Prepared by 600-700 cooks and relished by about 50,000 pilgrims, the lavish ‘Mahaprasad’ served at the Jagannath Temple has retained its appeal amongst devotees for ages.
The Mahaprasad cooked on the premises of the temple at Ananda Bazar (abode of peace), deemed to be the biggest open-air eatery in the world, is consumed by thousands of devotees, who purchase and eat together irrespective of their caste, creed or status.
Everyday throughout the year fifty six varieties of dishes are prepared and offered to the Deities of the Jagannath temple. These consist of preparation of rice,dal and other selected vegetables. The food cooked in accordance with prescribed procedures, and is offered first to Shri Jagannath and then to Goddess Vimala after which it turns into Mahaprasad.
Maha prasad, the holy food, is freely shared by people of all castes and creeds without any discrimination. In all religious and social rituals in Puri and Odisha, Maha prasad plays a very important role. Exchange of Mahaprasad between two persons belonging to two different castes binds them in an abiding relationship. Mahaprasad and other offerings made to the deities are sold to public in Ananda Bazar on the north-east corner of the outer enclosure of the Jagannath temple, where every day thousands of piligrims buy and eat various types of food.
Mahaprasad is of two types – ‘Sankudi’ and ‘Sukhila’ (dried). ‘Sankudi’ Mahaprasad includes items like rice, ghee rice, mixed rice, cumin seed and asaphoetida-ginger rice mixed with salt and dishes like sweet dal, plain dal mixed with vegetables, mixed curries of different types, ‘Saaga Bhaja'(spinach fry), porridge and the like. All these are offered to the Lord in ritualistic ways. While thousands of devotees relish the Odia delicacies at the Ananda Bazar, people also take Mahaprasad to their homes to offer it to their guests during social functions such as thread ceremonies and weddings.
Maha prasad is cooked only in earthen pots inside the temple kitchen and medium of food is fire wood only. When the cooked food is carried to the offering hall in slings of earthen pots no flavour comes up from the food but when the same is offered to Lord Jagannath and Vimala and carried back to the sale point, a delicious smell spells along in the breeze to the pleasant surprise of the devotees. Now the food is blessed. Mahaprasad can only be eaten on banana leaf and sitting on the floor.