“The perfection of human civilization depends on Krishna consciousness, which recommends Deity worship. Preparations made from vegetables, grains, milk, ghee and yogurt are offered to the Deity and then distributed.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 4.93 Purport)
One of the central practices of the Hare Krishnas is the offering of food to Lord Krishna, which in turn, becomes prasadam. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the movement, instructed his disciples to not eating anything unless it was first offered to the deity of the Lord.
Prasadam is a Sanskrit word meaning “the Lord’s mercy”, and it applies to anything first offered to Lord Krishna, or God. Flowers, incense, lights, and a fan can be offered to the Lord, but the term prasadam is generally associated with food. Hare Krishna devotees are dispersed throughout the world, and as a result, all different kinds of food are offered to Krishna. Everything from breakfast food, appetizers, to dinner entrees, and even desserts are all offered to Lord Krishna prior to eating. Such a practice purifies one’s consciousness and one’s eating habits.
In households in India, the practice of offering food to the Lord is a little different. Food offered to the deity primarily consists of sweets, such as laddus, barfi, and pedas. Hindus families typically don’t offer everything that they eat to the Lord, but they make sure to make at least two offerings a day of sweets. When Lord Krishna was on this earth some five thousand years ago, just prior to His return to the spiritual world, He instructed His good friend Uddhava on the process of archanam, or deity worship. He delineated all the different kinds of food that should be offered to the deity, and sweets made up the majority of the list. Another name for Krishna is Govinda, meaning one who gives pleasure to the cows. For this reason, the Lord especially enjoys any type of milk preparation, especially milk sweets. From the time of Lord Krishna’s advent and even prior to that, the tradition of bhoga offering has been going on. Many of the temples in India each have their own history associated with it, thus sometimes other specific foods are offered to specific deities.
“Within his means, the devotee should arrange to offer Me sugar candy, sweet rice, ghee, shashkuli [rice-flour cakes], apupa [various sweet cakes], modaka [steamed rice-flour dumplings filled with sweet coconut and sugar], samyava [wheat cakes made with ghee and milk and covered with sugar and spices], yogurt, vegetable soups and other palatable foods.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.27.34)
When hearing of the practices of Hare Krishna devotees, some may be puzzled by their choices in offerings. Krishna devotees in America sometimes offer things such as cupcakes, pizza, bread, and even cookies. These items aren’t as common in India so they aren’t offered to the Lord in Indian temples and homes. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna advises His devotee Arjuna as follows:
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, a little water, I will accept it.” (Bg 9.26)
From this we understand that vegetables, grains, fruits, milk, and water are the acceptable foods that can be offered to the Lord. God specifies that one must offer with “love and devotion”, and only then will He accept it.
When Lord Krishna was a king living in Dvaraka, a brahmana devotee by the name of Sudama Vipra came to visit Him. Sudama was a very poor brahmana, and was induced by his wife to go visit the Lord to see if He could provide them some sort of material benediction. Sudama was too poor to bring anything to offer to Krishna except a small bag of chipped rice. When in the presence of Krishna, Sudama was too ashamed to even show the rice, so he hid it behind Him. Krishna, being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, knew what was in Sudama’s mind and heart, so He immediately snatched the bag of chipped rice from him. Krishna was very pleased simply by eating a morsel of the rice, and His wife Rukmini was equally pleased.
“This indicates that when food is offered to Lord Krishna with love and devotion and He is pleased and accepts it from the devotee, Rukminidevi, the goddess of fortune, becomes so greatly obliged to the devotee that she has to personally go to the devotee's home to turn it into the most opulent home in the world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, 1970-2-26)
An offering of something as simple as chipped rice was completely authorized more than five thousand years ago since it was offered directly to the Lord in person. When Lord Chaitanya, the golden avatar of Krishna in the Kali Yuga, first started the Hare Krishna movement, He would regularly take prasadam in the homes of devotees. This prasadam consisted of entire meals, not just sweets, so this tradition should be followed by all. Krishna is everyone’s God, whether they live in India or not. The Lord resides in each and every one of us and is never foreign to anyone. If we lovingly offer any food in the mode of goodness which is approved by the great acharyas, Krishna will gladly accept it. He is so kind as to leave the remnants for us to distribute and partake of ourselves. That truly is the Lord’s mercy and we are very grateful for it.