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WHAT SASTRAS PERMIT/PROHIBIT IN THE MATTER OF FOOD

- VEDANTA DESIKA's ADVICE

Excerpts from Section 4 of Chapter 15 of "Hinduism Rediscovered"


Dealing with Trigunas and Dietary regimen.

Right from Vedic literature down to the Itihasas and Puranas, we find scattered references
to vegetables and other edibles that can be consumed and those that are better avoided in
order to ensure augmentation of Satva and preclusion of Rajo and Tamo.

It was however, left to Swami Sri VEDANTA DESIKA who did deep research in this
field (as also in all other fields he touched ) to incorporate in his work entitled "Ahara
Niyamam', a catalog for ready reference on what can be consumed, what should not be
ingested and what can be taken with certain restrictions and even what go without any
restrictions also!. We attempt below to have a glimpse of the various items as gleaned
from 'Ahara Niyamam' and Srimad Ramayanam in particular. It should be understood that
the prohibition is meant only to enable us to regulate consumption in a conscious,
cautious way.

Lord Krishna clearly prohibits food that are too sour, hot, salty, too much bile-producing
etc. (BG 17/9)

And again, he advises that they who consume food that are time expired, those that have
lost taste, those that emanate stale odor, altered taste, mixed with spittle and those not fit
to be offered to the Lord should not be eaten. Sri RAMANUJACHARYA's SRI
BASHYAM `Sarvanna Anumatyati Karanam'Sutras 446 to 448 declare - that in times of
danger to life one can consume any food and such intake will not go against Pramanas
and Smritis.

BUT, SUTRA 449, HOWEVER, CLEARLY AND CATEGORICALLY FORBIDS


CONSUMPTION OF LIQUOR EVEN IN THE FACE OF DANGER TO LIFE.7

The case of one Sage USHASTI is alluded to. Due to famine he and his wife were
migrating to a far off place. On the way, the Sage was so exhausted due to starvation that
he almost swooned and apprehended his end was near at hand. A mahout who passed by
on an elephant offered him some horsegram which the sage readily accepted (though
ordinarily prohibited). But when the mahout offered water to drink, the sage declined
saying that he took the horsegram only for saving himself from starvation-death and
taking water thereafter was not proper since at that point of time, the danger to life had
disappeared.
A. Items prohibited on hygienic and prophylactic grounds (like our not using tooth
brushes used by others)

1. Spittle and food contaminated with spittle


2. Food contaminated by flies, worms, hair, fingernails etc.
3. Food contaminated by excreta
4. Food contaminated by cloth, thread, sneeze etc.
5. Food that has been `smelt' by anybody
6. Food `that has been tasted' by humans, rodent, crow, hen, cat, dog etc.
7. Food that has been partially `bitten' by others
8. Morsel of food partially remaining after eating a portion of it.
9. Vegetables cooked without first being washed
10. Fruits, vegetables etc. cut with finger nails
11. Food prepared by persons who are not clean
12. Food cooked in other people's homes (Parannam)
13. Food that has been found fault with
14. Foods that have been prohibited specifically
15. Food cooked along with prohibited items
16. Foods known to be harmful to vital air and the functioning of sense organs

B.ITEMS PROHIBITED ON `SOCIAL' GROUNDS


( LIKE THE `TABLE MANNERS' WE FOLLOW THESE DAYS DURING FORMAL
GATHERINGS.) AS DRESS REGULATIONS ARE IMPOSED ON US DURING
FORMAL DINNERS, CERTAIN NORMS AND DISCIPLINES ARE PRESCRIBED BY
OUR TRADITIONS. SOME OF THE RESTRICTIONS ARE:

