Love and Compassion is the bedrock of our rituals & religious practices. Makkal Sevaye Mahesan Sevai is our philosophy. Hinduism teaches us compassion even towards lower beings as we believe God’s grace can be obtained only by leading a life of compassion towards all living beings. Feeding the hungry, ensuring the nourishment of all living beings has been the basis of several rituals and religious practices for ages. The Upanishads and the lives of great sages show the way.
Taittiriya Upanishad says Atithi Dhevo Bhava. Our religion teaches us that atithis (guests) should be fed every day before we eat as the guest becomes God. Siruthondar and Ilayangudi Maaranar, Nayanmaars were living examples. Siruthondar was a Siva bhaktha who had taken a vow to offer food to a Sivanadiyar every day before taking his meals. He used to travel far and wide in search of a Sivanadiyar every day to offer meals. One day, Lord Siva disguised himself as a Sivanadiyar and visited Siruthondar who had gone out in search of a Siva bhakta. His wife, Thiruvengattu Nangaiyar greeted the mendicant and offered him seat and requested him to accept their humble hospitality. She requested the Sivanadiyar to rest and take his meal on return of her husband. But the mendicant went away saying he will be available under a tree near the temple.
Siruthondar’s search for a Sivanadiyar that day was futile and he returned home dejected. He was overjoyed to know about this mendicant who had visited his home. He immediately rushed to the temple and requested the adiyar to visit his home and accept the humble offerings. The adiyar with a mischievous smile said Siruthondar cannot offer what he demands. But Siruthondar was insistent he will be able to fulfil the wishes of the Sivanadiyar with the blessings of Lord Shiva. So the mendicant visited the house and requested, Pillaikari, meat of a 5 year old child who is also the only son of the parents. Siruthondar did not hesitate for a second and immediately brought his young son playing in the backyard who is their only child and 5 years old. His wife held the child while Sirthondar chopped his son’s head, cooked the meat and offered to the Sivanadiyar.
The Lord wanted to further test the faith and determination of Siruthondar and said it was his practice to share his meals with another Sivanadiyar. Siruthondar happened to be the only Sivanadiyar in the vicinity and he immediately sat down. The mendicant now asked Siruthondar to call his child to join them for the lunch. Siruthondar tactfully said his son was not around but on the insistence of the Sivanadiyar, went out and called out to his son, Siralan who came rushing on hearing his name. Siruthondar and his wife, were overjoyed and turned to the Sivanadiyar to thank him but found no one and the meat had also disappeared. The Lord appeared before them and blessed them to mukthi.
Taking cue from the puranas and ithihasa, our kings and chieftains built dharmashalas and offered food to the poor in the temples. They gave away lands and wealth for the upkeep of these practices in the temples and dharmashalas.
Over the period of time, kingdoms and dharmashalas ceased to exist but feeding the poor and all lower beings were imbibed in our day-to-day rituals and religious practices. One of the most unique features of Hinduism is its ability to evolve and update itself to suit changing times and people. This is an accepted fact by various scholars who lives at various times.
True to the saying that charity begins at home, offering saadam (cooked rice) to crows before our daily meal, drawing kolams with rice flour to feed the ants and other insects, offer food to bhairavar in the nights, kanu pidi during pongal and hanging corn cobs or rice kernels (nerkathir) in the patio, were brought into practice. We offer feed to the fish in the temple tanks and celebrate maatu pongal and worship the cattle.
Another significant practice is koozhu or kanchi vaarthal in aadi maasam. Aadi is the month when the farming community gets ready for the next crop cycle. Sowing is done and the farm hands have no means of income. The landlords and the rich offer ragi koozhu to amman which is distributed amongst the poor at the temple.
Annadhaanam continues to exist in temples and bhaktas far and wide who travel to the temples for the darshan are offered food. Whenever such practices cease to exist or lose momentum, our gurus and saints taking avatar in the Kaliyugam explain to the world the greatness of annadhanam and prompt us to follow the footsteps of our ancestors. Some great souls immediately come to my mind.
Kanchi Munivar, as he is revered globally, my most beloved guru, Sri Mahaswamigal propagated Oru Pidi Arisi Thittam in March 1966. He urged his devotees to put away a handful of rice everyday just before they cooked for the day and donate the collected rice. He understood perhaps the push and pulls of present day life and devised an easy method to help the needy.
Vallalar Swamigal lit the Anaiyaa Aduppu at Vadalur which is serving food to the need the last 150 years. His level of compassion to fellow beings is understood through his words “Vaadiya Payirinai Kanda Poodellam Vaadinen”.
Shirdi Sai Baba taught the concept of feeding the poor to his devotees and this was his favourite activity amongst various others. Baba devotees are aware of the mass scale poor feeding happening at all Sai Sansthans.
Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah – Rig Veda. Let Noble thoughts come to us from all sides. Let us continue with the practice of Annadhanam.