By Katherine Gibbons
In Indian society one of the most common forms of giving is anna dana, the sharing of food with others. This is part of one’s religious duty (dharma) and is a tradition started by the Sai Baba. Sai was an Indian, considered to be a saint by Hindu and Muslims. Sai encouraged charity and the importance of sharing with others. He said: “if any men or creatures come to you, do not discourteously drive them away, but receive them well and treat them with due respect. Shri [Hari] (God) will be certainly pleased if you give water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked and your verandah to strangers for sitting and resting” (Sai Baba of Shirdi).
Sai would visit certain houses daily begging and “in one hand he carried a Tumrel (tinpot) and in the other a Zoli or choupadari, i.e., a rectangular piece of cloth as food collecting bag. Liquid or semi-liquid things such as soup, vegetables, milk or buttermilk were received in the tinpot, while cooked rice, bread, and such solid things were taken in the Zoli” (shrisaibabasansthan.org). Baba used a Chulli to prepare food and later would distribute it to gathering of devotees.
This has since become one of the common forms of giving in India, part of one’s religious duty (dharma) to offer food to any unexpected guest. The practice of anna dana is common to all sections of Indian society and continues to be an important aspect of people’s way of life. On religious and other important occasions anna dana may be undertaken on a large scale. Some Hindus organize a special meal for the needy, or donate to a charitable cause, in memory of the deceased.
To refuse hospitality to one who comes to your door is an unpardonable act. One example is the Chandgoya Upanishad (4.3) which refers to two sages who are about to have their meal when they hear a knock at the door. They dismiss the starving young student on their doorstep. He did not expect such treatment from such reverend persons. When he finds out that they both worship Vayu, the wind-god, also called prana (breath, life-force), the young man reminds the sages that prana, which pervades the universe, also pervades the hungry mortal, who is also part of this universe. In neglecting the young man, they are not honouring the divine (Sugirtharajah , 2001).
There are now charities that exist that perform Annadan service during the last Thursday of every month. In addition Saibaba.Org partners with Food Banks across USA for fight against hunger. Baba said, “Sitting in this masjid (dwarkamayee) I shall never speak untruth. Take pity on me like this: first give bread to the hungry and eat yourself. Note this well” (Shri Sai Satcharita). “By feeding the poor, taking them to be forms of God, without caring for the fruits of your actions you can gather the merit of feeding a thousand brahmins. Also, you can feed just one saint. A saint is one with the whole world. Hence feeding a saint means feeding the world.” (talks of Shri Upasani Maharaj, the loftiest creation of Shri Sainath). Once the saint has left his or her body one can still feed the saint by feeding the assembled devotees at the saints’ ashram or temple.[Soft Break][Soft Break]Shri Sainath also further said, “Know for certain that he who feeds the hungry, really serves Me with food. Regard this as an axiom truth”. (Shri Sai Satcharita from Saibaba.Org). Keeping that tradition alive, Saibaba.org performs annadanam service to the needy at various venues during the month.
Sai Baba of Shirdi. (n.d.). Retrieved from the Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sai_Baba_of_Shirdi
Nature and Personality [Web Article]. Retrieved from https://www.shrisaibabasansthan.org/(2010, October 6).
Sugirtharajah, Sharada. (2001, September 1). Traditions of giving in Hinduism [Web Article]. Retrieved from http://www.alliancemagazine.org/en/content/traditions-giving-hinduism (2010, October 6).
.Saibaba.org Annadan service information [Web Article]. Retrieved from https://blogger.saibaba.us/annadan.html (2010, October 6).