1. One should not take for self food intended for all
2. Food meant for others (especially a sick person)
3. Food kept apportioned for self and guests
4. Food remaining after feeding a woman in menstruation*
5. Food prepared specifically for a woman who has just delivered*
6. Food that has not been offered to `Bhagavan' in the first place (during Aradhana)*
7. Food before offering to guests (Atiti Satkara)
8. Food offered to lesser deities (Devatantara)
9. Food set apart for offering to such deities as per Sastric injunctions
10. Products (grains, pulses etc.) not offered to God after the harvest
11. Food offered by Sanyasis directly
12. Food taken out from the vessel of Sannyasis
13. Food offered without love and affection
14. Vegetables, fruits etc. cultivated in dirty places *
15. Those that are known to affect concentration and meditation
16. Those that have been specifically advised against by Acharyas and such others
17. Mixed food distributed by hand
18. Ghee should not be served after one commences eating
19. Foods cooked more than once (Punar Pakam)
20. Cooked food served with iron ladles or bare hands
21. Salt served directly by hand
22. Food should not be eaten using left hand
23. Food should not be eaten holding the plate by hand
24. Food should not be placed on a seat
25. Food should not be eaten keeping them on the lap (22 to 25 are precisely what we
do during buffet)
26. Should not eat edibles sitting on the bed
27. Food should not be eaten without a lamp burning
28. Moonlight / Fire are no substitutes for a burning lamp
29. Lime used for making chunnam out of seashells
30. Bubbles and foam arising from liquids (as while drinking coke, pepsi, coffee etc)
31. No food can be taken without taking bath and washing hands, and completing
ablutions (Parishechanam)
32. Should not leave without completing the final Parishechanam
33. Should not eat out of a broken plate or other vessels that are not clean

Note: Items marked * are referred to in Srimad Ramayana (Balakanda) also.

C.SWAMI SRI DESIKAN HAS DRAWN UP AN ELABORATE LIST OF


VEGETABLES / PRODUCTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE EATEN. WE GIVE BELOW
THE TAMIL AND POPULAR AND / OR BOTANICAL NAMES OF THESE FOR
GENERAL GUIDANCE"

But, please do not be put off by this list. He has given another list of exceptions and
relaxations under which even some of the prohibited items could be consumed as also yet
another list of items that can be consumed freely without restrictions. (Vide Sections (D)
and (E).

TAMIL NAME POPULAR AND/ OR BOTANICAL NAME


1. Athi Varieties - Ficus Racemosa
2. Perarku Bauhinia Racemosa
3. Irali Ficus Virens
4. Vellai Kathari White egg plant | white brinjals
5. Aal Banyan -
6. Arasu Peepal Ficus Religiosa
7. Ayil Chittagong wood Chickrasia
Tabularis
8. Aarai Masculia Quadrifoli a
9. Naruvili Cordia Obliqua/M onoria
10. Pungu Dalbergia
11. Thigaipoondu A plant that causes confusion in
mind
12. Kurinji A shrub Maruthonr i Terminaw a
13. Tanri Bellenica
14. Kusumbai Carthamus Tinctoriu m
15. Velai Cleone Pentaphytt a
16. Sivappu/Nattu Murungai Drumstick - Hyperanth era
Muringa
17. Sukam Sukampal
18. Tamarai Kizhangu Lotus bulb Nelumbo Nucifera
19. Ulli Garlic
20. Siriya Avarai Beans
21. Thummatti Callous Leaved Bryonia
22. Therar Kai Clearing nut Strychnoo Patatatura
23. Panai Palmyra palm
24. Nayuruvi Achyranth us Aspera
25. Kadambu Eugenica Racemosa
26. Naikkudai Mushroom
27. Suraikkai A variety of gourd
28. Peerkku Ridge gourd
29. Sanar Keerai Hemp
30. Siru Keerai Amaranth us Gangeticu s
31. Sivanda Agathi Cormilla Grandi Flora
32. Purasu Balia Frundosa
33. Pasala Portulaca Obracora
34. Vilvakkai Crataeva Religiosa
35. Madulankai Unripe Pomogranate
36. Varagu Paspalum Frumentac eum
37. Mullangi Radish Raphenus Sativus
38. Vengayam Onion Allium Cepa
39. Punnakku Oil cake
40. Pannai keerai ! celosia s.p. ! Exact
equivalents not
traceable |Yeast. Dried brew|
41. Noyyir keerai
42. Seenkadan
43. Oovaikkai
44. Rammananthal
45. Khadi

