The daily prasadam has become a major source of income for the temple authorities

M. Sundar’s daily midday meal is flavoured with ‘faith’. He is a regular at the prasadam stall inside Meenakshi Temple, where he gets a choice of seven varieties of prasadam. And that has become his daily food.

“My job doesn’t allow me to take a lunch break,” says the flower vendor, who squats on the temple platform for business from dawn to dusk. “I routinely eat puliyodharai and vadai here,” he says.

And Sundar is not the only one doing so. There are dozens like him who throng the prasadam stall not just for the need but also for the taste.

The colourfully decorated stalls selling varieties of sweets and savouries cannot escape the eye of any visitor to the temple. Devotees, passersby and tourists relish the temple prasadam with equal enthusiasm. So much so that the concept of prasadam has evolved over the years embracing more number of people than ever before.

If one looks at the tradition of prasadam offered to devotees at places of worship, it has always been viewed as a divine blessing. May be only a privileged few would get it in limited portions. But now, temple prasadam can be had as an indulgence – buy and eat.

Of course, the practise of distributing free prasadam also continues in major temples after neivedhyam every morning or on special occasions like the Kozhukkatai offered on Vinayaka Chaturthi at Meenakshi Temple.

“Prasadam lends an identity to a temple,” says P.Jayaraman, the Joint Commissioner and Executive Officer of the Temple. “Even the recipes are sought after. Once at a Chennai Trade Fair, prasadam recipes were showcased and were a huge hit.”

“Quality is the key,” asserts Kalimuthu, in-charge of the prasadam division at the Meenakshi Temple. “All the items are prepared fresh and stock is replenished frequently. People have a sentimental attachment to prasadams.”

Preparation of prasadams was regularised and revamped at the Meenakshi Temple eight years ago. The earlier practice of outsourcing was abolished and the job was handed over to the insiders. It was a win-win situation. The taste of prasadam improved and reflected in the revenue earned by the Temple administration.

Everyday, seven kinds of prasadams are prepared at the temple kitchen located behind the Vannimara Pillayar, on the East Aadi Street. Chakkara Pongal, Puliyodharai, Murukku, Vadai, Appam and Laddu are prepared on a daily basis while Puttu is made once a week. “Chakkara Pongal is available only in the mornings and other items are sold through the day,” informs, Kalimuthu.

The four prasadam stalls inside the temple run from early morning to night when the temple gates close. “Since the rate is cheaper when compared to the same items available outside, many people just walk into the prakaram to eat prasadam,” says Shanmugam, a salesman from South Aadi Street. Laddu apparently is a fast moving item among North Indian tourists while the locals prefer tamarind rice and vadai.

On a daily average, the temple earns Rs.80,000 from prasadam sales. On festivals and weekends, the sales go up. “The amount of prasadam to be prepared on festive days is forecast a week before. And our stock of grains and flours is refilled periodically,” says Kalimuthu.

Every item made and sold is accounted for. The sales and stock figures are recorded meticulously in a register. Even the banana leaf used to wrap the prasadams and firewood used for cooking are kept track of.

The prasadams prepared at Meenakshi Temple are sold also at the Mariamman Temple and Muktheeswarar Temple at Teppakulam. Since the in-house mass scale production of prasadam has yielded results, the model is being followed in Alagar Koil and Sankaran Koil Temples too.

“Though it wasn’t started as a business proposition, it has turned out to be a major revenue earner. The functioning and execution of prasadam preparation and distribution was recently covered in detail by the BBC,” informs Jayaraman.

Temple visits are not just driven by devotion. It has various triggering factors for different people. But a temple visit is never complete without taking a bite of the prasadam.

Quick facts:

Every temple has a signature prasadam. Tirupati laddu is a good example of this. In Meenakshi temple, puttu is the special item and Alagar Koil is known for its crispy dosa.

Certain traditional techniques are still in practise while preparing prasadams. The puliyodharai at Meenakshi temple is spread on a granite slab called ‘padagal’ which is said to be centuries-old.

At Alagar Koil, the dosa for the neivedhyam is cooked on an Aiympon (Panchaloha) tawa.

Meenakshi Temple daily prepares 2,400 laddus, 800 vadais, 800 packets of puliyodharai and 300 packets of chakra pongal, 1,500 appams, 900 murukkus and 25 kilos of puttu (per week)

At Alagar Koil 1500 dosas, 500 laddus, 900 appams, 300 athirasams and murukku each, 300 packets of puliyodharai and 350 packets of samba rice are prepared daily.

Meenakshi Temple earned Rs.1.07 crores in 2008-09 from prasadam selling. It steadily grew each year and last year’s (2012-13) earnings stood at Rs.2.8 crores. It is estimated that the temple would earn Rs.3 crores this year (2013-14) from prasadam.

Alagar Koil Temple’s earnings have gone up from Rs.1.6 croes to Rs.1.7 crores in the last three years. The Temple is expected to earn an estimated Rs.1.8 crores from prasadam.