How does the system of stages of life help in attaining four pursuits?


1. Origin and meaning of ashrams

The word ‘ashram (आश्रम)’ has been derived from the root ‘shram (श्रम्‌)’ which means to make efforts. The meaning of the derived word ‘ashram’ is ‘a state in which one makes efforts on one’s own’

2. Objectives and type

‘Righteousness (Dharma), wealth (artha), desire (kama) and the Final Liberation (Moksha) [धर्मार्थकाममोक्ष] are the four pursuits (purusharthas) of human life according to Bharatiya (Indian) culture. The system of stages of life (ashrams) explained in the Vedic religion is the principal means of attaining them.

     When explaining the duties to be performed in the various stages of life, the lifespan of man has been considered as 100 years and has been divided into four parts. Each part is called a stage (ashram). The four stages are the stage of a celibate (brahmacharya), that of a householder (gruhastha), that of a retired householder (vanaprastha) and that of a renunciant (sannyas). In the stage of celibacy one has to live in the Guru’s hermitage, study the scriptures and undertake vowed religious observances (vrat). In the stage of a householder through procreation, performing fire sacrifices and study of scriptures one repays the three debts towards society, ancestors and God respectively. Later as one ages one has to retire to the forest to complete the third stage and towards the end of life renouncing the world one should attain the Final Liberation (Moksha) through Self-realisation and thus accomplish the very purpose of life according to this philosophy. This is beneficial in gradually detaching oneself from desire and attachment for wealth. Restricting the natural and unrestricted tendency of man and guiding it onto the right path by defining limits is necessary to accomplish any of the four pursuits (purusharthas) of human life. Realising that this objective would be fulfilled only if human life was regulated by the four stages of life, sages laid down the system of stages of life.’ (1) The absolute means to accomplish the ultimate objective of human life, that is the Final Liberation or eternal benefaction is the stage of the renunciant and to accomplish the spiritual practice of that stage the first three stages are essential. Thus the four stages are inter-related. In short the system of stages of life teaches a materialist what spiritual practice he should undertake to gradually adopt the path of Spirituality (nivruttimarg) as his age advances.

3. Importance

The stages of life are absolutely essential to decrease attachment for the Great Illusion (Maya), to reduce awareness of the body (dehabuddhi), to consider others as part of one’s own family and to assuage the ego.

4. Stage of the celibate (brahmacharyashram)

4.1 Duties and spiritual practice

‘छात्राणां अध्‍ययनं तप: ।’ means study is the duty or spiritual practice (penance) of a student. This includes the study of observing the code of Righteousness (Dharma)

4.2 Livelihood

A celibate (a student studying the Vedas) and a yati (ascetic) are supposed to sustain themselves by begging for alms (bhiksha). This assists in reducing the ego.

4.3 The celibate and the desirous on

कामचारी तु कामेन य इन्‍द्रियसुखे रत: ।
ब्रह्मचारी सदैवैष य इन्‍द्रियजये रत: ।। – महाभारत १४.२६.१५

Meaning: The one who remains engrossed in happiness involving the five senses with the hope of getting sensuous pleasure is the desirous one. On the other hand the one who finds happiness in constant suppression of the senses is the celibate (brahmachari). – Mahabharat 14.26.15

4.4 The other stages

After undertaking spiritual practice by living with the Guru for twelve years rarely would one accept the path of Spirituality directly and become a renunciant (sannyasi). Most people would accept the path of materialism and become householders as their spiritual practice remained incomplete. They would compensate for this shortcoming by serving those following the path of Spirituality.

4.5 The stage of the celibate and the class (varna)

This stage of life was meant for those belonging to the Brahman and Kshatriya classes.

5. Stage of the householder (gruhasthashram)

5.1 Importance

The general tendency of people is to behave well with those who make them happy. An average person tends to call a person good when the latter behaves well with the former. Keeping exactly this secret of the attitude of an average person in mind, the code of conduct of the married householder has been framed. Moreover this secret itself lays the foundation of the code of conduct of the married householder’s life. The supreme worldly happiness is sexual orgasm. Hence in the Ayurveda intercourse is called the seat of Bliss (Anandsthan) and it is fulfilled in this stage of the householder.

Another benefit of this stage is procreation of a son through a wife.

  • A. ‘नापुत्रस्‍य लोकोऽस्‍ति’ means one without a son does not attain heaven.
  • B. ‘तस्‍मादुत्तरवयसे पुत्रान्‌ पितोपजीवति’ means a son shall look after his father in his old age.

Though in the Satyayug carrying forward the lineage was the motive behind intercourse, gradually with the successive yugs (eras) it began to decline and the objective that intercourse should concomittantly result in progeny came into being. Mentally one has to go from the Kaliyug to the Satyayug, that is one has to make spiritual progress. Hence one should remember that the purpose of life is to acquire control over sensuous pleasure and not for enjoying material objects. This is the very basis of our culture. This can be achieved in the stage of a householder in the following ways.

  • 1. Sexual desire for many before marriage gets diverted to only one after marriage.
  • 2. Since the rule ‘धर्मेण काम:’ meaning desires should be fulfilled through righteous conduct holds good in this stage, one has to gratify desires observing the restrictions of Righteousness. As a result an individual learns to refrain from sexual desire on the days when such acts are prohibited.

For one who is unable to love platonically, sexual intercourse is a means of uniting with the mind, by gradually developing physical attachment. Man acquires intense worldly happiness from the woman he marries so also, the woman. Thus the implied meaning of marriage is that the couple should love each other deeply. The quality of love is that, as one starts loving someone and along with it follows Righteousness (Dharma) and remains in the holy company of renunciants, gradually it acquires a dimension of love without expectations. Love slowly shifts from the body to the mind. This itself is called widening of the horizons of love.

The holy text Navanath Bhaktisar gives an apologue of King Bhartruharinath. To see how much Queen Pingala loved him, the king falsely informed her that he was dead. Upon hearing this, she became a sati (entered the pyre). When Bhartruharinath came to know of it he was about to jump into the pyre when the others stopped him. Then for twelve years he remained in the crematorium waiting for Queen Pingala. What is amusing is that inspite of having twelve hundred queens, his love for her had shifted from the body to the mind. Pingala too became a sati as her love had shifted onto the psychological plane. The twelve hundred queens were only physically attached and hence they did not become satis. Since the king was fed up of physical love he did not want their bodies but wanted Pingala. Later Gorakhnath released the king from the Great Illusion (Maya).

One gets sattvik (sattva predominant) Bliss of company only when attachment for the physical body is reduced. Hence for the one who is unable to renounce material objects all of a sudden, the method of reducing it stepwise, is marriage. As the physical attachment of the couple starts decreasing they are able to love their children proportionately more and more. That is, they wish for the well-being of their children. Benefaction refers to the fulfillment of human birth ! From this one will realise how wrong is the belief that by following Righteousness man becomes detached and more and more inactive day by day. Holy texts of great sages who have realised God will themselves illustrate how vastly expansive Their love for others is, that is how much They love the world.

The importance of the householder stage is explained in the holy texts, the Mahabharat and the Ramayan as given below.

  • 1. गृहस्‍थस्‍त्‍वेष धर्माणां सर्वेषां मूलमुच्‍यते ।। – महाभारत १२.२३४.६

        Meaning: The householder is the basic support of all types of Righteousness. – Mahabharat 12.234.

  • 2. यथा नदीनदा: सर्वे सागरे यान्‍ति संस्‍थितिम्‌ ।
        एवमाश्रमिण: सर्वे गृहस्‍थे यान्‍ति संस्‍थितिम् ।। – महाभारत १२.२९५.३९

        Meaning: Just as all small rivulets and big rivers finally culminate into the sea so also the householder is the support of individuals undergoing all other stages of life. – Mahabharat 12.295.3

  • 3. यथा मातरमाश्रित्‍य सर्वे जीवन्‍ति जन्‍तव: ।
        एवं गार्हस्‍थ्‍यमाश्रित्‍य वर्तन्‍त इतराश्रमा: ।। – महाभारत १२.२६९.६

        Meaning: Just as all living creatures survive with the support of the mother so also people in all other stages of life depend on the stage of the householder. – Mahabharat 12.269.6

  • 4. आश्रमांस्‍तुलया सर्वान्‍धृतानाहुर्मनीषिण: ।
        एकतश्च त्रयो राजन्‌ गृहस्‍थाश्रम एकत: ।। – महाभारत १२.१२.१२

        Meaning: Wise men say that the stage of the householder alone is equivalent to the other three stages put together. – Mahabharat 12.12.12

  • 5. चतुर्णामाश्रमाणां हि गार्हस्‍थ्‍यं श्रेष्‍ठमुत्तमम्‌ ।। – रामायण २.१०६.२२

        Meaning: Of all the four stages the householder’s stage is the best. – Ramayan 2.106.22

  • 6. अधर्मो धर्मतां याति स्‍वामी चेद्धार्मिको भवेत्‌ ।
        स्‍वामिनो गुणदोषाभ्‍यां भृत्‍या: स्‍युर्नात्र संशय: ।। – महाभारत ११.८.३३

        Meaning: Even the unrighteous servitor of a righteous master (householder) becomes righteous. Undoubtedly the qualities and defects in the master are reflected in his servant. – Mahabharat 11.8.33

5.2 Duties and spiritual practice

A. Taking responsibility for those following the path of Spirituality (nivruttimargi): Householders who follow the materialistic path of Righteousnes shoulder the responsibility of caring for the needs of those observing the path of Spirituality through renunciation.

