Annapurna: Hindu Goddess of Nourishment

In Hindu religion, Annapurna is revered as the reincarnation of the Goddess Parvati, who is the wife of Lord Shiva. The deity was born as a result of an argument between the couple, as well as Parvati’s quest to show the world the importance of food for sustenance and nourishment.

Today, she is the reason why many Hindus and non-Hindus respect food and refuse to waste it. Below, World History Edu delves into the origin story, worship, depictions, and symbols of this popular Hindu goddess.

The Story of Annapurna

The story begins with Goddess Parvati and her husband, Lord Shiva, playing a game of dice. The game got very intense and interesting, so they started placing bets. Parvati staked her jewels whereas Shiva offered his trident. By the end of the game, Shiva had lost his trident to Parvati. In an attempt to get his precious asset back, Lord Shiva placed another bet; this time, his snake. Again, the supreme lord would go on to lose the game as every bet he placed failed him. By the end of the game, Shiva had lost everything, even his begging bowl.

Embarrassed that he’d lost the game to Parvati, Shiva traveled to the Deodar Forest and sought the advice of Lord Vishnu. Along with Shiva and Brahma, Vishnu is revered as one of the three principal deities (i.e. the triple deity of supreme divinity, aka “the Hindu triad” or the “Great Triple deity”) in Hindu religion.

Vishnu encouraged Shiva to give the game another try and promised that he would win every round. With that advice, Shiva made his way back home and replayed the game with Parvati.

True to Vishnu’s word, Shiva won every game that the couple played. But Parvati grew suspicious and called her husband a cheat. As a result, they fell into a heated argument until Vishnu appeared to them when things began to get out of control.

According to Vishnu, he controlled the dice used in the game and that the entire game had been an illusion and therefore wasn’t real. Shiva also supported Vishnu’s claim, taking it a step further by adding that every material item was an illusion, including the food that mankind ate.

Shiva’s claim made Parvati extremely upset, and she vehemently disagreed with her husband. She said that him calling food an illusion meant she too was an illusion. Therefore, in a bid to show Shiva just how important she was, she disappeared. Her disappearance was a plan to see how the world would survive without nourishment, which is the domain of Parvati.

True to her word, the world came to a halt after her disappearance. There were no longer any seasons and the lands became bare and unable to yield any crops. As a result, the world experienced a severe famine, with hunger by starvation becoming a common occurence. Everyone prayed for food, including the gods, humans, and the demons. Parvati was touched by their prayers and could not stand seeing them hungry. She reappeared and started sharing food.

By that time, Shiva had realized that he’d been wrong about Parvati and his comments about food being an illusion. He saw that food was important for feeding not only the body but the soul as well. And from that time onward, Goddess Parvati was became the much revered Hindu goddess of food, also known as Annapurna Devi.

Meaning of Annapurna

The name Annapurna is a fusion of two words: “Anna”, which means food, and “purna”, which means “filled completely.” The goddess is basically seen as an avatar (or one of the avatars) of the goddess Parvati.

Annapurna is also known as the goddess of Kashi in Uttar Pradesh due to the belief that she also nourishes the soul and provides the body with energy to gain more knowledge.

Depiction and Symbols of the Goddess

Annapurna appears in the image of a beautiful woman with three eyes, perky breasts, and four hands. The goddess is usually covered in jewels and holds a golden ladle in one hand, as well as a jeweled bowl of food in the other hand. The ladle and bowl show that worshippers of the goddess will never run out of food or other forms of sustenance.

Other depictions of the goddess show Shiva sitting beside her with his begging bowl in hand. Many homes in India often place her image in rooms associated with food and eating, including kitchens and dining rooms.

Many Indian restaurants also put up her image. She is believed to be an extremely benevolent goddess. It is often said that Annapurna doesn’t eat until all her followers have eaten.

Hindu goddess Annapurna, one of the manifestations of Parvati, offering alms to Shiva

The different names given to Annapurna

The Hindu goddess has gone by a number of names, including:

Viśālākshī – “she who has large eyes”

Viśvaśakti – “world power”

Viśvamātā – “mother of the world”

Sṛṣtihetukāvaradānī – “she who is a boon granter for the sake of the world”

Bhuvaneśvarī – “goddess of earth”

Renu – “goddess of Atom”

Annadā – “donor of food”

How is she worshiped?

Many followers of the Hindu faith recognize food as something sacred and they pray before eating. They believe that any follower who acknowledges the importance and usefulness of food can reach a state of enlightenment, which is known as Brahman. Many Hindus also believe in Annadana, which is the act of donating food to the needy.

Followers of Annapurna worship her by calling on her thousand names listed in the “Annapurna Sahasranama”, as well as her 108 names in the “Sahasranama Stotram.” The “Sri Annapurna Ashtakam”, a song composed by Shankaracharya is sung by many Hindus worldwide who pray for nourishment and knowledge. They also read stories from the “Annapurna Vrat Katha.”

During wedding ceremonies, brides receive a metal idol of the Goddess Annapurna. Brides also worship the goddess before their ceremonies by offering rice and other grains to her.

Temples of Annapurna

Annapurna goddess

Worship of Annapurna. Image – Annapurna with her consort Shiva

A temple located in the city of Varanasi is one of the best known temples dedicated to the goddess. It is called the Annapurna Devi Mandir and it’s where she was said to have reappeared to share food with her people. It was built by Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao in the 18th century.

The temple is said to serve as the home for two idols of Annapurna: one made with gold and the other made of brass. The brass idol is for everyday use, whereas the golden idol is used during special events. Visitors that come to the temple, whether Hindu or not, are treated to a three-course vegetarian meal.

There are many other temples of Annapurna, including the Annapoorneshwari Temple, Annapurneshwari Temple, and  the Puducode Annapoorneshwari Temple among many others. Other temples can be found throughout India in cities and towns like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Thodupuzha, and Hyderabad. There is also a temple of the goddess in neighboring Nepal.

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