Literally, a gracious gift. Anything, usually edible, given by a saint, Perfect Master or the Avatar to their followers. Anything, usually edible, that is first offered to a deity, saint, Perfect Master or the Avatar and then distributed in His name. The prasad has the deity's blessing residing within it.
In its material sense, prasada is created by a process of giving and receiving between a human devotee and the divine god. For example, a devotee makes an offering of a material substance such as flowers, fruits, or sweets -- which is called naivedya. The deity then 'enjoys' or tastes a bit of the offering, which is then temporarily known as bhogya. This now-divinely invested substance is called prasāda, and is received by the devotee to be ingested, worn, etc. It may be the same material that was originally offered, or material offered by others and then re-distributed to other devotees.
A flower accepted for one’s sense gratification is material, but when the same flower is offered to the Supreme personality of Godhead by a devotee, it is spiritual. Food taken and cooked for oneself is material, but food cooked for the Supreme Lord is spiritual prasäda. This means the mercy of the Lord. Thus, the food we eat after it is offered to the Lord becomes a means for our purification and spiritual development.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” So offering what we eat to the Lord is an integral part of bhakti-yoga and makes the food blessed with spiritual potencies. Then such food is called prasadam, or the mercy of the Lord.
The Lord says in the Gita :
"Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam Yo Me Bhaktya Prayacchati;
Whoever offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water with devotion, that I accept, offered as it is with a loving heart".
Prasadam is also called Bhagwan Bhog or Sacred food which we offer to god and then distribute to every one for blessings.
To most of us, prasada means something edible and that is all ! But the real meaning of prasada is “purity, cheerfulness, bliss, joy, peace”. This is our true gain upon tuning our minds with the Lord during the worship. The real prasada is the feeling of peace we experience in our hearts while looking at the idol of the Lord after we have performed our daily puja with love and devotion. Experiencing the peace and joy is how we tune our minds to the Lord.There is a Bhavana, an attitude involved in it. This attitude is born of the vision of God. Prasada is not an object. It is purely born of understanding. The understanding of the reality is the basis for prasada.
Now, let us go a little deeper. The result that an action produces, whether it is more or less, or equal or opposite, comes from God. This is the appreciation of God and that is maturity. So we accept that God is the author of the result of our actions. The result thus becomes prasada since it comes from God. Thus result of every action must be looked upon as prasada from the Lord, irrespective of whether it is what we expect or opposite. This is Sameness of mind (called samatvam in the Gita). This is born of understanding and cannot be forced upon anybody. It is always born in the wake of some knowledge of reality. So we have to be alive to the reality of our being the doer of action and God being the giver of the result. Therefore, even if I do not get what I expected, I still accept the result as prasada and having become wiser, work harder. A person ultimately becomes wiser by the attitude of prasada. We welcome whatever comes to us and our whole life becomes a learning experience.
Thus we arrive at the meaning of prasada as the cheerful acceptance of the situation as it comes to me. Thus prasada-buddhi becomes the attitude of glad acceptance.
Anything that comes from the Lord is Grace or Prasada. Let us learn to look upon the results of out actions given to me by the Lord as prasada.
When a ceremony is performed all the devotees should share the prasad and thus receive the blessings of the Deities. There is no restriction of any kind in taking prasad. Time, place or condition does not affect one. Prasad is all purifying. Prasada is the most sacred object for a devotee. One should consider himself lucky to take the Prasada, and there is no restriction of any kind in taking Prasada.
According to Hinduism, food is verily an aspect of Brahman (annam parabrahma swaroopam). Because it is a gift from God, it should be treated with great respect. The gross physical body is called annamayakosh or the food body, because it is nourished by food and grows by absorbing the energies from the food. Traditional Hindus offer food to God mentally before eating.
Food is identified with the element of earth. According to Prasna Upanishad, "Food is in truth the Lord of Creation (Prajapathi). From food is produced retas (the sexul energy or semen) and from it beings are born." According to Manu, "Food, that is always worshipped, gives strength and manly vigor; but eaten irreverently, it destroys them both." Food should be eaten for the survival and strength of the body, with a religious attitude, to practice austerities and gain self control, but not for pleasure. Eating is therefore any other human activity which can be made into either a sacrificial act that would help in the liberation of soul or a mere pleasure activity that would lead to bondage and suffering.
The Bhagavad-gita (17.8-10) divides foods into three classes: those of the quality of goodness, those of the quality of passion, and those of the quality of ignorance. The most healthful are the foods of goodness. "Foods of the quality of goodness [milk products, grains, fruits, and vegetables] increase the duration of life; purify one's existence; and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Such foods are sweet, juicy, fatty, and palatable."
Foods that are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry or hot, are of the quality of passion and cause distress. But foods of the quality of ignorance, such as meat, fish, and fowl, described as "putrid, decomposed, and unclean," produce only pain, disease, and bad karma. In other words, what you eat affects the quality of your life. There is much needless suffering in the world today, because most people have no other criterion for choosing food than price and sensual desire.
Bhagavad Gita (3.13):
Yajna-sistasinah santoMucyante sarva-kilbisaihBhunjate te tv agham papaYe pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sin because they eat food, which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin”.
The Lord is fully satisfied in Himself. He is the creator of all so everything is already His. He supplies us with food through nature, but we give thanks to Him by offering it back in a mood of loving devotion. So if His devotee offers something with love, out of His causeless mercy God accepts it. This is exemplified by the Hindi words "tera tujko arpan"– I offer what is Yours to You. Thereafter it is akin to His gift to us, graced by His divine touch.
Knowing this, our entire attitude to food and the act of eating changes. The food offered will naturally be pure and the best. We share what we get with others before consuming it. We do not demand, complain or criticise the quality of the food we get. We eat it with cheerful acceptance (prasaada buddhi).
Before we partake daily meals we first sprinkle water around the plate as an act of purification. Five morsels of food are placed on the side of the table acknowledging the debt owed by us to the : Divine forces (devta runa) for their benign grace and protection. Our ancestors (pitru runa) for giving us their lineage and the family culture. The sages (rishi runa) as our religion and culture have been "realised" maintained and handed down to us by them. Our fellow beings (manushya runa) who constitute society without the support of which we could not live as we do and Other living beings (bhuta runa) for serving us selflessly.
The purpose of food, however, is not only to increase longevity and bodily strength, but also to purify the mind and consciousness. Therefore the spiritualist offers his food to the Lord before eating. Such offered food clears the way for spiritual progress.