B. Reception given to a guest

  • Origin and meaning: The Amarkosh defines an atithi (अतिथि) as ‘अतिथिर्ना गृहागते’ meaning a visitor to a home may be called a guest (atithi). ‘अत्ति सततं गच्‍छति इति’ means one who perpetually walks. ‘अध्‍वनीनोऽतिथिर्ज्ञेय:’ means a traveller is referred to as a guest. ‘नास्‍ति तिथिर्यस्‍य स:’ means one who visits unexpectedly at any time may be called a guest. A guest is called atithi because he does not stay with someone for the full day (tithi). Parashar (1.82) has defined a guest as the Brahman who stays with someone only for a night. The one who visits frequently from the beginning (atha) [अथ] to the end (iti) [इति] of the stage of the householder is a guest (atithi) [अतिथि]. Another definition of a guest is, the one in whose company one does not even realise how time (tithi) passes.
  • Importance:

    1. The Atharvaveda says that serving a guest is a sacrificial fire by itself. The custom of considering a guest as God and serving him is prevalent since the Vedic times. Parashar says

        प्रियो वा यदि वा व्‍देष्‍यो मूर्ख: पण्‍डित एव वा ।
        वैश्वदेवे तु सम्‍प्राप्‍त: सोऽतिथि: स्‍वर्गसङ्‌गक्रम: ।। – पराशरस्‍मृति १.४०

        Meaning: Irrespective of whether a guest is a friend or a foe, a foolish or a learned one he who arrives at the time of the ritual of Vaishvadev (a ritual of offering oblation to Agni, the deity of fire, performed daily before having a meal) bestows heavenly merits upon the host. – Parasharsmruti 1.40’ (2)

    2. If one does not offer a meal to a deserving guest despite having the capacity to do so then one incurs sin; this is not so if the guest is undeserving. However if he too is offered a meal then one acquires merits.

    3. Ascetics (yogis) and evolved beings (siddhas) roam around on the earth in the form of Brahmans. A host has to undertake penitence if he eats a meal without serving celibates (brahmachari) and ascetics (yati). The old Harit says, ‘When an ascetic dines at one’s home it is actually Lord Shrihari who is doing so. If he spends a night with a householder then the host is cleansed of all his sins.’ On the contrary the host who dines before serving a guest loses both his wealth and his merits.

  • Objectives: ‘Serving a guest is the chief code of Righteousness (Dharma) of a householder. In the olden days there were no amenities like roads and vehicles. People would embark on pilgrimages or journeys on foot. They were compelled to halt at someone’s house for lunch and to retire for the night. The scriptures on Righteousness have laid the responsibility of providing food and shelter to such travellers upon householders, thus making their journey pleasurable.’ (3)
  • Practice: One should wait for the arrival of a guest in the courtyard of the house after the ritual of Vaishvadev for a period of one-eighth of a muhurt, referred to as the period of godohan (the time required to milk a cow) [Markandey Puran 29.24, 25]. One should perform the following acts in honour of a guest – welcome him, offer water to wash his feet, offer him a seat, keep a lit lamp in front of him, serve him a meal, give him a place to stay and a mattress to sleep on, etc. and attend to him personally. Depending on one’s capacity if one offers food or even water or a mattress to a guest then the duty of serving a guest is fulfilled. Manu clearly states –

        तृणानि भूमिरुदकं वाक्‍चतुर्थी च सूनृता ।
        एतान्‍यपि सतां गेहे नोच्‍छिद्यन्‍ते कदाचन ।। – मनुस्‍मृति ३.१०१

        Meaning: If one cannot afford to serve a meal to a guest then he should at least be offered a grass seat. If even that is not available then he should be asked to sit on plain ground and if even that is not feasible then one should inquire about his well-being. At least this should be followed in the homes of righteous people. – Manusmruti 3.101

        If the host is not at home then his wife should honour the guest. The importance of serving a meal to a guest will be illustrated by the following example – ‘Once a traveller was resting under a tree. A pigeon couple was living on that tree. Seeing the traveller, the female pigeon said, “Look there is a guest below the tree. He should be honoured.” So they gathered grass and lit a fire in front of him. Seeing the fire the female pigeon exclaimed, “Now what shall we serve him? There is nothing in the nest. If we go in search of something he may go hungry. I will jump into the fire so that he can eat my flesh.” Hearing this her partner said, “How can I allow you to sacrifice yourself alone? I will jump into the fire to provide him food”. Then both of them began to quarrel about who would jump into the fire. Finally both of them jumped into the fire and the guest feasted on them.’ (4)

        ‘There are varied opinions about how a guest should be bid farewell (Apastamba Dharmasutra One should accompany the guest upto the place where his vehicle is parked or till the lake, temple, river or border of the village and then circumambulating him should say “I bid you farewell until we meet again” (Dharmasutra by Shankha)

        If the guests belong to different classes then they should be treated according to their class or potential (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 11.6). The Mahabharat (12.146.5) preaches that even an enemy who comes as a guest should be treated with honour.’ (5)

  • Regulations for guest

    1. यदर्थो हि नरो राजंस्‍तदर्थोऽस्‍यातिथि: स्‍मृत: ।। – महाभारत १५.२६.३७

        Meaning: (Dhrutarashtra tells Yudhishthir) O king, it is a rule that a guest should behave in accordance with the status of his host (according to the situation) irrespective of his own status.- Mahabharat 15.26.37

    2. A guest who eats a meal before his host dishonours him.

  • What should be done if no guest arrives?: One should serve a Brahman or if even that is not possible then a cow should be fed till it is content.

C. The five great fire sacrifices (panchamahayadnya): ‘These are the five great fire sacrifices or the five great vowed observances (vrats) to be performed everyday. The Taittiriya Aranyak (2.10) states that these five great fire sacrifices viz. devyadnya (sacrificial fire for the deities), brahmayadnya (sacrificial fire for Brahman), bhutyadnya (sacrificial fire for living beings), pitruyadnya (sacrificial fire for the ancestors) and manushyayadnya (sacrificial fire for humans) are performed extensively. A devyadnya is completed even if one stick of sacrificial firewood (samidha) is offered in the fire (havan). A brahmayadnya is said to be complete if a study of the Vedas is done, be it recitation of a rucha (Vedic verse) or chanting of a yajurmantra or a sama. A bhutyadnya is completed by offering a sacrifice of food to living beings. A pitruyadnya is said to be performed if a (shraddha) or even water is offered to ancestors. A manushyayadnya is said to be accomplished if food is offered to Brahmans. The Apastamba ( states that the adjective “maha” is attached to the above rituals to glorify them and the term “yadnya (sacrificial fire)” for an ornamental purpose. The motive behind these five rituals is fulfillment of one’s duties in relation to the Creator, the ancient sages, ancestors and millions of other living beings.

During the following period other motives also seem to be attached to this arrangement of five daily sacrificial fires. Manu and others (Manusmruti 3.68-71, Vishnu Dharmasutra 59.19, 20, etc.) say that everyday every householder destroys or hurts living beings in five instances that is when cooking, milling with a milling stone, sweeping with a broom, separating food grain in a sifting pan, using a mortar and pestle and in a vessel storing water. Great sages have described these five day-to-day fire sacrifices (daily rituals) to cleanse one of demerits arising out of such violence or harm.