D. THE FOLLOWING CAN BE TAKEN AS EXCEPTIONS TO GENERAL


PROHIBITIONS :-

1. The remnants of food partaken by father, preceptor and eldest brother.


2. The remnants of soma juice tasted through the soma vessel during Somayaga.
3. The remnants of food eaten by wife / husband even if hair, worm, thread etc are
found in such remnants, they can be thrown away and the remnants eaten.
4. In times of danger to life, even prohibited items can be consumed.
5. During fasting days one can take water, roots, ghee, milk, sacrificial remnants,
medicines - these will not spoil the fast.
6. If it becomes necessary to eat totally prohibited items in order to save life, a bit of
ghee or honey could be mixed with them and taken.
7. Even those foods that had become rotten can be taken after mixing with ghee.
Even other impurities like hair if noticed therein can be removed and thrown
away.
8. Of items that have turned sour, the following can be taken - curds, butter, fruits
that became sour due to contact with water, roots, flowers and pickles made out of
these (vide Manu Smriti and Srimad Ramayana).
E. THOSE THAT CAN BE TAKEN FREELY WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTIONS:

1. Sugarcane juice
2. Curds
3. Milk ( /but subject to restrictions listed at H)
4. Ghee
5. Sangam
6. Pepper
7. Honey
8. Cardamom
9. Ice
10. Betelnut (subject to restrictions listed at J)
11. Anything fried in fire
12. Fruits that have ripened on their own
13. Boiled rice
14. Vadam
15. Appam | even if they are old provided they have not lost their taste
16. Seedai |
17. Chappathi |
18. Milk products
19. Thenkuzhal
20. Murukku
21. Medicines prescribed by doctors
22. Jaggery and flour combined edibles even if old
23. Wheat flour combined edibles
24. Side dishes, butter milk, ghee, milk, curds mixed with cooked rice
25. Cooked rice put in a vessel with clean water
26. Edibles prepared with curds, milk etc.
27. Juice of flowers, raw vegetables, fruits, Tender Coconut Water.

F. ITEMS TO BE AVOIDED WITH REFERENCE TO TASTE:

1. Food overheated so much as to make it inedible


2. Too much bitter
3. Too much salty
4. Too much hot (like chillies)
5. Too much sour
6. Those that are too hot (temperature)
7. Those that are repulsive
8. All liquids from which the cream has been the essence and has been removed
(except buttermilk)
9. Old food that had become rotten
10. Food that smells like mud
G. ITEMS TO BE AVOIDED WITH REFERENCE TO TIME OF
CONSUMPTION

1. Food cooked on Ekadasi and other days of fasting should not be consumed
2. Wood apple and puffed rice should not be taken during day time
3. Food mixed with sesame should not be taken at night (also referred in Srimad
Ramayana)
4. Food prepared in gingelly oil at night
5. Food prepared with curds at night
6. No food can be taken at sunrise, sunset and midnight (also referred to in Srimad
Ramayana
7. Husband and wife should not eat together at the same time

H. CONDITIONS REGARDING INTAKE OF MILK.

1. Milk of animals like mare , donkey etc. which have single hoof (Vide also Srimad
Ramayana)
2. Milk of cow that has given birth to twin calves
3. Camel's milk
4. Milk with which salt has got mixed up
5. Breast milk of women (this is also referred to in Srimad Ramayana)
6. Cow that is pregnant and cow just ready for sexual intercourse (referred in Srimad
Ramayana )
7. The milk of a cow whose calf had just died
8. Milk drawn from a cow by showing to it a calf of another cow
9. Milk that had become sour or bad (also in Srimad Ramaynana )
10. Milk of cows bearing names of deities other than those of Sriman Narayana
11. Milk of ewe (Vide also Srimad Ramayana)
12. Milk purchased from a Brahmin
13. Milk kept in bronze vessel
14. Milk overheated to the point of getting charred
15. Milk and curd taken of milk of cow that has just delivered for at least 10 days
after delivery
16. Milk of other animals of the bovine family except the buffalo

