Prana and Naivedyam– the ignored living forces in rituals
In a living body there is prana. When prana leaves the body it causes death. But prana does not die. It moves out of the body and return to its source. Now, when prana leaves the physical body, the mind, ego, astral body and others are not glued to each other anymore. So, there is no human life. The Thirumantiram states, ‘if the body perishes, prana departs’.
As a beginner, during the practice of yoga, you are taught to retain prana by doing pranayama. This means that you are taught to retain life. So what is prana? Prana is air in the form of energy. It is not only the gross air (i.e vayu) and its chemical properties. In a human body, it is the prana shakti. One can absorb and replenish prana by consuming food. However, prana is effectively absorbed when your nadi (channels that carries energy) and chakras are clean. Usually, after taking good rest and sleep one is also able to replenish the body with prana. One would also absorb prana after taking a good bath and clean the dirty energy around the physical body.
The Yoga Pradipika, one of the most ancient text on yoga science, written by Yogi Swatmarama explained that prana vayu (air) moves throughout the whole body like waves of energy. It is in constant motion. There are five pranas (pancha prana), known as Sthoola prana, apana, samana, udama andvyana, which are responsible for the creation and existence at the individual level. They maintain the balance between the physical and the mental levels. Sthoola prana is usually at the thoracic level (heart, lungs etc.) and it is about prana energy moving upwards. Apana forces move energy downward (somach, intestine, colon etc.) and responsible for expulsion of gas, wind, urine etc. Samana acts as a balancer for the two opposite forces of prana and apana. Udama operates in the extremities, i.e the head, neck, arm, legs etc; and Vyana pervades the whole body and acts as a reserve energy source. Any prana deficiency in the body causes imbalance, leading to an unhealthy body and diseases.
The very first time I was taught about the five functions of prana (i.e apana, prana, samana, udhana and vyana) as part of my yogic studies, I instinctively connected it to what I usually and ignorantly hear from the Archagar’s rituals in Kovil when officiating pooja. When offering naivedyam (holy food such cooked food, fruits etc) to the deity, as part of the worship ritual, the Archagar would circumambulate the food with sprinkling water and would recite Om prana ya svaha, apana ya svaha, vyana ya svaha, udana ya svaha, samana ya svaha…and also brahmane svaha.
This vedic mantra means ‘I am offering this (naivedyam) to prana(the respiratory system); I am offering this to apana (the excretory system); I am offering this to vyana (the circulatory system); I am offering this to udana (the reversal system); and I am offering this to samana (the digestive system)’.
Symbolically, the holy food we give as offering to the deity ultimately permeates the five compartment of the whole body with pranic energy for sustenance. This is the significance of naivedyam and prana in rituals.
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