  • Devyadnya: Manu (3.70) has called a fire sacrifice (hom) a devyadnya. The Smruti holy texts which were written later differentiate between a fire sacrifice or a devyadnya and ritualistic worship of God. In the Middle Ages the authors of holy texts began to consider the rite of Vaishvadev as devyadnya. However a fire sacrifice performed for deities is distinct from the rite of Vaishvadev is what some authors opine. During the Middle Ages and the recent times the concept of a fire sacrifice was forgotten and instead elaborate ritualistic worship of idols in homes began to be performed.
  • Brahmayadnya: Brahmayadnya is the study of the Vedas (svadhyay).
  • Bhutyadnya (taking away a sacrifice): One part of the food offered to Vaishvadev [ritual of offering food daily before a meal to Agni (deity of fire)] is sacrificed for the deities. In a bhutyadnya a sacrifice is placed on the ground instead of offering it in the fire.

    यत्र विश्वे देवा इज्‍यन्‍ते तव्‍दैश्वदेविकं कर्म । – पराशर माघवीय भाग १ पाद ३८९

    Meaning: Vaishvadevik actions (karma) are those in which Vishvedev (a group of deities to whom the fire sacrifice is offered) are ritualistically worshipped. – Parashar Maghaviya part 1 pad (chapter) 389

  • Pitruyadnya: This can be performed in three ways the first being making an offering of water to the deities, sages and ancestors during daily ritualistic actions (tarpan) [Manusmruti 3.70], the second by offering the food remaining after offering a bhutyadnya to ancestors (Manusmruti 3.91) and the third by inviting and serving a meal to at least one Brahman everyday and performing the rite of shraddha (for departed souls) [Manusmruti 3.82, 83]. In these shraddhas which are performed daily balls of boiled rice (pindas) are not offered
  • Nruyadnya or manushyayadnya: Manu (3.70) has said that honouring a guest is itself a nruyadnya or a manushyayadnya. Offering a meal to a Brahman is also a manushyayadnya.’ (6)

D. Offering: This constitutes an important aspect of Righteousness (Dharma). Offering constitutes an important aspect of any religious rite. ‘दानं तप: गृहस्‍थानां ।’ means that making offerings is the spiritual practice of those in the stage of the householder, that is of worldly people. The scriptures enlist construction of temples, growing gardens, digging lakes, offering water to people, etc. as religious acts performed with expectation.

5.3 Day-to-day conduct

Day-to-day ritualistic actions and conduct: ‘Day-to-day actions [ahnik (आह्निक)] and conduct refer to duties and rituals to be performed everyday and at regular intervals. This is a very important subject from the scriptures.

Ahaha (अह:) means a day, that is the period from one sunrise to the next (bright and dark part of the day). The bright part is divided into morning, noon and evening. Some divide it into five parts viz. morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon and evening. Each part is equivalent to three muhurts. (One muhurt is equivalent to two ghatikas, that is 48 minutes). 30 muhurts comprise one day of 24 hours duration. The Smrutis however generally state a day to be comprised of eight parts.

    धर्मं पूर्वे धनं मध्‍ये जघन्‍ये काममाचरेत्‌ ।
    अहन्‍यनुचरेदेवमेष शास्‍त्रकृतो विधि: ।। – महाभारत ३.३३.४०

Meaning: One should undertake spiritual practice in the first part of the day, do business to earn money in the middle part of the day and enjoy object pleasure in the final part of the day. It is prescribed by the scriptures to always behave ritualistically in this manner. – Mahabharat 3.33.40

Some of the main day-to-day chores are chronologically as follows – waking up, meditating upon The Lord, ablutions, washing hands and feet, gargling, brushing of teeth, bathing, performing the ritual of sandhya, making an offering of water to the deities, sages and ancestors during daily ritualistic actions (tarpan), changing clothes, performing the five great sacrificial fires (panchmahayadnya), worship of the deity of fire, dining (at noon), earning a living, study and teaching of the scriptures, the ritual of sandhya in the evening, making offerings, sleeping and performing the fire sacrifices which have to be performed at a specific time.

From the worldly point of view four nadis (one nadi or ghatika is equivalent to 24 minutes) before sunrise and four which are functional after sunset constitute one day. If one bathes one ghatika before sunrise then it is considered to be a part of the day beginning after sunrise (Ahniktattva pad 327).

The period of one prahar, preceding sunrise, consists of two muhurts. The first muhurt is called the Brahmamuhurt. At this time the intellect and energy of man to write holy texts is at its optimum; hence that muhurt is called the Brahmamuhurt (an excerpt from a commentary on the Manusmruti 4.92 by Kulluk).’(7)

Detailed information on daily chores as well as rules and prohibitions is given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 2 – Practice of Spirituality and the Seeker’

5.4 Earning a livelihood

‘धर्मेण अर्थ:’ means earning wealth righteously.

5.5 Importance of a housewife

A. भार्याहीनं गृहस्‍थस्‍य शून्‍यमेव गृहं भवेत्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.१४४.५

    Meaning: The house of a householder appears empty without a wife. – Mahabharat 12.144.5

B. न गृहं गृहमित्‍याहुर्गृहिणी गृहमुच्‍यते ।
    गृहं तु गृहिणीहीनमरण्‍यसदृशं मतम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.१४४.६

    Meaning: A house without a housewife is not a real home, in fact it is equivalent to a forest. It is the wife who makes the house a home. – Mahabharat 12.144.6

C. वृक्षमूलेऽपि दयिता यस्‍य तिष्‍ठति तद्‌गृहम्‌ ।
     प्रासादोऽपि तया हीन: कान्‍तार इति निश्चितम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.१४४.१२

Meaning: Even the shelter of a tree becomes home to a man if his wife is with him and without her even a palace is doubtlessly akin to a forest. – Mahabharat 12.144.12

D. A wife is considered as the other half of a man (ardhangi). No religious rite is performed without a couple. If not performed thus then ritualistically it is incorrect. It becomes lop-sided. That is why the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush) that is woman and man should be harmoniously blended together.

5.6 The stage of the householder and the classes

This stage of life was mainly meant for the Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya classes. Excluding some parts it was also meant for the Shudras.


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition : Vol. 3 to 10,   Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
1. Vol. 9, Pg. 606       2. Vol. 1, Pg. 113
3. Vol. 1, Pg. 114

4. Jivitvidya Athva Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Second edition 1979, page 183. Author: Late Hari Ganesh Godbole. Publisher: Govind Yashvant Rane, G. Y. Rane Publications, 2040 Sadashiv Peth, Tilak Road, Pune 30.

Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
5. Pg. 279-280           6. Pg. 266-278
7. Pg. 252-253


To whom should the offering be made?


1. Duties of Kshatriya class

Protecting the society from evildoers and governing the state righteously are the main duties of the Kshatriya. Information on the Kshatriya is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 1 D – Protecting Seekers and Destroying Evildoers and Code of Righteousness of Rulers (Kshatradharma Sadhana)’ and ‘Vol. 1 E – Spiritual Practice of Protecting Seekers and Destroying Evildoers (Kshatradharma Rajdharma)’.

2. Duties of Vaishya class

The Smrutis have not prescribed separate rules for the Vaishya and the Shudra with respect to actions necessary for them. The Vaishyas and Shudras had to change their duties towards the Brahmans depending on the circumstances.

  • A. Serving the society by rearing cattle, agriculture and trade.
  • B. Assisting the royal treasury so as to fortify the kingdom.

3. Spiritual practice of Vaishya class

3.1 Offering (dan)

A. Origin and meaning: The word dan (दान) meaning donation or offering has been derived from the verb da (दा) meaning to give.

  • 1. According to the Nyayakosh: Giving an offering is a kind of sacrifice. Here man surrenders the ownership of a particular object or money and the recipient becomes the owner.
  • 2. According to the Shabdakalpadrum: An offering is an object or money gifted with faith and respect, to a deserving person.
  • 3. According to the Shandilyopanishad: An offering is gifting an object or money procured by righteous means to a deserving one, with faith and respect.

B. Importance of wealth

  • 1. धननाशेऽधिकं दु:खं मन्‍ये सर्वमहत्तरम्‌ ।
         ज्ञातयो ह्यवमन्‍यन्‍ते मित्राणि च धनाच्‍च्‍युतम्‌ ।। महाभारत १२.१७७.३४

Meaning: (The renunciant Manki says) I feel that unhappiness caused by loss of wealth is very intense because even the kindred and friends insult its loser. – Mahabharat 12.177.34

  • 2. अबलस्‍य कुत: कोशो ह्यकोशस्‍य कुतो बलम्‌ ।
         अबलस्‍य कुतो राज्‍यमराज्ञ: श्रीर्भवेत्‍कुत: ।। महाभारत १२.१३३.४
  • Meaning: From where will the weak acquire wealth? And how will the unwealthy one acquire power? So also how will the kingdom of a powerless one survive? And if the kingdom is lost then how will its wealth remain? – Mahabharat 12.133.4

    The significance of undertaking the spiritual practice of the Vaishya and the Kshatriya will become clearer from this verse (shloka).

