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What is Prasad? What is Naivedya? What is the significance of Prasad on different festivals (e.g. Popcorn on Vasant Panchami)?

Whatever is distributed among the devotees after Arati ceremony is called Prasad. Prasad is the symbol of the fact that God is pleased with the worshipper and the devotees. In ancient times fruits were placed before the guest by the host to show his happiness at the arrival of the guest. (Prasadchihnani puraha falani – Kalidasa) When we offer Bhog to Shree Hari, it symbolises our perfect dedication to Him. Whatever is offered as food is called Naivedya and whatever is distributed among the devotees is called Prasad. While eating prasada, the following verse is generally recited:

Narayanprasadam tu gruhitva muktibhavatah,

Sarvan kamanvapnoti preetha saayujyamhapnuyat.

 After getting the Prasad of Shree Narayana, a devotee would have all his desires fulfilled and after death he would attain Sayujya Bhakti with the Lord.

Thus Prasad reflects the happiness of God so far as the devotee is concerned.

Naivedya is one of the sixteen constituents of devotional practices. Here the devotee dedicates himself to God. This is symbolized by Naivedya offering. That which is worth offering to Shree Hari is called Naivedya (Nivedam arhati iti naivedyam). According to religious scriptures Naivedya is of five types:

Whatever eatables are to be offered as Naivedya should be admirable and sacred. Such eatables should be such as could be swallowed, chewed, licked, drunk and sucked. (else where they are declared as of four types).

According to scriptures naivedya is offered in plates of gold, silver, copper or wood. They are offered also on clean leaves of lotus or banana trees. Naivedya is kept on the right side of Shree Hari, otherwise it would be unedible and water sprinkled on it is as unholy as liquor. Naivedya can be taken as Prasada by anyone. The Prasad of other deities is meant only for the worshipper or the devotees of that particular divinity.

When Naivedya is offered to Shree Hari the following verses are recited:

Naivedyam gruhayatam deva bhakti me haychalam kuru,
Ipsitam me varam dehi, paratra cha param gatim.
Sharkarakhandkadyani dadhikshirghrutani cha,
Aaharam bhakshyabhojyam cha naivedyam pratigruhayatam.

“O God accept Naivedya and make my devotion firm. Give me desired boon, and the supreme state here and in the next life. I have offered crystal sugar, eatables, curd, milk and clarified butter and food worth eating and chewing."

After offering naivedya to Shree Hari water is poured around the plate of Naivedya and sprinkled on it by a Tulsi leaf or a flower. After this, while moving the right hand repeatedly the following Mantra is recited:

Pranaya swaha | Apnaya swaha | Vyanaya swaha |
Udanaya swaha | Samanaya swaha | Brahmen swaha |

 “May this offering reach the five types of Pranas like Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana, Samana and Brahman.” The Naivedya while being taken to Shree Hari is covered with a clean piece of cloth and then it is removed.

Sour, bitter or putrefied eatables are never offered as naivedya. When food with sweets which we consume is offered to Shree Hari it is called maha Naivedya. Naivedya includes seasonal foodgrains, fruits etc. so popcorn (dhani) is offered on Vasant Panchami day.