Holy Foods: Spiritual Connection Between Faith And Food In India
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Holy or Sacred Food is an integral part of major Indian religions –Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and others. Hinduism and Jainism have evolved systems for offering food to the sacred, known as puja. These ceremonies are performed in temples and homes throughout India, and can be extremely elaborate or very simple. People offer food to their chosen deity, who then spiritually consumes it. The leftover food is then considered "favors" or "divine leftovers".

Sacred Foods of Hinduism

Hindus believe that food has a special significance. The ritual of preparing food is seen as a form of devotional meditation. Although most religious ceremonies do not involve prasad/prasadam (specially prepared food offerings), some certainly do. During pilgrimages, most Hindus avoid meat and dairy products. Some Brahmins follow special dietary restrictions, including fasting. Food preparation and storage are also strictly observed during certain holy days. Even those who practice vegetarianism observe certain fasts. 

Fruits are a staple of the Hindu diet. The religion treats fruit and milk as sacred offerings to the gods in most temples. Fruits can be raw or ripe, and they come in a variety of flavours. Some people give fruits to the gods depending on their characteristics, including spicy or sour fruits. Other gods, such as Vishnu, are offered sweeter foods like milk and honey.

Some Hindus practice vegetarianism or a strict vegetarian diet. However, those who practice this diet may occasionally eat meat, as long as it is vegetarian and does not harm any living things.

Sikhism's Sacred Foods 

The sacred foods of Sikhism are not the foods that Hindus or Christians consume. , Sikhs believe that eating meat is a personal decision. That's why all of the food served in a Gurdwara is vegetarian. This allows Sikhs to offer hospitality to all people in an inclusive manner.

Baisakhi is an important religious holiday in the Sikh faith. It celebrates the establishment of the Khalsa Panth by the 10th guru Gobind Singh in 1699. During this time, temples hold 24-hour readings of the Guru Granth Sahib, and men and women prostrate themselves in front of the holy scripture. During the festival, Sikhs also eat a special meal called curry, prepared in large vats.

One of the main aspects of Sikhism is its emphasis on social harmony and equality. The langar, or communal meal, is a practice that illustrates the spirit of equality and harmony within the Sikh community. Food is served free of charge and every visitor and devotee sits on the floor, as an expression of equality. In addition to the langar, Sikhs also serve meals to the community at large at other times. This emphasis on seva is a way of helping the needy and less fortunate in their communities.

Sacred Food in Jainism

The sacred foods of Jainism include rice, saffron, mustard seeds, and turmeric. These foods are considered living because they contain seeds and can reproduce. According to the Jain faith, eating green-leaved vegetables and rice during certain days of the year is not permitted. 

Food plays a significant role in the mythology of Jainism. The religion warns against eating animal products, and speaks of hell and metaphorical hunger. Moreover, the Jain faith also teaches that eating animals causes harm and leads to cannibalism. Its members speak of souls in different categories of plants, animals, and microscopic life-forms.

This reverence for all forms of life is a distinct characteristic of Jainism that also informs the food habits of its adherents. Jains take great pains to avoid causing harm to small animals. They believe that harm caused by carelessness is as evil as intentional violence. Hence, they make every effort to ensure that no animal is harmed during the preparation of a meal or during consumption. In fact, many Jains also buy milk from the milkman, because this avoids any harm to cattle. One could say that all life is sacred to Jainism, as is all food. Therefore, food requires particular care and attention so as to avoid causing any kind of harm. 

Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism all have sacred foods that have been considered holy by their believers. Chappan Bhog is one such popular 'sacred meal’ that includes 56 food items offered to Lord Krishna on the occasion of Krishna Janmashtami.

Food is a part of faith in India in more ways than one. On some occasions, food is offered, and consumed, as a part of service to the lord. On other occasion, fasting, abstinence and renunciation are emphasized as a way of liberating oneself from the clutches of desires or vices. It is estimated that while four out of ten Indian adults are not vegetarians, most do restrict their meat consumption in some way that connects to their spiritual practice. For instance, among those who do limit their meat intake, approximately one-quarter of Jains, six percent of Christians, and nine percent of Muslims and Buddhists do so. Approximately eight out of ten Hindus limit their meat consumption in some way.

Fasting has also gained currency as a spiritual as well as healthy practice. Many people fast on certain days of the week or mark special events in their lives by observing a fast.