  • 3. धनात्‍कुलं प्रभवति धनाद्धर्म: प्रवर्धते ।
         नाधनस्‍यास्‍त्‍ययं लोको न पर: पुरुषोत्तम ।। महाभारत १२.८.२२
  • Meaning: (Arjun tells Yudhishthir) O great one, a family becomes powerful by means of wealth. Wealth facilitates a rise in Righteousness (Dharma). The poor are neither happy in this world nor in the other regions. – Mahabharat 12.8.22

  • 4. न ह्यृतेऽर्थेन वर्तेते धर्मकामाविति श्रुति: ।। – महाभारत १२.१६७.१२Meaning: There is a verse in the Vedas (Shrutis) that without wealth the other two pursuits of life viz. Righteousness (Dharma) and desire (kama) cannot exist. – Mahabharat 12.167.12
  • C. Attitude about accumulation of wealth: One should consider the wealth obtained as a blessing bestowed by The Lord.

    D. Losses due to accumulation of wealth

    • 1. दर्पो नाम श्रिय: पुत्रो जज्ञेऽधर्मादिति श्रुति: ।। – महाभारत १२.९०.२६Meaning: It is said that pride (darpa) is a son born to deity Lakshmi from unrighteousness. – Mahabharat 12.90.26
    • 2. न हि संचयवान्‍कश्चिद्‌दृश्‍यते निरुपद्रव: ।। – महाभारत ३.२.४८Meaning: One does not come across a wealthy man who is without any troubles. – Mahabharat 3.2.48
    • 3. अगोप्‍तारश्च राजानो बलिषड्‌भागतस्‍करा: ।
          समर्थाश्चाप्‍यदातारस्‍ते वै निरयगामिन: ।। – महाभारत १३.२३.८०

    Meaning: A king who procures one sixth of the income of his subjects as tax but does not protect them, and those who do not make an offering despite the capacity certainly go to hell. – Mahabharat 13.23.80E. Misuse of wealth

    • न्‍यायागतस्‍य द्रव्‍यस्‍य बोद्धव्‍यौ व्‍दावतिक्रमौ ।
      अपात्रे प्रतिपत्तिश्च पात्रे चाप्रतिपादनम्‌ ।। – महाभारत ५.३३.५९

    Meaning: Wealth earned righteously may be misused in two ways by offering to the undeserving and not offering to the deserving. – Mahabharat 5.33.59F. Importance of offering

    • 1. तप: परं कृतयुगे त्रेतायां ज्ञानमुच्‍यते ।
          व्‍दापारे यज्ञमेवाहुर्दानमेकं कलौ युगे ।।
                 – मनुस्‍मृति १.८६, महाभारत १२.२३२.२८, पराशरस्‍मृति १.२३

    Meaning: Penance in the Krutyug, knowledge in the Tretayug, fire sacrifices (yadnya) in the Dvaparyug and offering in the Kaliyug are supreme. – Manusmruti 1.86, Mahabharat 12.232.28, Parasharsmruti 1.23

  • 2. म्रियते याचमानो वै न जातु म्रियते ददत्‌ ।
        ददत्‍संजीवयत्‍येनमात्‍मानं च युधिष्‍ठिर ।।  महाभारत १३.६०.५
  • Meaning: (Bhishma says) O Yudhishthir, the one who begs dies but the one who gives an offering never does. The one making an offering gives the gift of life to the beggar as well as to himself. – Mahabharat 13.60.5

  • 3. ‘In the Eknathi Bhagvat it is mentioned that, “The Lord first uplifts that wealthy one who takes care of the spiritual and worldly needs of His weak devotee”.Commentary on the implied meaning: Merits do not save and sins do not destroy but it is the spiritual emotion which protects. Hence when fulfilling the worldly needs of that weak devotee the spiritual emotion should be, “Who am I to take care of the needs of the devotee of The Lord when it is The Lord Himself who takes care of my needs beyond my expectations? This being so, will The Lord Himself not take care of the needs of His devotee? But the interesting part is that The Lord Himself is sustaining him by using me as an instrument. Moreover, like the proverbial “killing of two birds with one stone”, along with the devotee’s upliftment He is also giving me an opportunity for self upliftment”.’ – Saint

    Offering is an excellent means of spending money because it generates merits. If one rejects those merits then one’s spiritual level rises.

  • G. The six components of offering: They are 1. the donor, 2. the recipient, 3. faith, 4. the offering, 5. the place and 6. the time.

    • 1. The donor: He should earn money righteously and offer it willingly as his duty. He should be of a sattvik (sattva predominant) temperament, should not expect anything from the offering and should do it in secrecy to avoid development of ego regarding making the offering.
    • 2. The recipient: ‘A Brahman (priest) of pure conduct and well versed in the Vedas should be invited for a meal when performing religious rites and at the opportune moment and place when one comes across a deserving recipient should the offering be made. The merit derived from the offering depends on how deserving the recipient is and also his caste (Yadnyavalkyasmruti 1.6; Gautamsmruti 5.18; Manusmruti 7.85). The Brahman (priest) who practises the scriptures and performs austerities is worthy of receiving an offering. If a Brahman lacking in spiritual knowledge and penance is given an offering then it results in the spiritual deterioration of both the donor and the recipient.’ (1)The offering should always be to the Absolute Truth not to a beggar, hospital, school, etc. from the Great Illusion. It should always be to the ‘deserving’, that is ‘to the one worthy of it’. In this world, there is none more worthy than saints; hence any offering should be made only unto Them. Saints and Gurus are the manifest (physical) forms of the unmanifest God. Hence, any offering made unto saints and the Guru is as good as an offering to God Himself. Thus offering back to God what belongs to Him does not create a ‘give and take account’ rather completes it. As such, the offering made unto saints reduces the accumulated account (sanchit) and increases the ability to withstand the effects of destiny. Moreover, neither is any ‘give and take account’ thereby created, nor are any merits acquired. Hence, whatever has to be offered should be given only to saints or for the mission of the Absolute Truth. This is possible only for a seeker in the stage of mental worship (upasanakand) chanting The Lord’s Name. The one practising the inferior Path of Action (Karmayoga) gives alms to beggars, donations to schools and hospitals under the influence of emotions. Only merits are acquired from such actions. Seekers desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) want neither merits nor sins, since only heaven and not the Final Liberation (Moksha) is attainable with merits.
    • 3. Faith: An offering should be made only if one has faith in the scriptures and respect for the recipient.
    • 4. The offering (the gifted objects or money)    A. Classification of the money offered into two categories – divine and demoniacal wealth: The classification of the wealth offered depends upon how the wealth is acquired.
      • Divine wealth: Literally this means white money or wealth accumulated through righteous means.One who is wealthy or has the capacity to amass wealth should earn money through righteous means and offer it for a spiritual cause. Saint Tukaram too, has conveyed the same message in one of His hymns (abhangs),

        The one who earns wealth through righteous pursuit of business,
        And spends for a spiritual cause with detachment,
        In the next birth will be born spiritually evolved,
        And will traverse towards Liberation.

        Offering money thus endows both the donor as well as the recipient with sattvik happiness. A verse (shloka) from the Mahabharat (5.34.31) in this context says –

        धर्ममूलं श्रियं प्राप्‍य न जहाति न हीयते ।

        Meaning: Wealth earned righteously is neither lost nor diminishes.

      • Mixed wealth: This means lending money earned righteously as well as unrighteously. Here both the donor and the recipient acquire happiness as well as unhappiness. The reason behind it is that the donor gets the satisfaction of lending but is anxious about its recovery. The recipient is happy to receive the money but becomes unhappy as he has to return it later. Such an offering is called mixed wealth.
      • Demoniacal wealth: In other words it is black money earned through unrighteous means, e.g. gambling, thefts, etc. Such wealth causes unhappiness to the donor as well as the recipient.The following example will illustrate the concept further.

        Two wealthy men decided to offer a sum of a thousand rupees each. One of them offered his white money earned righteously to a poor man. That poor man had caught two birds to satisfy his hunger. After getting this money he at once set those birds free and they flew away happily. The second rich man offered the black money which he had earned by cheating others to another poor man who squandered it away in gambling.

