What is Prasadam?
Offering Food before we eat – Prasadam
Prasadam literally means “mercy” and devotees of ISKCON use this term to describe pure vegetarian food that has been offered to Lord Krishna. Food that has been offered to the Deities in the temple is known as maha-prasadam.
Most Food contains karma which binds us to the cycle of birth and death because although it may be vegetarian one may still harm other living entities in the process of obtaining it: The farmer may accidentally kill insects during the cultivation of crops or the plants may feel some pain when they are uprooted. However, when the food is prepared for the pleasure of Krishna He accepts the love and devotion present in the offering and removes all sins from it. The karma present in the food is therefore transformed into spiritual energy. Honouring (eating) this sanctified prasadam is the basis of bhakti-yoga and helps one to make tangible spiritual advancement. Sharing and distributing prasadam is also very important!
What can we offer to Krishna?
Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita that “if one offers me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” Krishna does not accept meat, fish or eggs. Onions, garlic and caffeine are also not offered because they cause disturbance to the mind and are therefore not beneficial for meditation and spiritual life. One should use fresh, natural ingredients as far as possible. One should also pay special attention to all labels of items bought in supermarkets: most cheeses contain non-vegetarian rennet, some yogurts contain gelatin and many non-vegetarian products are hidden behind e-numbers, preservatives, flavours and colours.
How to prepare an Offering
Cleanliness is next to Godliness, so one should keep the kitchen very clean. As the food is to be offered to Krishna, the Supreme enjoyer, one should not taste anything before the offering is made. The most essential ingredients are love and devotion, so while cooking one should remember that one is cooking for Krishna’s pleasure. Listening to a devotional CD helps create a nice meditative mood in the kitchen.
Making an Offering
A portion of each preparation is arranged in Krishna’s personal plate and bowls. Fresh water is offered in His cup. A Tulasi leaf is placed on each preparation.
Beginners may chant the maha-mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare three times.
For a more elaborate offering the prayers below are chanted three times each while ringing a bell. Although the offering is made to Krishna, it is done through the spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, so we begin with prayers to his lotus feet:
1. Prayer to Srila Prabhupada:
nama om visnu-padaya krishna-presthaya bhutale srimate bhaktivedanta-swamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracharine nirvishesha sunyavadi paschyatya desha tarine
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya Deva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism."
2. Prayer to Lord Chaitanya:
namo maha-vadanyaya krishna-prema-pradaya te krishnaya krishna-chaitanya-namne gaura-twishe namah
"O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden colour of Srimati Radharani and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You."
3. Prayer to Lord Krishna:
namo brahmanya-devaya go-brahmana-hitaya ca jagad-dhitaya krishnaya govindaya namo namah
"I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahmanas, the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas and the benefactor of the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda."
After offering the food to the Lord, we wait some minutes for Him to relish the preparations. Then the food is transferred from Krishna’s plate back into their respective recipients. Krishna’s plates need to be washed before the prasadam is served.
A special prayer is recited by devotees before honouring the prasadam, to thank the Lord for his mercy.
from Bhaktivinoda Thakura's Gitavali
1) bhai-re!sharira avidya-jal, jodendriya tahe kal,
jive phele vishaya-sagore
ta'ra madhye jihva ati, lobhamoy sudurmati
ta'ke jeta kathina samsare
2) krishna baro doyamoy, koribare jihva jay,
swa-prasad-anna dilo bhai
sei annamrta pao, radha-krishna-guna gao,
preme dako chaitanya-nitai
"O brothers! This material body is a place of ignorance, and the senses are a network of paths to death. The senses throw the soul into this ocean of material sense enjoyment and, of all the senses, the tongue is most voracious and uncontrollable; it is very difficult to conquer the tongue in this world. O brothers! Lord Krishna is very kind to us and has given us such nice prasadam, just to control the tongue. Now let us take this prasadam, to our full satisfaction and glorify Their Lordships, Sri Sri Radha and Krishna and, in love, call for the help of Lord Chaitanya and Prabhu Nityananda."