I. RESTRICTIONS REGARDING USE OF WATER

1. Except Ganges water, no stored up water standing over a day should be used.
2. Water remaining in a vessel after using part of it for washing feet
3. Muddy water
4. Tender coconut water, if heated
5. Water stagnant in a small pool
6. Water running across a road
7. Water given in hotels and water sheds ( Tanneer pandals)
8. Any water purity of which is in doubt
9. Water down from washerman's ghats
10. Water contaminated with spittle
11. Water held in a conch
12. Rain water before it falls to the ground
13. One should not drink water by cupping both the palms (Vide Srimad Ramayana)

J. BETEL ITEMS TO BE AVOIDED

1. One should not munch betelnut before putting betel leaves in the mouth
2. The stem, the middle line and the tip of the leaves should be removed before
taking betel thambool
3. One should not munch both betel leaves and betel nut together
4. Widows, Brahmacharis and Sannyasis should not use betel leaves
5. One should not take betel leaf on which lime had been kept
6. During Ekadasi and other days of fasting betel chewing should be scrupulously
avoided
7. While chewing betel one should not drink water at the same time.

SECTION 5: CONCLUSION

As already mentioned these prohibitions and restrictions are only for general guidance. If
you desire to regulate / eliminate the Gunas you may choose to follow the instructions
and if you do not follow only YOU are the loser to that extent. The doctor can only help
in diagnosing the disease and prescribing appropriate medicines. If the patient desires an
expeditious and effective cure, the patient will have to scrupulously follow the
instructions, the patient is free either to follow or flout the instructions with attendant
consequences.

AND, NOW IT IS IN YOUR HANDS TO CHOOSE EITHER COURSE ON THE


ROAD TO YOUR SPRITUAL REGENERATION OR DEGENERATION.

A NOTE ON THE NOTES FOR THIS CHAPTER


[ The purport of this Chapter is to present the contents of the whole of Ch.17 and Slokas
1 to 40 of Ch.18 of BG dealing with the impact of Trigunas on the human psyche.
Besides being numerous, they are not drawn as quotations for contextual references.
Also, for the one who is not conversant with Sanskrit, 'en masse' presentation of
transliterated texts would be of no avail while for the one who knows Sanskrit will know
the original text itself rendering such reproduction superfluous. Hence, transliterated texts
of the BG Slokas are not included in this ' Notes'. However, Chapter and Verse numbers
have been indicated wherever necessary.]
NOTES

1. US. Department of Agriculture's selection of ' Food- Guide- Pyramid' based on


research by Judy Dodd, President, American dietetic Association and Barbara Shannon,
President of the Society for Nutrition Education
2. Smriti saying quoted in VRN,p.138

"Udarasya ardham annasya


Triteeyam udagasya tu
Vayoh sancharanartam tu
Chaturtham avaseshayeth"
3. Anon "Mitam buktva, satam gatva
Mitam suptva, mitam vachah
Vamabage sayanasya
Bishagbihi kim prayojanam"
4.Anon 'Hita Bukh, Mitha Bukh, Ruchi
Bukh,sakha
Bukh'
5. Anon" Atyambupanat adisangamascha
Diva cha supter nisi jagarascha
Nirodanat mutra purishayoscha
Shadbir nidanai prabavanti rogah"
6. Anon "Atva jara manushyanam
Anatva vajinam jara
Amaitunam jara streenam
Vastranam atapam jara"
7.Sri Ramanujacharya's Sri Bashyam, Ch.3,Pada 4, Adhikarana 115, Sutras 446-448 and
449

"Sarvanna anumats cha pranatyage tad darsanath.