        Inference: Offering of money earned righteously bestowed the donor with merits, satisfied the hunger of a poor man and saved the lives of two innocent birds. Contrary to this by offering money earned by unfair means neither the donor nor the recipient were benefitted. Besides gambling can become an addiction and the one who had given the man money to gamble for the first time acquires demerits due to it.

        From the above discussion one can conclude,

        दैवी संपव्‍दिमोक्षाय निबन्‍धायासुरी मता ।। – महाभारत ६.४०.५

        Meaning: Divine wealth leads to the Final Liberation (Moksha) and demoniacal wealth to bondage. – Mahabharat 6.40.5

        Behaviour in worldly life: The following example will explain how a seeker should behave in worldly life. Both giving and receiving a bribe are equally sinful acts. They induce 100% sin. If one who is compelled to accept bribes at his workplace offers even the entire amount for the cause of the Absolute Truth it generates 10% sins. To avoid even that, a seeker should try for a transfer to another department/office where he does not have to indulge in such transactions. If even that is not possible then he should look out for another job.

      • Wealth (dhan) accumulated by unrighteous means is unstable. On the other hand that accumulated by righteous means is called Lakshmi and is stable.

          B. How much money should be given away as offering?: In the ancient times people would offer 40%-60% of their income. It is important for the head of a family to keep sufficient money required for household expenses and then give as offering a part of the savings. To realise God one has to sacrifice everything. To be able to achieve that one should increase the amount of offering stepwise.

    • 5. Place (of offering): Offerings made at holy places like Varanasi, Kurukshetra, Brahmavarta, Prayag are more meritorious.
    • 6. Time (of offering): Offering made on the first day (pratipada) of the Hindu lunar fortnight, in the evening, during the transit of the sun or a planet from one zodiac sign into another bestows greater merits.

    H. Classification of offerings

    • 1. Ideal and inferior: Offering made to the deserving by going to him on one’s own is the ideal type of offering; that given when asked for is of an inferior type (Parasharsmruti 1.29).
    • 2. According to the Bhagvadgita: Offering is classified into three types – sattvik, rajasik and tamasik.    Sattvik offering
      • Offering made without any expectation
      • Offering made willingly with love and respect
      • Happiness of the recipient is the only motive behind such an offering. As a result the donor is endowed with as much or even more happiness than the recipient.
      • Offering given as one’s duty
      • Secrecy about this offering is maintained. It is not publicised at all as the saying goes that even the right hand should not know what the left hand has done.
      • Offering is not made as a favour as such a feeling inflates the ego of the donor and obstructs his spiritual progress.

          Rajasik offering: This offering is made either as a favour on someone or to acquire a name, fame or to get some returns. This offering is not a self-inspired one.

          Tamasik offering: This is made with a bad intention, hatred, with a view to insult the other or is given to unworthy recipients at odd times.

    • 3. According to the Kurmapuran
      • Regular: This is given daily without any expectation.
      • Occasional: This is given either to destroy sin, as an act of atonement (prayashchitta) or on a particular occasion.
      • With expectation: This is given to acquire money, beget children, attain victory or heaven after death.
      • Pure: This is offered to God without any expectation.
    • 4. According to the Garudpuran
      • Gross: Offering gold or silver equivalent to the weight of a man is called offering after the ritual of weighing (tula dan). Offering the benefit acquired by performing a sacrificial fire (yadnya) to another is also included in this kind of offering.
      • Verbal: Promising protection to the one who is facing an obstacle or is in crisis. This is also called offering of security (abhaydan).
      • Psychological: Offering the benefit acquired through chanting of The Lord’s Name to another to cure him of his illness.
    • 5. According to Jainism
      • Patradan: Offering to the deserving (patra)
      • Karunadan: Offering to a poor man out of compassion (karuna)
      • Samadan: Offering made by followers of the same religion
      • Anvayadan: Offering given to one’s heir
    • 6. Superior offerings
      • Offering of food and medicine: Although imparting spiritual knowledge (dnyandan) is the most superior yet since it is in the subtle dimension most people do not realise its importance. As against this, since ‘offering food to the hungry’ can be seen with gross eyes most people realise its importance.
      • Giving shelter to people
      • Constructing houses (hermitages) for saints, etc.
      • Imparting spiritual knowledge: Spreading Spirituality.
      • Sacrificing one’s life (prandan): Sacrificing one’s life either to cure another of his illness or to release him from a crisis. Valiant warriors sacrificing their lives for the nation and those willingly offering their lives (bali) to obtain the grace of the female deity (devi) are also illustrations of sacrificing one’s life. [Refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 9 B – Divine Energy (Shakti), point – Sacrifice of a man (naramedh)’.]

    I. No ego about the offering: To the one who brags about helping others Swami Vivekanand has said, ‘If you feel proud that you have done a favour on a beggar by giving him money then please do not do so, because The Lord is capable of protecting and nurturing His devotees even nine kilometres deep in the bed of the Pacific Ocean. If one helps a beggar, one is not doing him a favour, instead one is benefitting from him, rather doing a favour on oneself by getting a chance to make a sacrifice.’

    J. Asking back what is offered: One cannot ask someone to return what one has offered him. However an exception to this is if the offering has been made in a fit of anger, out of frustration or insanity.

    3.2 Physical service

    Spiritual practice of a Vaishya (businessman) should not be merely by offering wealth. It should also include service with the body like a Shudra (labourer).

    4. Earning a livelihood by Vaishya class

    Wealth is earned by rearing cattle, agriculture and trade. The Vaishyas were prohibited from trading in honey, meat, iron and leather.

    4.1 Livelihood in adverse times

    They can adopt the means of livelihood of a Shudra (Gautam Dharmasutra).

    5. Special features of Shudra class

    ‘A Shudra was permitted to undertake any profession other than those of a Brahman (priest) and a Kshatriya (warrior). He was not prohibited from eating any food item or drinking liquor. He was also not compelled to perform the day-to-day actions (ahnik karma). Spiritual rites (sanskars) were also not compulsory for him. He did not have to observe the restrictions of the lineage (gotrapravar) to get married. He did not have to undertake atonement for violating scriptural rules.’ (2)

    He was entitled to adopt only the stage of the householder (gruhasthashram)

    नाधिकारो मे चातुराश्रम्‍यसेवने ।। – महाभारत १३.१६५.१०

    Meaning: (I am a Shudra.) I am not entitled to follow all the four stages of life (ashrams). – Mahabharat 13.165.10

    6. Spiritual practice of Shudra class

    As the intellectual level of a Shudra is rather low it would be difficult for him to understand the rules of Righteousness and follow them. Hence as spiritual practice service is prescribed for him.

    A Shudra neither possesses sharp intellect nor wealth hence he can serve The Lord only with his body. This amounts to offering of the body. Along with service he also offers his time. Physical service can be done by cleaning temples, hermitages (ashrams), etc., preparing the holy sacrament (prasad) to be given to the people gathered for functions there, doing menial chores such as chopping vegetables, washing utensils, etc. during religious festivals or bhandaras (festivals of distributing food for a spiritual purpose) so also by putting up posters and banners to announce a spiritual discourse. Service causes a rapid reduction in ‘ego’ and brings about rapid spiritual progress. It is because of this service that from the spiritual point of view a Shudra (labourer) is superior to a Brahman (priest).

    Importance of service is elaborated upon in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 3 – Practice of Spirituality’.

    7. Livelihood of Shudra class

    ‘The specific duty of a Shudra is to serve the three classes of the Brahman, Kshatriya (warrior) and Vaishya (businessman) and procure the things required for his livelihood from them. For the lowest class that is the Shudra, service without expectation (nishkam) can lead to attainment of the Final Liberation (Moksha). According to the Apastamba Dharmasutra when serving the various classes a Shudra derives more happiness by serving a Brahman than by serving a Kshatriya which gives greater happiness than serving a Vaishya (शुश्रूषा शूद्रस्‍येतरेषां वर्णानाम्‌ । पूर्वस्‍मिन्‌ पूर्वस्‍मिन्‍वर्णे नि:श्रेयसं भूय: । -आपस्‍तंब धर्मसूत्र १.१.१.७/८). Service of the other classes (varna) that is Vaishya, Kshatriya and Brahman itself is the duty of the Shudra. The Shudra attains the Final Liberation through service just as the Brahman attains it through knowledge and detachment.

