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Magic for a Barren Earth: The Story of Annapurna, Hindu Goddess of Nourishment

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

annapurna hindu goddess of nourishment and food
Annapurna pictured here with a newly enlightened Shiva.

Annapurna is worshiped as the Hindu goddess of food because she reconciled a starving Earth with the nourishment it desperately needed. How did the Earth begin to starve in the first place? It started with the presumptions of a god who, in a duality of life forces, believed only one to be superior.

The Mother Earth and the Cosmic Male

Purusha and Prakriti are the two individual aspects of the manifest Brahman, the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena according to Hinduism.

Prakriti is Mother Earth; pure energy, nature, that which is found in its organic and unaltered form. It is earth, air, fire, and water, reason, and the ego. At the physical level, Prakriti is the body and the mind.

Purusha is the Universal Cosmic Male; the self, the consciousness that sets in motion the creative process established by Prakriti. It is the indwelling spirit bearing witness to the external world; the egoless consciousness that exists beyond the senses of the body and the mind of which it inhabits.

Shiva, the third god in the Hundi triumvirate and consort of Parvati, the nurturing aspect of the Hindu goddess Shakti, expressed his belief that that material world was merely an illusion. He decried the Prakriti as perishable and therefore maya, a "magic show" where things exist but are spiritually imaginary. The material world was impermanent and unimportant when compared with the cosmic, imperishable nature of spirit.

A Barren Earth and the Need for Collaboration

The Mother Earth did not appreciate Shiva's perceptions that either the Purusha or the Prakriti could be more significant than the other, so she disappeared out of anger, leaving time to stand still. The Earth deadened, the seasons no longer shifted, and eventually, the people ran out of food.

Shiva's gana, or flock, begged him to source food for them to eat. They were starving, in agony, feeling abandoned by their god. He wished for them to transcend the need for food and feast purely on spiritual nourishment, as he deemed the Purusha as the only necessary source. But he was forced to witness how they would torment and die without the Prakriti; that spirit could not be accessed from a depleted body. Still, he was powerless to provide them what they needed.

Observing the starvation and suffering around her, and driven by compassion, Parvati created kitchens from which to feed her community. When Shiva heard this news, he ran to find Parvati on her golden throne distributing an abundance of food to all who stood before her with a bowl. Shiva approached her throne with a bowl of his own, despite not requiring food himself, as a sign of acknowledgment of his lesson. He admitted that only when one's stomach is full can they consider the spiritual consciousness. It is only when Prakriti is satisfied that Purusha can begin.

Full, Complete, and Perfect

Shiva declared Parvati to be Annapurna, the goddess of nourishment and the source of all food; Anna, meaning food and grains, Purna meaning full, complete, and perfect.

Annapurna is worshiped regularly in kitchens and restaurants across India and we learn from her tale that neither Purusha nor Prakriti, the Cosmic Male nor the Mother Earth, the yin nor the yang, can survive without the other.



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