Ancient Indian culture is rich with customs and traditions that makes the life enriched with principles and values. According to Hindu philosophy, every action & activity in our routine is seen as divine. Values in Indian culture teaches us to see divinity in everything. Walking itself is treated as salutation to earth considering her as Mother. The Sun, offering life energy to entire creation, without taking anything in return is regarded as one of the Gods and so on with other natural phenomenon. Human birth is considered as divine and so is the human body. The core values in Indian culture is that all ancient Indian scriptures pay high regard to physical body. It is regarded as a vehicle to carry mind along with its emotions to reach the destination – the godliness. Every action in Hinduism and ancient Indian traditions is backed with scientific or a moral reason.
Why eat food with hands – align with nature: Trees and plants too has a place in the Indian tradition. There are lot of temples across the country where you can see the peepal tree being worshipped as equivalent to God. Again, if we look at the values in Indian culture, environment is given utmost importance. It is important to note that we need food to sustain life and energy in our body. Needless to state, “Annam” or food we eat is respected before it is consumed. In the 15th chapter of Bhagavad Gita, even food we consume is considered as Brahman, the divine. We all know that once our body too will join the earth along with soil! Values in Indian culture teaches us to treat food as the divine that sustains life in the body.
Why eat food with hands - a yogic perspective: There is nothing in the life of a Hindu that is not linked with yogic practices. Values in Indian culture teaches us to connect each activity with yoga also. Most of the habits of Hindus were evolved from yogic practices. Because of this reason, most of us practice it without even thinking about the underlying yogic principle. Hands & legs are the god gifted organs to human beings. It is because of the hands and legs we are able to carry out our actions and activities in daily life. Let me talk a bit about yoga here. The food consumed needs to be digested well to reach across the body so as to keep the body healthy. You will have a balanced mind only if the food is properly consumed by the body. The channels or energies carrying out this responsibility are called as “pranas”. Indian tradition always advise eating with hands. The pancha pranas (five elements) flows through these fingers. They are agni, vayu, akasha, prithvi, jala i.e. fire, air, sky, earth, water respectively. These are essential to digest and balance the energy in our body. It is the same hands we use to pray, greet using namaste. The principle of pancha pranas have great role in the values in Indian culture and tradition.
According to Vedas, hands are considered to be the most valuable organs in human body. Most of the Vedic practices are performed with the help of right hand. As suggested earlier, the five elements represented by fingers are – thumb represents the space element, forefinger is the remembrance of air element, middle finger is the representation of fire, ring finger signifies water and finally the little finger is the representative of the earth. Ayurveda suggests lot of different combination of food items and ingredients to help digestion.
Why eat food with hands - An ayurvedic perspective: According to Ayurveda, the tips of fingers where the nerves end is believed to help the digestion if you consume food with hands. Psychologically also, the taste of the food can be sensed more if eaten using the hands than using any other utensil like spoon or fork. Just with the touch, our body can easily make out if the food is hot to consume. We will also sense if it can create stomach problems by disturbing the digestive system. Instead of tasting the food with a spoon, taste with tongue and then eating with hands is always recommended. If you look at the entire creation, no living being uses anything a like spoon or fork to eat food. This is the principle taught to us by the nature and creation through the values in Indian culture. There is always an awareness among us to wash hands prior to eating food, especially when we eat with our hands. This ensures cleanliness and hygiene. Eating food with hands makes you more conscious about the cleanliness and hygiene factor.
Most of the old aged people who still follow these customs and traditions won’t touch food in other plates or vessel while eating food with hands. Old people still roll the rice in hands making it the shape of a ball. It is like an exercise for the fingers too. This is especially seen in South India. There is always a fulfilment – both physically & mentally if food is consumed with hands. Researchers too recommend eating food with hands rather than using cutlery as it gives a sense of fullness.
Why eat food with hands - Experiencing mindfulness: Mindfulness is one of the key benefits of practicing several customs and traditions explained in the ancient Indian scriptures. It is the practice of values in Indian culture and tradition. This is applicable even while having food. If we eat using our hands, it will help to achieve mindfulness. Especially chewing and swallowing, can happen with awareness and mindfulness. It is not only beneficial for the mind, but also for the body. Eating mechanically will certainly affect the body by putting on weight, creating indigestion, etc. This will affect also the bowel movement leading to lethargy. So, it is not just about eating the food, but eating with awareness.
Our ancient scriptures, philosophies have elaborated the values in Indian culture, even in the case of a minute aspect like eating food. Leading a holistic life will always be beneficial for the entire humanity.