It is a general practice among Hindus to eat at temples. The food provided by temple and mathas are called Theertha Prasada and today almost all Hindu institutions provide Theertha Prasada. Whether it is the Sri Krishna Matha at Udupi, the SrinivasaTemple at Tiurmala, the Raghavendra Swamy Matha at Mantralaya or the Vadiraja Matha at Sonde, no pilgrim comes back without partaking Theertha Prasada.
There are only a handful of people who are unable to eat the Theertha Prasad and they include those who cannot sit on the floor and those who are aged and infirm. However, of late, there has been a disturbing trend of people coming to pilgrim places and eating outside-that is in hotels and eateries.
Well, at least when visiting a temple or performing seves, it is always better to maintain some sort of hygiene and respect to the gods whom we pray to. If it is not possible to partake food at the temple, prepare some light tiffin yourself or get it supplied from home.
Instead of pontificating about the values of eating at home and eating home food and avoiding hotel or outside food, I thought a true story about how a devotee got his food would be more appropriate. I hope it would inspire the readers to understand that their seve or pooja would be complete only if they partake the Theertha Prasada.
Well, this is the story and here is how it goes.
A few decades ago, a youth came to Mantralaya by bus. By the time he reached the SriRaghavendraSwamyTemple, the kitchen was almost closed and no food at the matha for the afternoon was available.
The youth had come to perform some seve at the Matha and when he went to the dining hall after his pooje, he was told that there was no food avaliable.”Theertha Prasada eevaga Sigalla” (There is no food available now), he was told.
The youth looked around he dining hall despondently. He had come to Mantralaya on a day’s trip. He had just enough time to complete his seve, take food and then go back home.
The youth, even in his wildest dreams, had never imagined that he would be turned away from the dining hall or that the food would be over by the time he completed his seve.
The youth had always been told about the munificence of the matha in serving Theertha Pradsada to all who came to the pilgrim town. He had, therefore, mentally and spiritually prepared himself to having Theertha Prasad and then going back.
He had come to Mantralaya on an empty stomach and he wanted to have food only after seeing his beloved Rayaru and then performing the seve.
When told that the Theertha Prasad was over, the youth remembered Raghavendra Swamy and reproached himself saying that he did not have the fortune or divine grace to partake the Theertha Prasada. He blamed himself and his bad fate for having not been able even to get a morsel of the Theertha Prasada.
He once again had the darshan of the Brindavana of Raghavendra Swamy and then left to the Tungabhadra where he hoped to take a holy dip. It was well ion the afternoon and the scorching sun made walking on bare foot unbearable. Yet, the youth walked on, all the time thinking about how he had failed to get even a small morsel of the Theertha Prasada.
Incidentally, this was not the first time that the youth had been to Mantralaya. He had been there several times and each time he had gone back after having Theertha Prasada. However, the denial of Theertha Pradsada upset him so much that he considered himself a sinner for having missed it.
He then made up his mind to watch the silver chariot procession around 7-30 p.m., and then take a bus home. He then bent down to take water from the Tungabhadra and drink it. He though he could satisfy his hunger by drinking the holy water of the Tungabhadra.
Even as he was about to drink the holy water, he heard a voice calling out to him in Kannada. When he turned around, the youth saw and old man standing nearby with a plate covered with a clothe.
The old man looked at the youth and asked him why he was looking so tired and why he appeared exhausted. The youth, hesitated at first, but later told the old man that he had not been able to eat the Theertha Prasada and, hence, he felt a little weak and tired.
The youth once again regretted that he had not been able to partake Theertha Prasada and said he was destined today only to drink water. The old man smiled at this reply and held out the plate to the youth.
There is food or rather Theertha Prasada of the Raghavendra Swamy Matha here. “Here, have it”, the old man said. The youth looked disbelievingly at the old man and his plate. He then requestd the old man to come with him near a tree so that he could sit and eat the Theertha Prasada.
The old man graciously agreed and both walked to the shade of a tree where they sat down. The youth asked the old man if he would like to share the food. The old man asked the youth to go ahead and eat. “I just finished mine, you go ahead and fill your stomach”, he said.
The youth ate the food from the plate and all the while the old man sat near him. When he finished, the old man turned to the youth and asked him for a favour. The youth immediately agreed and asked the old man what he wanted to be done.
The old man said the plate belonged to the Raghavendra Swmay Matha. “I brought the plate from there and can you please return it”, he asked.
The youth agreed and he went to the Tungabhadra to wash the plate. When he washed the plate, he found it to be of silver. Amazed, he turned back only to see that the old man pointing to a person and telling him that the plate should be returned to him.
The person whom the old man pointed to was the priest of the RaghavendraSwamyTemple. When the youth handed over the plate to the priest, he examined it closely.
The priest was stunned when he realised that the silver plate was placed at the Brindavana of Rayaru every day and that he had placed it within the Prakara that day for offering Naivedya to Rayaru.
He asked how the plate had come in the hands of the youth. The youth said it was brought to him by an old man. Both the priest and the youth then searched for the old man but he had disappeared.
The priest and the youth then came back to the temple. The priest then unlocked the door leding to the Prakara and asked the youth to come inside. The priest then found that the Naivedya had disappeared and so had the plate.
By now, the youth was thoroughly alarmed at the turn of the events. He had been asked to accompany the priest who had gone into the Prakara. He found the priest staring at a place near the Brindavana in stunned disbelief.
The youth then asked the priest what happened. The priest looked at the youth and then told him that the silver plate was every day placed before the Brindavana for Naivedya. “We had locked the doors of the temple and the silver plate was still within the Brindavana complex.” This means that Rayaru himself came to you and offered Theertha Prasada. Rayaru was the old man. You are twice blessed as you saw Rayaru and also had food from him ”, the priest told the youth.
The youth then was wonderstruck. He realised that it was Rayaru himself who had come to satiate his hunger. He cured himself for not being able to identify Rayaru. He was also pained that he had made Rayaru sit with till he had eaten.
The youth went back home, fully satisfied that he had been fed by none other than Rayaru himself. He realised that Rayaru wanted to tell him that none who came to Mantralaya should go back hungry.
This is what is special about Theertha Prasada. It is prepared in a holy premises and it should be taken on the premises itself. There is no point in going to Mantralaya and then eating in a hotel. If you still do not want to eat food at the Matha, at least fast taking the name of Rayaru and chanting his slokas.