Everyday throughout the year fifty six varieties of dishes are prepared and offered to the Deities of the Jagannath Temple. These consist of preparation of rice, dal and other selected vegetables. The food is cooked in accordance with prescribed procedures, and is offered first to Lord Jagannath and then to Goddess Bimala after which it turns into Mahaprasad. Mahaprasad, the holy food, is freely shared by people of all castes and creeds without any discrimination. In all religious and social rituals in Puri and Odisha, Mahaprasad plays a very important role. Exchange of Mahaprasad between two persons belonging to two different castes binds them in an abiding relationship. Mahaprasad and other offerings made to the deities are sold to public in Ananda Bazaar on the north-east corner of the outer enclosure of the Jagannath temple, where every day thousands of piligrims buy and eat various types of food.

There are four abodes of Hindu Gods located in the four directions of the Indian sub-continent. They are known as Çhar Dhams and considered as the most sacred sites for Hindus. The Char Dham consists of four sites - to the north is Badrinath, to the west is Dwarka, to the south is Rameshwaram and to the east is Puri. Puri is also popularly known as the Jagannath Dham. All the four holy abodes are believed to have been liked by Lord Vishnu intimately. It is said and believed that Lord Vishnu takes His bath at Rameswaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and finally retires at Dwarika. Therefore, a lot of importance is given to the Mahaprasad of Puri Jagannath temple.

A commemorative postage stamp issued by India Post on Mahaprasad
Postage Stamp on Mahaprasad
Issued by: India Post | Issued On: 3rd November, 2017 | Denomination: INR 05.00

Mahaprasad is cooked only in earthen pots inside the temple kitchen and medium of food is fire wood only. Mahaprasad can only be eaten on banana leaf while sitting on the floor. In most temples in India, the food that has been offered to the Deities is called as 'Prasad', but only in Lord Jagannath temple the food that has been offered is called 'MahaPrasad'. In Odia language 'Maha' means 'Great', so the word 'MahaPrasad' itself depicts the sagacity of greatness.

Dried rice Mahaprasad known as 'Nirmalya' is also used by devotees for different sacred occasions. Nirmalya is equally important as Mahaprasad. It is also believed by Hindus that at the time of death, the Nirmalya and holy basil (Tulsi) with water is poured in the tongue and throat of the imminent deceased persons with the belief that by taking these items after their death their soul will remain in peace and there will be no 'Jamadanda' (Punishment by death God) of the Belzibup. Tourists visiting Puri prefer to carry this dry Mahaprasad with them which they can keep at home and consume whenever required.

Types of Mahaprasad:

There are two types of Mahaprasad. They are Sankhudi Mahaprasad and Sukhila Mahaprasad. Both the types are available for sale in Ananda Bazaar of the Lord Jagannath temple.

  • Sankhudi Mahaprasad includes wet food items like rice, butter rice, hing-ginger rice, mixed rice, sweet dal, mixed vegetable curries of different types, and porridge, etc. Sankhudi Mahaprasad has shorter self-life. ‘Mahaprasad’ is a commonly used term by rest of the world, but the people of Puri also called the Sankhudi Mahaprasad as ‘Abhada’.

Sankhudi Mahaprasad
Sankhudi Mahaprasad

  • Sukhila Mahaprasad includes dry food items like various salty and sweet dishes (Kahaja, Sarapuri, Amalu, Khurma, Magaja Ladoo, Kakara etc) made from flour, sugar, wheat, jaggery, rice flours, and ghee, etc. Sukhila Mahaprasad has longer self-life. ‘Nirmalya’ (dried Rice Mahaprasad in hot sun) is also another type of Sukhila Mahaprasad.

Sukhila Mahaprasad
Sukhila Mahaprasad

Why Sankhudi Mahaprasad is also known as Abhada?

In Odia language the term 'Badha' means 'something that is servered' and 'A-badha' means 'something that is NOT served'. The Sankhhudi Mahaprasad that has been offered to the Deities is in the form where the entire cooked food along with the earthen pot is offered without parting it. All the earthen pots with the cooked food are carried from the temple kitchen to the Bhoga Mandapa (offering hall) and offered to the Deities, that's why it is called Abadha'.

Sukhila Mahaprasad
Abadha - Unserved Mahaprasad - This is how it is offered to the Deities
Sukhila Mahaprasad
Badha - Served Mahaprasad - This is how it is consumned by the devotess

Why earthen pots are used for cooking Mahaprasad?

  • Earthen pots are biodegradable and naturally environment friendly. Now a days we are more environment cautious, but hundred years back in the Jagannath temple they started using clay pots for cooking.
  • Earthen pot is more hygienic, no need to wash and clean since it is a one-time use. Pots that are used for cooking in the Jagannath temple kitchen are not used again, each day fresh earthen pots are used for cooking.
  • As per Ayurveda, the food cooked in earthen pots are more delicious and healthier as compared to food cooked in metal pots. Earthen pots impart the food with a pleasant earthy smell.
  • Once the Prasad cooked in the kitchen, it usually takes hours to reach to the devotees due to many predefined processes to convert it to Mahaprasad. Clay is a bad conductor of heat, so the food cooked in earthen pots remain warm longer, up to 5 to 6 hours, so the devotees can enjoy the taste and freshness of the Mahaprasad.
  • Earthen pots are red in color. Red color is auspicious and sacred in Hindu religion. Apart from this, there is scientific reason behind using of red color earthen pots, they can resist extreme heat and cooking can be completed within precise time.

Earthen pots used in cooking of Mahaprasad
Earthen pots used in cooking of Mahaprasad

Why Mahaprasad is always served on banana leaf and eaten while sitting on the floor?

  • Using banana leaf as a plate is hygienic since it is a one-time use. Banana leaf is biodegradable and environment friendly.
  • Banana leaves contain large amounts of polyphenols that are natural antioxidants. The food served on the banana leaf absorbs the polyphenol preventing diseases.
  • The antibacterial properties of banana leaf can kill the germs in the food.
  • Eating food on banana leaf improves health and avoids issues like skin diseases, constipation, and indigestion.
  • By sitting on the floor, our brain automatically receives signal to prepare our stomach for digestion.

Mahaprasad served on banana leaf

Next Page - Legend behind Mahaprasad >>

Source: Odisha Review

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