Why is Rice Used in Hindu Rituals?•
Posted on February 21 2023
Hindu rituals make use of various items that are considered to be auspicious or are associated with some religious significance or other. Rice is one such item that is used in various rituals. While rice is used in uncooked form in most rituals, there are a few instances where the grain is used in cooked form as well. Uncooked rice grains coated with kumkum and turmeric are usually used in a Hindu pooja.
Hindu scriptures such as Vedas, Mahabharata, Taittiriya Brahmana and Shatapta Brahmana and more make several references to rice. Rice is considered to be sacred primarily because it is a source of energy and has life-sustaining qualities. Interestingly, major harvest festivals in India are associated with the time rice is harvested.
Read on to know some common Hindu rituals where rice is used and the reason behind doing so.
Rice is used at various stages during a Hindu wedding. It is a customary practice to sprinkle or toss a few uncooked rice grains smeared with turmeric over the bride and groom. This is because doing so is said to bless them with a prosperous and successful married life. The couple also put a few grains into the sacred fire to keep evil spirits at bay. In some communities, the wedding couple pour heaps of rice on each other during the ceremony for the happiness and wealth of their progeny.
After the wedding, when it is time for the bride to take leave of her parents, she throws three handfuls of rice and a coin over her shoulder in the backward direction. This implies that she has cleared her debt to her parents for taking care of her and meeting her needs as well as wishing them prosperity. The bride enters her husband’s house by toppling a vessel of rice indicating that she ushers abundance in the family. She also sprinkles rice grains around the house.
This is another ritual or ceremony where rice is of great significance. The ceremony is known as Vidyarambham and a child is introduced to the world of learning through their first letters. The child is made to sit on the lap of an elder and guided to write letters on rice grains spread on the ground or a plate covered with rice grains with a lit lamp and a photo of Goddess Saraswati before it.
The letters written on the bed of rice usually represent a mantra represented to prosperity. The same mantra is written on the tongue of the child using a gold coin. Rice is used for this ritual as it is said to symbolise blessings and fortune for the prosperous development of the kid.
First Feeding Ceremony
This is a very important Hindu ritual and is usually referred to as Annaprashana. This ceremony is conducted to mark the baby’s progress to solid foods. Rice is used in cooked form for this ritual and is fed to the baby at the age of six or seven months according to the health of the baby and local customs.
The ritual is often performed in the presence of a priest. There are various temples in the country where this ceremony is performed. The baby is fed simple boiled rice or kheer that is a sweet rice pudding by an elderly family member while chanting Vedas at the same time.
This Hindu ritual is carried out to pay one’s obeisance or mark one’s dedication to a dead ancestor. Rice is cooked and used for this ceremony as white cooked rice epitomises a pure soul. Cooked rice is made into three balls referred to as pindas. Each of the balls has its own significance.
Hindus are of the belief that crows are the connecting medium between the living and the dead. Some of them also believe that the crow represents the soul of the deceased for whom the shraddha is performed. Hence, the shraddha concludes only by feeding some cooked rice to crows. When the crow eats this, it indicates that the soul of the deceased is at peace and gratified.
The harvest festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Surya. Rice grains are boiled with sugar and milk in earthen pots. The cooked rice is offered to the sun god to express gratefulness for a successful harvest and to seek the blessings of the lord for prosperity in the future as well. The cooked rice is also known as Pongal after the festival.
The festival is known by Pongal in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The festival of harvest is known by other names such as Bihu, Onam and Makar Sankranti in other states.
Significance of Using Unbroken Rice as Akshata
Akshata refers to uncooked and unbroken rice offered to gods and goddesses during poojas and/or other rituals. It is said that akshata brings bounty, fertility and prosperity in the life of the devotee. The akshata is usually kept in a clean place as it is capable of attracting positive energy and encompasses the vibrations of the god/goddess being worshipped. It is often used during a pooja ritual to draw Om, Swastik or any other Hindu religious symbol.
Akshata is placed in front of the lord during a pooja when devotees are not able to make any other offering like sweets, fruits or money. This is because they have the equal status as flowers in a pooja and can absorb, retain as well as emit Chaitanya for a long time. For this reason, it is considered by many Hindus as the best offering that a devotee can make during a Hindu pooja ritual.
Akshata attracts the frequencies pertaining to the five deities Ganapati, Rama, Krishna, Shiva and Durga. It activates their frequencies so that they become functional and get transmitted through the absolute earth and water principles. They have similar vibrations and can enrich the devotee with Sattvic principles.
The akshata is unbroken because the ability to attract negative energies from the world becomes more when it is cut. This makes such rice particles get loaded with raja-tama particles and cause suffering to the individual. This will in turn inhibit the ability of the akshata to absorb the principles of the deities which results in the worshipper getting reduced benefits as well as lesser blessings and grace of the gods and goddesses.
Akshata is mostly used in white colour or red colour by smearing the rice grains with vermillion. White akshata symbolises the tarak-shakti and the nirgun or non-materialised manifest. On the other hand, red akshata represents the marak-shakti and the sagun or materialised manifest.
White akshata highlights the niksham spiritual practice and is used to pay obeisance to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva as it can attract their waves. The principles of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are related to the knowledge and act waves respectively.
Red akshata highlights the sakam spiritual practice and is used to worship Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga. Their principles absorb red colour quicker than other colours.
Owing to its sanctity, Hindus also worship rice as a form of Goddess Lakshmi. The goddess is known by different names across the country. While people from Tamil Nadu worship her as Ponni Amman, she is called Annapoorna, Annapoorneswari or Anna Lakshmi in many other states.
Written by - Deepthi K