    Sage Gautam has said that if a Shudra ages serving a person belonging to a high class and becomes incapable of working then his former master should look after his needs (Gautam Dharmasutra 10-63).

    7.1 Earning a livelihood in adverse times

    Even during adverse times a Shudra should not adopt a profession of the higher classes.


    Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
    1. Pg. 125           2. Pg. 133


    Why is humility a mandatory attribute for Brahman class?

    Imparting spiritual knowledge


    1. Meaning of Brahman

    The word Brahman means a mantra or a verse (stotra). The one composing a mantra or a verse is a Brahman.

    2. Prescribed duties, attitudes or rights

    Brahmans are privileged to perform the following six acts (shatakarma) – 1. Study of Spirituality (adhyayan), 2. Teaching Spirituality (adhyapan), 3. Performing sacrificial fires (yajan), 4. Guiding at a sacrificial fire (yajan), 5. Offering (dan) and 6. Accepting offerings (pratigraha).

    2.1 Study of Spirituality (adhyayan)

    This includes study of the Vedas along with other scriptures.

    A. Importance:

    The importance of study in this context is expressed in the 18th chapter of the Shrimadbhagvadgita in the form of the verse (shloka),

    अधेष्‍यते च य इमं धर्म्‍यं संवादमावयो: ।
    ज्ञानयज्ञेन तेनाहमिष्‍ट: स्‍यामिति मे मति: ।। ७० ।।

    Meaning: I will consider that the one who studies this conversation regarding Righteousness (Dharma) from the Gita has offered oblations unto Me through the sacrificial fire of spiritual knowledge. – 70

    श्रद्धावाननसूयश्च श्रुणुयादपि यो नर: ।
    सोऽपि मुक्‍त: शुभाँल्‍लोकान्‍प्राप्‍नुयात्‍पुण्‍यकर्मणाम्‌ ।। ७१ ।।

    Meaning: Even the one who listens to it with faith and without envy, will be liberated (from all his sins) and will attain the sacred regions (lok) attained by the ones performing meritorious actions. – 71

    A Brahman should possess the qualities of an evolved seeker or a disciple which are curiosity about the Absolute Truth, desire for Liberation, humility, the attitude of service, surrender unto the Guru, obedience towards the Guru, etc. to be able to undertake this study.

    B. Commencing study (upakarma/upakaran) and stopping study (utsarjan/utsarg):

    Upakaran means “to open, to start” that is to commence the study of the Vedas and utsarjan means “to stop the study of the Vedas for a specific period of time”. People following various Sutras perform this ritual on different days in accordance with the respective Veda to which the Sutra belongs.’ (1)

    C. Limitations of study:

    Intellect is ignorance, the causal body, so how will one realise God with such intelligence? That is why despite being convinced of the importance of Spirituality after learning it from an authority, reading holy texts repeatedly is also a way of nurturing ignorance. Sacrifice of intellect itself means devotion. What is the use of the intellect then? It is meant for converting itself to pure (sattvik) intellect by listening to a few discourses of an authority in Spirituality (shravan), contemplation (manan) and intense yearning (nijadhyas). This intellect does not prove to be of any use in achieving Self-realisation unless one surrenders oneself to the Sadguru. To comprehend even this, one requires intellect. This is perhaps its only use!

    2.2 Teaching Spirituality (adhyapan)

    With regard to this in the 18th chapter of the Shrimadbhagvadgita Lord Krushna says,

    य इदं परमं गुह्यं मद्‌भक्‍तेष्‍वभिधास्‍यति ।
    भक्‍तिं मयि परां कृत्‍वा मामैवैष्‍यत्‍यसंशय: ।। ६८ ।।

    Meaning: The one who imparts this ultimate secret (knowledge) to My devotees with intense love for Me, will undoubtedly come to Me. – 68

    न च तस्‍मात्‌ मनुष्‍येषु कश्चिन्‌ मे प्रियकृत्तम: ।
    भविता न च मे तस्‍मादन्‍य: प्रियतरो भुवि ।। ६९ ।।

    Meaning: And no man in the world is or will ever be dearer to Me than him. – 69

    Importance of imparting spiritual knowledge (dnyandan) in comparison to other types of offering is given in the table below.

    Type of offering For how long is it
    useful to the recipient?
    1. Food One day 5
    2. Blankets, clothes A few months 5
    3. A caravanserai
    A few years 5
    4. Spiritual
        knowledge (dnyan)
    Lifelong 100

    Other classes undertake spiritual progress only for self-evolvement; however the Brahman class guides others along with its own progress. Since the Brahman (priest) desires to bring about spiritual upliftment of the society his ‘I’ ness acquires an expansive form. That amounts to spiritual practice for the sake of society.

    2.3 Performing and guiding at sacrificial fires (yajan)

    Information on this is provided in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 5 – Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.

    2.4 Offering (dan)

    स्‍वस्‍वत्‍वनिवृत्ति: परस्‍वत्‍वापादनं च दानम्‌ ।

    Meaning: ‘Offering is the process of surrendering ownership of an object (without accepting payment) and handing it over to another.

    2.5 Accepting offerings (pratigraha)

    The act of accepting a gift is known as pratigraha. When someone accepts an object offered by another the former becomes its owner. According to the scriptures simply acquiring someone else’s possessions does not amount to acceptance of the offering (pratigraha). It refers to the acceptance done in a particular manner. The term pratigraha is used for the acceptance of an offering made by one amidst chanting of Vedic mantras with the aim of acquiring some invisible benefit or merit (punya). Acceptance of an object is expressed according to the nature of the object by holding the object offered in one’s hand or simply touching it or enjoying a part of its benefits. (Mitakshara commentary on the Yadnyavalkyasmruti 2.27).’(2)

    3. Other duties

    A. Instructions regarding duties of Brahmans have been given in the Rugveda (8.35.16) as follows –

         ब्रह्म जिन्‍वतमुत जिन्‍वन्‍तं धियोहतं रक्षांसि सेधतममीवा: ।

         Meaning: Acquire knowledge, protect the pure intellect and destroy the demoniacal attitudes in society.

    B. ब्राह्मणस्‍य तु देहोऽयं न कामार्थाय जायते ।
         इह क्‍लेशाय तपसे प्रेत्‍य त्‍वनुपमं सुखम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.३२१.२३

         Meaning: The gross body of the Brahman is not meant for enjoying happiness. The Brahman is born to undertake austerities facing difficulties on the earth. Only if this is undertaken will he acquire unparalleled happiness in the other regions (lok). – Mahabharat 12.321.23

    C. देवाधीनं जगत्‍सर्वं मंत्राधीनं च दैवतं ।
         ते मंत्रा ब्राह्मणाधीना ब्राह्मणो मम दैवतम्‌ ।। – श्री गुरुचरित्र २६.२३०

        Meaning: The entire world is under the control of deities. The deities are in the control of mantras which in turn are controlled by Brahmans (priests); hence the Brahman is my deity. – Shri Gurucharitra 26.230

    4. Responsibility

    Just as a king has to face the consequences of the wrongdoings of his subjects, so also a Brahman has to bear the consequences of the sins committed by everyone in the society. Since a Brahman is an embodiment of fire he can tolerate the consequences with ease.

    5. Types

    5.1 Based on spiritual rites (sanskar)

    A. जननात्‌ जायते शूद्र: ।

         Meaning: Every man is born a Shudra due to the process (karma) of birth.

    B. उपनयनात्‌ व्‍दिज उच्‍यते ।

         Meaning: He is called twice born (dvij) after the thread ceremony (upanayan).

         According to Spirituality the thread ceremony accords him a second birth (dvi means two and j means birth); hence he is called dvij.

         तप: श्रुतं च योनिश्चाप्‍येतद्‌ब्राह्मण्‍यकारणम्‌ ।
         त्रिभिर्गुणै: समुदितस्‍ततो भवति वै व्‍दिज: ।। – महाभारत १३.१२१.७

         Meaning: One becomes a Brahman after performing austerities, studying the Vedas and taking birth in a Brahman family. One deserves to be called dvij only if he fulfills these three qualities. [So in other words simply the rite of Upanayan does not entitle one to be called a twice born (dvij).] – Mahabharat 13.121.7

    C. वेदाध्‍ययनात्‌ विप्र: ।

         Meaning: It is said that study of the Vedas makes one a Brahman (vipra).

         After living with the Guru for twelve years and pleasing Him through service the one who becomes righteous and is bestowed with wisdom is labelled as a Brahman.

