Eating a meal takes a considerable amount of time. After one offers the meal to God, there is still a lot of time spent eating the meal. My mind wanders and thinks about many different things while eating. What should one be thinking about while chewing ones food? Should one meditate while eating food?
"The saintly persons get relief from all kinds of sins by partaking the food that has been first offered to gods as sacrifice. But those who prepare food for their selfish ends eat but only sins.
(Bhagavad gita 3:13)
"All beings come into existence from food. Food comes from rains. Rains originate from the performance of sacrifices. And sacrifice is born out of doing prescribed duties.
(Bhagavad gita 3:14)
I speak the truth, it is indeed his death. He who nourishes neither the god nor a friend, he who eats alone, gathers sin.
(Rig Veda X. 117)
From earth herbs, from herbs food, from food seed, from seed man. Man thus consists of the essence of food.
'From food are produced all creatures which dwell on earth. Then they live by food, and in the end they return to food. For food is the oldest of all beings, and therefore it is called panacea.
In Hinduism several rituals are associated with food. A child's first feeding is celebrated as a samskara known as annaprasana. The funeral rites involve serving of food, offering of food to the departed soul and making of his astral body with food for his continuation in the ancestral world.
According to Manu," Food that is always worshipped, gives strength and manly vigour; but eaten irreverently, it destroys them both." He therefore advices that "a twice-born man should always eat his food with concentrated mind, after performing an ablution; and after he has eaten," he should "duly cleanse himself with water and sprinkle the cavities of his head.
Devout Hindus observe some rituals before eating food, which are enumerated below.
- Cleaning the place. Food is always eaten in a clean place. The Hindu law books proscribe eating food in unclean places.
- Sprinkling of water around the food. When food is served, water is sprinkled around it, accompanied by some mantras or prayers. This is meant to purify the food and make it worthy for the gods. Some water is also sipped following this act, in order to clear the throat.
- Making an offering of the food. Food is then offered to five vital breaths (pranas), namely prana, apana, vyana, udana, samanaya and then to Brahman seated in the heart.
Some offer food to their personal gods or divinities before eating instead of the five vital breaths. The purpose of offering food to the deities and God is two fold. It renders the act of eating a sacrificial ritual and signifies internalization of sacrifice, making ones body a sacrificial altar.
Secondly, it is believed that offering food to gods is a mark of self-surrender and devotion. According to Hindu scriptures, he who eats food after offering it to gods or God would come to no harm as any rajasic or tamasic substances or qualities hidden in the food would be neutralized by the their positive energies and blessings. In addition to these, the twice born were advised to perform five sacrifices every day which are essentially sacrificial offerings of food to different entities. They are
- Ahuta, which is not offered to the fire, usually the vedic mantras,
- Huta, which is the burnt oblation offered to the gods,
- Prahuta which is usually food grains etc offered by scattering it on the ground
- the Bali, which is the sacrificial offering given to the Bhutas or ghosts,
- Brahmya-huta, which is the food offered to the digestive fires of Brahmanas and guests invited to one's house,
- Prasita, which is offered to the to the ancestors.
According to the Bhagavadgita, he who eats food without offering to God verily incurs sin. Food is also served to guests and poor people during festive occasions and important ceremonies. In ancient India young students who were initiated into Brahmacharya were expected to beg for their food. Cooking food is also prohibited for those who have entered the phase of Sanyasa or renunciation. While self-mortification was not suggested, they were expected to gradually reduce their dependence upon food in order to set themselves free from the cravings of the body and the mind.Source
- Irrespective of whether one consumes food using cutlery or with their hand (typically the right hand), one is expected to wash hands before and after partaking food. During the course of the meal, cleaning one's eating hand with a cloth or paper tissue is considered unhygienic, though with the advent of restaurant dining, it is becoming more acceptable. One may be asked to wash their hands before and after sitting down to a meal.
- It is customary to share food with anyone who wants it.
- It is rude for one's host to not offer guests food multiple times.
- Similarly, it is expected that one should not leave the table before the host or until the eldest person has finished their food.
- It was not traditional to use dining napkins or paper tissues while eating, however, this is now the case in most of North India. In South India, an unfolded long towel on right shoulder is a tradition, which can be used to wipe one's hands after washing. However, this is mostly followed only on formal occasions.
- It is not necessary to taste each and every dish prepared, but one should finish everything on the plate as it is considered a respect for served food, and food is sacred. For this reason, one should take only as much food on the plate as they can finish. However, this is not general phenomenon. Depending on the family or community, one can leave the leftover food on the plate if they cannot eat any more. Also, at many places, someone insisting someone to try a dish or serving special dishes in excess, is considered as a sign of their affection towards them.
- Playing with food or in any way distorting the food is unacceptable. Eating at a medium pace is important, as eating too slowly may imply that you dislike the food, whereas eating too quickly is rude.
- In some parts of India, if a diner finishes earlier than the rest, they may need to wait until everyone has finished to wash their hands. It may be considered rude to leave the table. Sometimes, it may be acceptable for the diner who has finished to wash their hands, however, they are expected to return to the dining area immediately after. In most parts it is acceptable to leave after the elders have finished. This practice, like most others, is still prevalent in India.
- If a meal is served over banana leaves (in South India) then it is customary to fold the leaves from the top at the end of the meal (if folded from the bottom, it means the relationship with the host is broken). This is to note the host that one has finished eating.
- Courses in Indian meals depend on the area. North India has one course and desserts. Gujaratis have a roti course with desserts, followed by a rice course. In South India and East India, where meals are mostly rice based, orderly servings of accompaniments make various courses. The thali course is very common in South India; the vegetarian thali is a very typical, commonplace lunchtime meal in Tamil Nadu vegetarian eateries and canteens (and South India in general), and is a popular lunch choice.
- In various communities, various etiquette may prevail for indicating the end of a meal. For Marwaris, the guest must explicitly ask for papad, for Gujaratis, the guest must ask for rice. Sometimes in South India, serving buttermilk by the host indicates the end of a meal.
- Food has to be consumed by one hand only (with the exception of Punjab), and with the right hand only.Source