Food – Definition, Importance As Per Ayurveda, Upanishad

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
‘Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.’ – Jonathan Safran Foer

Ahara (food), Nidra (sleep) and Brahmacharya (celibacy) are the Traya Upastambhas (Trayopastambhas) explained in Ayurveda. 

Traya Upastambha

Traya Upastambha means 3 sub-pillars or 3 supporting pillars. If the human body is a building or house, ahara, nidra and brahmacharya form the vital supporting pillars which balance our body and support the life within.

Among the three pillars, Ahara or food is a major supporting pillar which helps in sustenance of life and maintenance of health. One cannot imagine living without food.

Definition, meaning of Ahara

Anything (food) which is consumed or ingested with the help of tongue, mouth and throat is called Ahara. The term Ahara comprises of all forms of foods including the foods which can be chewed, swallowed, eaten and drunk.
Read related: Wait A Moment Before Starting To Eat: A Healthy Eating Tip

Importance of Ahara

Throughout the evolution and the story of civilization the human beings have graduated in experimenting with the form of the food they take, from eating the hunted animals in a raw form to properly processed, trimmed, calculated and measured forms of food of modern days prepared with utmost caution and precision by the best of chefs. There is no compromise in terms of food even when it is prepared at home, at the kitchen level. We all have different tastes and choices of foods. Ultimately we eat to live, to sustain the life within us, to continue the life process, to evolve and to live healthily.

A reference from Taittariya Upanishad (mentioned above) gives the status of supremacy to the Ahara and calls Ahara as ‘Brahma or the creator’. It is so true that we are all created and maintained by ahara. Right from the point of our conception in our mother’s womb, we are nurtured by the ahara rasa or the nutrients unconditionally supplied and shared with us by our mother. This food garnished with love and affection reaches us through the fetal circulation, passing through the placenta or apara. The fetus grows and matures with the help of this ahara rasa coming from the mother. If this source of ahara is cut off, the fetus doesn’t survive and thus a life ends.

All the living beings originate from ahara. Ahara is responsible for life sustenance of all living beings.

This anna which the living beings consume is present in them in the form of Annamaya Kosha (the subtle and invisible layer of food enveloping and protecting the body).
Read related: Eating Etiquette: Healthy Eating Rules

Ahara, Swasthya and Roga

Ahara, Swasthya and Roga (Food, Health and Disease)
Acharya Charaka Samhita gives a beautiful concept about Ahara and tells that the ahara not only forms this body but also forms the diseases which occur in us. If the wholesome food (Hita Ahara) is responsible for Sukha (happiness, health), the unwholesome food (Ahita Ahara) causes Dukha (misery, unhealthy). He also tells that ahara or food is the best among the things which sustain the life.

Kashyapa tells that no medicine is equivalent to the ahara or food. He also calls Ahara as Maha Bhaishajya (greatest and best medicine). Just by the administration of proper food and diet it is possible to cure the diseases even without the need of administration of medicines and treatment.

Any disease can be comprehensively cured without any medicine by just following ‘pathya ahara’ or wholesome food where as even hundreds of medicines and formulations cannot cure a disease in the absence of a planned wholesome regimen of diet.
Read related: Bad Food Combinations And Solution As Per Ayurveda

Health benefits of Ahara

Below mentioned are the benefits of Ahara or food –

  • Upastambha – Ahara is one of the supporting pillars of our body and life
  • Preenana – Ahara provides good nutrition of all the cells and organs, provides vitality
  • Bala Krit – Enhances strength and immunity
  • Deha Dharaka – Supports the body and makes it strong and sturdy
  • Ayu vivardhanam – Enhances the life span as a whole, increases the lifespan and functioning capacity of all the cells and structures of the body
  • Tejo Vivardhanam – Enhances the luster
  • Utsaha Vivardhanam – Enhances enthusiasm and keeps one in good spirit
  • Smruti Vivardhanam – Enhances memory
  • Ojo Vivardhanam – Enhances ojas or essence of all the tissues which in turn reflects the immunity of an individual
  • Arogya – Bestows best quality and quantity of health
  • Pranam Abhidhavati – Helps in sustenance of life in all the living beings
  • Varna Prasada – Provides good complexion and color
  • Sauswaryam –Provides good voice
  • Jeevitam – Provides longevity of life
  • Pratibha – Provides intelligence and capacity of using the intelligence in right places and right times
  • Sukham – Provides happiness and pleasure
  • TUshti – Provides satisfaction and content
  • Pushti – Provides nourishment
  • Balam – enhances strength and vigor
  • Medha – enhances intellect

Similarly the below mentioned are also dependent on the ahara –
Laukika Karma – All the activities we do while living in this world is dependent on ahara. When one takes ahara in proper quality and quantity following the time of intake of food and the hunger reflex, it provides strength to carry on all the activities of life with ease. This in turn provides pleasure and happiness and satisfaction.

Swargatau Yat cha Vaidikam – Performance of Vedic procedures and rituals and observation of truth which paves the pathway to obtain salvation and to obtain a place in heaven is also dependent on the ahara or the food we consume.

Karmapavarge – The observance of truth, abstinence from misdeeds etc leading to liberation or salvation (moksha) are all dependent on the food or ahara we consume.
Read related: How Much Food To Eat Per Day As Per Ayurveda?

Also –
Pure food or Sattvika Ahara when consumed will bring about Sattva Shuddhi (clarity of mind). When the mind is clear and is free of blemishes, the memory power (smriti) increases.

Most of the incurable diseases are produced due to regular consumption of vishama ashana i.e. improper food or incompatible food. So a person who is intelligent and also self controlled should consume hita ahara (conducive and compatible food) in right quantity (mita ashi), at the right time meant for consuming food (kala bhoji). When food is taken following these principles, it helps in preventing many diseases.

Ahara is Prana

Food is said to be ‘the life’ of all the living beings. The food which has color (varna), smell (gandha), taste (rasa) and touch (sparsha) pleasing to one’s mind and are likable, the food which is prepared and processed in a proper way is considered to provide and support the life element in each one of us. Therefore Ahara itself is called as Prana or life. It is also practically evident and experienced that ahara is pranadharaka or supporter of life because when a person doesn’t consume food for few days will eventually lose his life.

Our life sustains and we live until and unless the antaragni or the metabolic fire or gut fire is intact in the body. This fire is an indicator of life. If this fire needs to be intact, it needs constant fuel and this fuel is provided to the fire in the form of ahara or food. Only when the fuel in the form of ahara is available, the agni keeps steady and intact, and hence the life process keeps intact. This food strengthens the mind. It nourishes and strengthens the body and tissues, enhances strength and color, brings about pleasantness of the sense organs. If the food is taken breaching the rules and regulations of intake it proves harmful to the body and life.

Just Before Finishing –
In this article I have covered about the meaning and benefits of one of the most important instincts for our evolution and living, ‘ahara or food’, which by itself gives meaning to the life.

‘There is no sincerer love than the love of food’ – George Bernard Shaw
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu) – Email / Skype

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