    D. ब्रह्म जानाति इति ब्राह्मण: ।

         Meaning: It is said that the one who has realised Brahman (God) is a Brahman (priest).

         Later by observing Righteousness as one gradually acquires the sattvik (sattva predominant) attitude one is able to perform devotion even after Self-realisation (dnyanottar bhakti) and thus attains Absoluteness. It is only then that one is truly worthy of being referred to as a Brahman.

    5.2 Based on the conduct

    A. The Dev Brahman: The one who performs the rituals of bathing, sandhya, fire sacrifices (hom) and chanting (japa) everyday (Atrismruti 373, 383).

    B. The Chandal Brahman: He is foolish, devoid of good values, unrighteous and cruel.

    C. The Shudra Brahman: The one who neither studies the Vedas nor chants the Gayatri mantra (Baudhayan Dharmasutra 2.4.20, Vasishtha Dharmasutra 3.1.2, Manusmruti 2.168).

    D. Inferior to a Shudra (labourer)

         चतुर्वेदोऽपि दुर्वृत्त: स शूद्रादतिरिच्‍यते ।। – महाभारत ३.३१३.१११

         Meaning: If a Brahman (priest) is ill-behaved despite being well versed in the four Vedas then he is inferior even to a Shudra. – Mahabharat 3.313.111

    5.3 Subdivisions

    ‘Initially Brahmans studying and teaching the Vedas and performing fire sacrifices (yadnyas) all belonged to one class. After Sage Vyas divided the Vedas into four parts the Brahmans studying them separately were named as Rugvedi, Yajurvedi, Samavedi and Atharvavedi. Further the Vedas were divided into different branches and accordingly Brahmans too were subdivided. Based on the Sutra of these subdivisions further many smaller groups came into existence.

    5.4 Sub-castes

    Though until the 10th century A.D. several subdivisions were formed among the Brahmans there were no sub-castes. From the 11th century onwards the Brahmans were divided into two factions – the Panchagaud and the Panchadravid. Those residing to the north of the Vindhya mountain ranges were the Panchagauds and the ones living to its south were the Panchadravids. The Panchagauds were mostly non-vegetarians while the Panchadravids did not eat meat till about the second world war.’ (3)

    6. Earning a livelihood

    6.1 Economic ideals

    A. Simple living: The motive of both the Vedic path and that of the Path of Devotion was to lead a life of self restraint. However it was far more difficult to follow the Vedic path in comparison to the Path of Devotion. Yet despite thousands of years since its inception the Brahmans (priests) did not abandon that path. They continued their worship of spiritual knowledge unabated and did not bother to accumulate wealth. It is extremely difficult to sustain oneself in poverty. Moreover they did not even consume non-vegetarian food. The Brahmans have been and still continue to uphold this extremely difficult task of preserving the Vedic religion since thousands of years. Not a single tale from the Purans depicts a Brahman as wealthy. He is poverty-stricken in all of them. (Thus poverty for a Brahman in all the eighteen universes signifies that he has not realised the implied meaning of the 18 Purans.) ‘Ideals like poverty, plain living and high thinking, no specific efforts for acquisition of wealth, protecting the culture and aiming at improving it were placed before Brahmans. Though they were accorded a high position yet instead of aspiring for worldly power they were expected to lead an impoverished life in comparison to the other classes. They had to impart their spiritual knowledge to the other classes and subsist on the meagre and uncertain rewards which they would get. The Kshatriyas (warriors) too were made to realise that they were not all powerful and that there was a class superior to them whose support they required.’ (4)

    The motive of this system was to prevent the development of ego in both the Brahmans as well as the Kshatriyas.

    B. How should wealth be earned?: ‘Wealth should be earned in a manner such that the other is aggrieved minimally and not much hardships are undertaken by oneself. Manu (4.5) has referred to the process of gathering cobs of food grain or food grains which have fallen in the field after the farmer has harvested the crop and subsisting on it for a living as rut (ऋत).

         अव्रता ह्यनधीयाना यत्र भैक्षचरा व्‍दिजा: ।
         तं ग्रामं दण्‍डयेद्राजा चोरभक्‍तप्रदो हि स: ।। – वसिष्‍ठ ३.४ आणि पराशर १.६०

    Meaning: The village which is inhabited by illiterate Brahmans (priests) who instead of undertaking vowed observances (vrat) survive only on alms, should be punished by the king like thieves. – Vasishthasmruti 3.4 and Parasharsmruti 1.60

        प्रतिग्रहाध्‍यापनयाजनानां प्रतिग्रहं श्रेष्‍ठतमं वदन्‍ति ।
        प्रतिग्रहाच्‍छुध्‍यति जप्‍यहोमैर्याज्‍यं तु पापैर्न पुनन्‍ति वेदा: ।।
                                                      – यम (स्‍मृतिचंद्रिका १ पाद १७९)

    Meaning: Out of pratigraha (which in this context refers to conduct), imparting knowledge and ritualistic worship [puja (spiritual practice)] conduct is said to be superior. The Vedas get purified (spiritual knowledge gains effulgence) with conduct and not by undertaking chanting and performing fire sacrifices. – Yama (Smrutichandrika 1 pad 179)

    C. Other professions are prohibited: Brahmans were prohibited from taking up other professions by all scriptural authors under normal circumstances because they felt that consequently there was a possibility that study and teaching of the Vedas and performing fire sacrifices would be neglected. Authors of the Sutras and Smrutis have stated that if Brahmans take up other professions forsaking the study of the Vedas and the observances related to the Vedas (shrautkarma) and amass wealth then their spiritual downfall is assured.

    D. How much wealth should be acquired?: Wealth sufficient only to sustain oneself and one’s family and to perform religious rites should be acquired.

    E. How much wealth should be accumulated?: The less the accumulation of food grain the better it is. In the Manusmruti (4.2-3, 4.7-8, 10.112, 4.12, etc.) Manu has stated that the Brahman who has food grain sufficient for only that day and does not worry about the next day is the best Brahman. Accumulation of wealth spells doom for a Brahman states the Mahabharat (13.47.22).

    6.2 Accepting offerings

    Importance of accepting offerings: Lord Yama has stated that it is better for a Brahman (priest) to accept an offering than to earn money by teaching the Vedas or officiating as a priest.

    When should an offering be accepted?: When a Brahman has sufficient wealth earned by other means he should neither earn money nor accept offerings. A Brahman can accept offerings from anyone (including a Shudra or a sinner) in dire circumstances when he has to feed his hungry parents, wife, etc. (Manusmruti 4.251), but should not utilise that wealth to satisfy his own hunger.’ (5)

    From whom should the offering be accepted?: Brahmans should accept offerings from a king, a disciple and a host performing a religious rite provided they are pious. They should not accept offerings from unrighteous individuals. A Brahman has to undertake penitence if he accepts an offering from an unworthy donor.

    Who should accept which offering?: Only the learned could accept big offerings.

    Benefits acquired by the donor: Acceptance of an offering by a learned, righteous Brahman is appropriate and it gains merits for the donor.

    Losses arising from accepting unwarranted offerings: The authors of the scriptures had also said that if a Brahman accepts offerings repeatedly without need or reason then his spiritual prowess declines (Manusmruti 4.186, Vasishtha Dharmasutra 14.13, Vishnu Dharmasutra 57.13).

    6.3 Fulfillment of the spiritual and worldly needs by the king

    ‘Studying and imparting spiritual knowledge; performing or guiding at sacrificial fires; giving and accepting offerings (pratigraha) are the prescribed duties of Brahmans. Though imparting knowledge, guiding at sacrificial fires and acceptance of an offering were decided as their means of livelihood since they could not earn much through that, the authors of scriptures have opined that the king should look after the needs of Brahmans. A Brahman offers one sixth of his penance to the king. In his Abhidnyan Shakuntal (2.13) Kalidas says that, that offering itself should be considered as the payment of tax by the Brahman. Scriptures state that it is the duty of a king to look after the needs of a Vedic Brahman (shrotriya) and to protect a Brahman who is incapable of earning a livelihood (Gautamsmruti 10.9,10; Yadnyavalkyasmruti 3.44).

    6.4 Change according to the time

    During the Vedic period Brahmans (priests) would sustain themselves on the earnings from teaching Spirituality, guiding at sacrificial fires and accepting offerings. With the passage of time the Brahman class was decided based on birth in a Brahman family and some people from that class had to resort to other professions for their livelihood. Occupations like agriculture and cattle rearing were relatively easy for them. The authors of scriptures granted Brahmans the liberty to undertake agriculture, trade, etc. as vocations during adverse times. The Brahmans were then categorised into two subcategories namely the householder (gruhastha) and the one subsisting on alms (bhikshuk). Priests and astrologers were included in the bhikshuk Brahman category.

