Every living being requires certain basic things to lead a peaceful life. While things like clothes and shelter affect the quality of life, the absence of food can snatch life itself.
"Annadanam" is made up of two words - 'Annam' which means food and 'danam' which means the act of giving or donating. Annadanam is called the 'Mahadanam' among the various kinds of danam.
The other kind of danam like 'bhoodanam', 'godanam' and 'arthadanam' are charity done by the rich and those who have the means to do so, whereas annadanam is within the reach of a layperson with just the bare necessities who could do danam.
Charity in the form of annadanam is a way in which you can contribute to life itself. The wise men of ancient India called hunger the greatest disease. It is a disease that afflicts everyone and there is no cure for it.
The Puranas say that the stomach is like an 'agni kund' that plays host to fire - one among the 'panchabhoots' that our body is made up of. It demands offerings in the form of food constantly and regularly.
If the offering is denied, the life ceases to exist and the body becomes empty. Helping to provide for this agni kund is more virtuous than performing thousands of yagnyas.
"Annad bhavanti bhootani" - these are the words of Sri Krishna in the Bhagvat Gita. It means that all creation is sustained due to food. Helping to assuage a person's hunger will win you good karmas in this world and in the next.
It is a mistake to think that annadanam is limited to providing only humans with food. It is an equally important deed to feed the animals and plants of the creation as well.
The following are three interesting stories that will illustrate the importance of annadanam. Take a look.
Lord Shiva And Devi Parvati
Once upon a time, Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati were playing with the dice. In the course of the play, Lord Shiva lost everything to Devi Parvati, including his trident, serpent and the begging bowl. Dejected, Lord Shiva was roaming the jungles when Lord Vishnu appeared and encouraged Lord Shiva to play again. Lord Vishnu promised to help Lord Shiva win.
Just as promised, Lord Shiva soon won back all that he had lost. Devi Parvati smelled foul play and found out that the dice and the whole game were the result of Lord Vishnu's 'Maya or illusion'. Devi Parvati grew furious. To calm Devi Parvati, Lord Vishnu said that everything that one can see, hear, taste, smell and feel is due to Maya. Everything including the food that we eat is Maya.
Devi Parvati disagreed. She said that if food was Maya, she too was Maya and that was not the case. To prove her point, she vanished and all the creation came to a standstill. The creation was devoid of food in the absence of Devi Parvati.
Soon even Lord Shiva too began feeling the pangs of hunger and started wandering the worlds in search of food. Meanwhile, Devi Parvati couldn't bear to see the world and her children suffer without food. So, she took the form of Annapoorneshwari and started doing annadanam in the city of Kashi.
Hearing this, Lord Shiva rushed to Devi Annapoorna and received annadaanam from her. With her point proven, she came back with Lord Shiva and the creation went back to its former abundant state.
Karna And The Cycle Of Rebirth
As Karna lay on the battlefield awaiting his death, Lord Sri Krishna approached him. Sri Krishna gave Karna two boons and asked him for his wish.
Karna answered that his first wish was that the news of his death be told to Devi Kunti, so that she may admit to the fact that Karna was her oldest son.
For the second wish, Karna said that he knew he won't escape from the cycle of rebirth because he had never performed annadana. Without annadana, all the other dana karma he has done is of no consequence. Therefore, he wished to be born in a well-to-do family, so that he could perform the pious deed of annadanam.
Sri Krishna promised to fulfill his wishes, and it was only then that Karna passed away.
Sudama And Sri Krishna
Sudama and Sri Krishna were best friends in their childhood. But when they grew up, Sri Krishna became a king and Sudama became a poor Brahmin. One day, Sudama decided to go to Sri Krishna to ask for help in improving his state of life. He carried a small bag that barely contained a handful of beaten rice.
When he reached Sri Krishna's palace, he was warmly invited in by his old classmate. Sudama couldn't bring himself to ask his friend for help. So, after spending some time with Sri Krishna, he decided to return. It was then that Sri Krishna spotted the little bag of beaten rice.
On Sri Krishna's insistence, Sudama hesitantly handed over the bag of beaten rice. Sri Krishna was delighted and ate two handful of beaten rice and gave the rest to his wife, Rukmini.
It is said that as a result of this dana, all of Sudama's problems melted away. On his return, he was greeted by a palatial house, in place of his old hut. And the house was overflowing with money.