus. It is the fire of eternal Dharma preserved in the bosom of Mother India – for all humanity to discover its light and live by its warmth and survive the Global Warming Her absence in their civilization has caused.
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