The legend of Annapurna, Hindu goddess of nourishment

The legend of Annapurna, Hindu goddess of nourishment 


The legend of Annapurna
The legend of Annapurna


Lord Shiva— primordial destroyer of evil, slayer of demons, protector, and omniscient observer of the universe— was testing his wife’s patience.  Without Parvati as the agent of energy, growth, and transformation on Earth, Shiva would become a detached observer, and the world would remain static. But together, the two formed a divine union known as Ardhanarishvara–– a sacred combination that brought fertility and connection to all living things.

 For these reasons, Parvati was worshipped far and wide as the mother of the natural world–– and the essential counterpart to Shiva’s powers of raw creation. She oversaw humanity’s material comforts; and ensured that the Earth’s inhabitants were bonded to each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet a rift had grown between these two formidable forces. While Parvati sustained daily life with care and control, Shiva had begun to belittle his wife’s essential work— and insisted on quarreling about their roles in the universe. He believed that Brahma, the Creator of the world, had conceived the material plane purely for his own fancy.. For millennia Parvati had merely smiled knowingly as Shiva dismissed the things she nurtured. But upon His latest rebuke, she knew she had to prove the importance of her work once and for all. She took flight from the world, withdrawing her half of the cosmic energy that kept the Earth turning. At her disappearance, a sudden, terrifying, and all-encompassing scarcity enveloped the world in eerie silence. Without Parvati, the land became dry and barren. Rivers shrank and crops shriveled in the fields. Hunger descended on humanity.


  Parents struggled to console their starving children while their own stomachs rumbled. With nothing to eat, people no longer gathered over heaping bowls of rice but withdrew and shrank from the darkening world. To His shock and awe, Shiva also felt the profound emptiness left by his wife’s absence. Despite His supreme power, He too realized that He was not immune to the need for sustenance, and His yearning felt bottomless and unbearable. As Shiva despaired over the desolate Earth, He came to realize that the material world could not be so easily dismissed. At her husband’s epiphany, the compassionate Parvati could no longer stand by and watch her devotees wasting away. To walk among them and restore their health, she took the form of a new avatar, carrying a golden bowl of porridge and armed with a jewel-encrusted ladle. As word of this hopeful figure spread, she was worshipped as Annapurna, the Goddess of food. With the arrival of Annapurna, the world blossomed anew.

People rejoiced at fertility and food and communed together to give thanks. Some believe that Annapurna first appeared in the sacred city of Kashi, or the Place of Freedom, on the banks of the Ganges— where she opened a kitchen to fill the bellies of the people until they could eat no more. But it was not only mere mortals who were served at her feast. Humbled at the scenes of earthly pleasure blooming all around him, Lord Shiva himself approached the goddess with an empty bowl and begged for food and forgiveness. For this reason, the supreme deity is sometimes portrayed as a poor beggar at the mercy of Annapurna; holding her golden bowl in her left hand, while the right forms the abhaya mudra–– a gesture of safety and assurance. With these symbols, this powerful avatar makes it clear that the material world is anything but an illusion. Rather, it is a cycle of life that must be sustained— from the feeding of open mouths and rumbling bellies to the equilibrium of the Earth.