Anna Dana - Offering of food

Anna Dana is the offering of food.

Anna Dana is the best form of contribution.
Why ?

Because, food is the giver of life.
Because, food is what keeps all
living beings alive.

Food improves strength.
Food is the reason we are lively.
Giving food means giving life.

Hence Anna Dana is the best
form of giving. [+]

Anna Dana can be a form of worship.
Taittiriya Upanishad says:
"Make (and give away) lots 
of food. It is a Vrata (worship)." [#]

To illustrate the importance of Anna Dana
is the story of the half-golden mongoose:

The Pandavas were victorious in the Bharata war. 
In order to consolidate their power,
they performed the Ashwamedha Yagna.

It was the last day of the Yagna.
King Yudhishtira and his brothers had given
away gifts to the Yagna officials and visitors.

There appeared a mongoose with parts of
its head and back being golden colored.

The mongoose went to the spot where 
a leftover of the Yagna offerings had spilled.
It rolled over the leftovers.

The mongoose then went near Yudhishtira
and said, "A few handfuls of Saktu (barley meal)
given by a Kurukshetra family is superior to 
all the offerings and gifts you have made in this Yagna".

Asked to explain, the mongoose relates this story:

In Kurukshetra, there lived a Brahmana with his
wife, son and daughter-in-law. He used to follow
the lifestyle of Unchavritti (living on grains picked
from post-harvest leftovers from the fields.)

The Unchavritti Brahmana took only one meal
around mid-day on each day. In case there was
no food at meal time, he would go without food
until the next day's meal time.

Once, there was a famine in the region.
Food was difficult to come by. The whole family
was weakened due to starvation.

However, one mid-day they managed to obtain
a few handfuls of Yava (barley). The ascetic
family proceeded to ground the grain to Saktu.

After finishing their prayer routines, the Saktu
was divided into four parts. The family was
all set to have its first meal after several days.

At that moment there arrived an Atithi 
(an unexpected guest) at their doorstep.
They happily welcomed him inside.

The Uncha Vritti Brahmana offered his
share of the meal to the Atithi. The Atithi
ate it. However, the Atithi was still hungry.

This worried the Brahmana. How am I going
to meet my Atithi's hunger ?

His wife offered her share of the Saktu meal
to be given to the Atithi, arguing "If you give,
I should give too". So, the Brahmana gave
the Atithi his wife's share of the meal.

The Atithi ate it, but still looked hungry.
His son gave his share. The Atithi ate
that too and did not look satisfied.
The daughter-in-law also parted with her share.

The Atithi was Dharma (Yama) in disguise.
He was pleased with the devotion of the family
and arranges to take them with him to heaven.

I was watching all the happenings from my hole.
After the family left for heaven, I came out and
rolled over the place where Dharma ate his meal.

The parts of my body that touched the leftover 
Saktu particles turned golden. Hence the partly
golden color of my body.

Since then I have been going to many Yagna
locations to see if I could turn the rest of the
body golden. As you can see, it has never

So, none of the Yagna offerings have been
equivalent to that of the devoted
Unchavritti Kurukshetra family.

Saying this the mongoose went away. [*]

[+] Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva, 13:66:05
[#] Taittiriya Aaranyaka 9:9 (Taittiriya Upanishad 3:9)
[*] Mahabharata, Ashwamedhika Parva (14:92 & 14:93)
     (also see this English translation)

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