Aahaara Niyamam — A Summary Of 'Takes' And 'Leaves' by Swami Desika
It is well-known that Swami Desika lived as an embodiment of knowledge, austerity and orthodoxy (ஜ்ஞாநம், வைராக்யம், அநுஷ்டாநம்). He was a Sarva-thanthra Swathanthra, meaning, a Master of All Arts. His works number over 120 in three languages, besides Mani Pravaalam (mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil).
An incarnation of the Lord, he has fittingly shown profuse mercy on his followers like us and given us these scriptures to enable us to understand the Visishtaadhvaitha philosophy properly and live a life of a true Vaishnava. However, due to ever-increasing level of limitations we are unable, in varying degrees, to fulfil the vision with which many of his works were written.
The Acharya's Aahaara Niyamam, which we shall take up in this Note, is a classic case. This Tamil Prabandham is an Anushtaana Grantham and not an Anusandhaana Grantham (a work the contents of which are meant to be followed and not the one for recitation). Swami Desika has enumerated a number of DO's and DON'T's as regards eatables and food habits in general. Some of them may seem to be impracticable, only because the lifestyles of most of us have deviated quite far (in varying degrees, again) from what has been prescribed in the scriptures.
The Saasthras have primarily taken into account the nature of things — which of the three qualities (Sathva, Rajas and Thamas) they will impart in people — in determining their suitability or otherwise for eating. Aahaara Niyamam truly reflects the prescriptions of the scriptures.
Notwithstanding our capability or otherwise in observing what has been stated in the work, we must at least know what are right and what are not. Important points found in this Prabandham are listed below under relevant headings.
One cannot miss the fact that even in a work of this nature, Swami Desika does not forget to remember the Lord. In four such instances, he recalls Varadaraja (Paasuram No. 5 & 21), Venkatesa (8) and Ranganatha (10).
Here we go...
Not fit to be eaten
- Food that came through the backdoor or other improper entrances.
- Things made of grains like millet (வரகு).
- Food that fell from the mouth and things on which it fell.
- Food that was seen or touched by wicket people or dog.
- Over-seared food; that touched by cloth, saliva or sneeze.
- Food on days like Ekadasi and other Vratham/Upavaasam day.
- Food smelled by people or animals.
- Food touched by disease-stricken persons.
- Food in which fly, worm, thread, hair or nail is found.
- Vegetables or grains taken from others' land without permission.
- Food that is excessively bitter, salty, pungent or sour.
- Food that was not offered to the Lord or Bhagavathas.
- Food made using money earned through means prohibited in the Saasthras.
- Food made by ineligible children (not having had Samasrayanam from an Acharya and lacking in orthodoxy).
- Food meant and earmarked for and offered to Devathas like Siva.
- Food that is unbearably hot.
- Unseasonal vegetables; also unseasonal flowers should not be used.
- Food items subjected to extraction, except buttermilk.
- Wood apple and Pori, in daytime.
- Sesame, during night.
- Food that has gingili or curd, during night.
- Food mixed (பிசைந்தது) by others.
- Ghee put after having started eating.
- Food cooked twice or stale food.
- Food served with iron vessel or hand (uncooked/raw things may be served with hand).
- Food prepared in others' places.
- Fluids oozing from trees, other than asafoetida (பெருங்காயம்).
- Anything that is not good or tasty, even if fresh.
It may be noted that in Paasuram Nos. 4 and 5 various vegetables and spinach that are forbidden have been listed. The author also deals with certain kinds of milk that are not to be drunk (Paasuram No. 17), water that is not to be used (Paasuram No. 18) and things to be avoided when taking betal leaf (Paasuram No. 19).
Apart from these, Swami Desika says that, all that is forbidden by austere and orthodox elders have to be avoided.
Circumstances and manner in which one should not eat
- Without completing the daily morning rituals (bath, Sandhyavandhanam, Japam, Thiruvaaraadhanam, etc.
- Alone, that is, aside from the Ghoshti (without Bhagavathas).
- At the time of sun-set or midnight.
- Without lamp/light.
- With flame or moon instead of lamp for light.
- Husband and wife simultaneously.
- Using the left hand.
Fit to be eaten
- Remainder of the food eaten by one's father, Acharya or the eldest brother.
- Remainder of the food eaten by one's husband.
- Anything that is forbidden generally (as stated earlier) can be eaten, that is, only at the time of emergency (that is, when there is threat to life).
- Eight things - water, roots, ghee, milk, Havis from Yaga, Nimanthranam (eating at the time of Sraadhdham), preaching of the Guru (or eating with his permission) and medicine - will not spoil the Vratham even on days like Ekadasi, if it is unavoidable.
- Baked or roasted items (not involving water), naturally-ripened fruits, Maavadaam, Appam, Cheedai, Roti — all these, even if they become old (if they are good and tasty).
- Variations of milk, like Thirattup-paal, Bhakshanams like Then Kuzhal, Murukku, etc.; things made of flour, jaggery and wheat; medicines prescribed by doctors - all this, even if they become old.
- Overnight-rice (பழையது) put in pure water, allied dishes (வ்யஞ்ஜநம்), buttermilk, ghee, milk, curd, vegetables, leaves — all this can be used even if they become old.
- Only Amavasya and Pournami are the apt days for Samudhra Snaanam.
- During the time of Grahanam, all waters acquire the sanctity of the Ganga water.
- The flow and speed of a river purifies the water even if dead bodies of horses and donkeys float in it.
In the end, the illustrious author says that differences in sects, stages of life, gender, place, etc., could warrant minor adjustments in observance of rules and that these could be learned from elderly scholars.
As the illustrious Acharya's annual Thirunakshathram (falling on 26th September) approaches, let us strive to adhere to his preachings as much as possible.
Meet you in the next Note.
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