    Very often the royal priest and ministers were Brahmans. The royal astrologer and mantrik (one practising mantras) were Brahmans as well. Medicine too was the Brahman’s profession. Brahmans would also undertake tasks like study of the Ayurveda, preparation of medicines for the ailing and would impart that knowledge to their disciples.’ (6)

    6.5 Earning a livelihood in adverse times

    A. For the sake of the three classes: ‘Out of the three classes should it become difficult for one to earn a livelihood by following the prescribed tasks for his class then he should resort to a profession of the class one grade below his (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.22). However one belonging to a lower class should not adopt the means of livelihood of a class above his (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.23).

    आपत्‍सु विहितं स्‍तैन्‍यं विशिष्‍टं च महीयस: ।
    विप्रेण प्राणरक्षार्थं कर्तव्‍यमिति निश्चय: ।। – महाभारत १२.१४१.३९

    Meaning: In adverse times theft of food grain sufficient for one meal a day is in accordance with the scriptures. A doctrine says that the Brahmans specially the elderly ones who rigidly follow the scriptures could lose their lives; hence even Brahmans could steal for survival. – Mahabharat 12.141.39

    B. For the sake of the Brahmans: Sage Gautam has said that generally a Brahman should not undertake a profession prescribed for a Shudra (labourer). However if his life is at stake then he can adopt it provided he does not sit on the same seat as a Shudra, does not consume food items like onion and garlic prohibited for Brahmans and does not indulge in housework alone (Gautam Dharmasutra 7.22/24).

    Though in adverse times a Brahman (priest) was permitted to undertake the profession of a Vaishya (businessman) yet with respect to moneylending, agriculture and cattle rearing several restrictions were imposed upon him. He was allowed to do agriculture and cattle rearing by proxy but moneylending was not permissible even in adverse times.

    Even when resorting to agriculture Brahmans had to observe some restrictions. Agriculture was considered inferior so it was to be taken up only to tide over the crisis. It is mentioned that 1/6th of the produce was to be offered to the king, 1/21st to the deities and 1/30th to Brahmans.

    Though a Brahman was allowed to trade in times of adversity, there were several restrictions on the items he could sell or trade in which were included fragrant substances like sandalwood, liquids like oil and clarified butter (ghee), cooked food, milk, curd, sesame seeds, rice, fruit, flowers, grass, water, young cows, honey, meat, slaves, etc. These restrictions were not applicable to Kshatriyas (warriors) who adopted the same profession. Brahmans had to sell an item for a fixed price without bargaining (Gautam Dharmasutra 7.6,7,15; Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.22).’ (7) Authors of the aphorisms (sutras) such as Apastamba, Gautam, Vasishtha, etc. have specified which items a Brahman should not sell, for instance the Vasishtha Dharmasutra says that if a Brahman sells milk then he becomes a Shudra within three days.

    If a king does not help a noble, learned Brahman of good character in adverse times then he acquires sin (Manusmruti).

    7. Code of Righteousness in times of adversity (apaddharma)

    Apaddharma (आपद्धर्म) means ‘आपदि कर्तव्‍यो धर्म: ।’ the code of Righteousness to be adopted during a calamity. In the system of the four classes the religious duties of each of the classes are prescribed. ‘Often due to divine or earthly (spiritual or physical) calamities, a revolution in a kingdom, a drought, forcible resettlement, etc. suddenly there is a collapse in the system of classes. It then becomes difficult for people to perform prescribed actions according to the class. Consequently their means of earning a livelihood is affected. In such circumstances as an exception an individual belonging to one class is allowed to accept the code of Righteousness of the other classes. This arrangement which has been created by the scriptures is called the code of Righteousness in times of adversity. However the scriptures also preach that once the crisis is over or the system of classes is restored, one should undertake penance and start practising his own code of Righteousness (Dharma) once again.’ (8) If one is compelled to perform an inappropriate task in accordance with the code of Righteousness during adverse times then one should do so amidst chanting of The Lord’s Name.

    7.1 Use of weapons

    The Gautam Dharmasutra states that in adverse times a Brahman (priest) may use weapons. Manu too reiterates that a Brahman may wield a weapon to protect the system of classes and stages of life and his wife, other Brahmans and himself.

    An illustration to show that effulgence of a Brahman and a Kshatriya (warrior) coexist is Shri Parshuram.

    अग्रत: चतुरो वेदा: पृष्‍ठत: सशरं धनु: ।
    इदं ब्राह्मं इदं क्षात्रं शापादपि शरादपि ।।

    Meaning: Shri Parshuram who is well versed in the four Vedas and sports a bow and arrow upon His back (that is the one who has the effulgence of both the Brahman and the Kshatriya) will destroy evildoers either with a curse or with an arrow.

    Implied meaning: Being well versed in the Vedas implies being knowledgeable. Hence He will first impart spiritual knowledge and try to teach the people. Even then if they pay no heed then He will destroy the evildoers either with a curse or an arrow.

    8. The Brahman and other classes

    8.1 The Brahman and the Kshatriya

    A. बलं तु वाचि व्‍दिजसत्तमानां । क्षात्रं बुधा बाहुबलं वदन्‍ति ।। – महाभारत ८.७०.१२

         Meaning: The wise say that the strength of the best Brahmans lies in their speech and that of the Kshatriyas in their arms. – Mahabharat 8.70.12

    B. क्षत्रियाणां बलं तेजो ब्राह्मणानां क्षमा बलम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १.१७५.२९

         Meaning: The strength of Kshatriyas lies in their valour and that of Brahmans in their mercifulness. – Mahabharat 1.175.29

    C. नवनीतं हृदयं ब्राह्मणस्‍य वाचि क्षुरो निशितस्‍तीक्ष्‍णधार: ।
         तदुभयमेतव्‍दिपरीतं क्षत्रियस्‍य वाङ्‌नवनीतं हृदयं तीक्ष्‍णधारमिति ।।
                                                                        – महाभारत १.३.१२३

         Meaning: A Brahman’s (priest’s) heart is soft like butter but his speech is harsh like a sharp razor. A Kshatriya (warrior) is exactly the opposite. He is soft-spoken and hard-hearted. – Mahabharat 1.3.123

    D. ब्रह्म वर्धयति क्षत्र्त्रं क्षत्र्त्रतो ब्रह्म वर्धते ।। – महाभारत १२.७३.३२

         Meaning: A Brahman augments a Kshatriya’s prowess and himself prospers due to a Kshatriya. – Mahabharat 12.73.32

    E. तपो मन्‍त्रबलं नित्‍यं ब्राह्मणेषु प्रतिष्‍ठितम्‌ ।
         अस्‍त्रबाहुबलं नित्‍यं क्षत्रियेषु प्रतिष्‍ठितम्‌ ।।
         ना ब्रह्म क्षत्रमृध्‍नोति ना शस्‍त्रं ब्रह्म वर्धते ।
         ब्रह्म क्षत्रं च संयुक्‍तंमिह चामुत्र वर्धते ।। – महाभारत

         Meaning: The prowess of penance and mantras always exists in Brahmans (those who are so by virtue of their qualities and actions). In the same way the knowledge of weapons and physical strength lie with Kshatriyas. Kshatriyas cannot be glorified without assistance by the Brahman prowess and the prowess of the latter cannot prosper without protection by the former. If Brahmans and Kshatriyas are united then together they can progress not only on the earth but even in other regions like heaven and beyond. – Mahabharat

    F. ब्रह्म क्षत्र्त्रेण सहितं क्षत्र्त्रं च ब्रह्मणा सह ।
        संयुक्‍तौ दहत: शत्रून्‍वनानीवाग्‍निमारुतौ ।। – महाभारत ३.१८५.२५

         Meaning: If Brahmans and Kshatriyas fight an enemy as allies they will devastate the enemy just like fire and wind together burn down forests. – Mahabharat 3.185.25

    G. एकं हन्‍यान्न वा हन्‍यादिषुर्मुक्‍तो धनुष्‍मता ।
         बुद्धिर्बुद्धिमतोत्‍सृष्‍टा हन्‍याद्राष्‍ट्रं सराजकम्‌ ।। – महाभारत ५.३३.४३

         Meaning: An arrow released by an archer to strike a target may or may not kill a living being but a master plan chalked out by an intelligent man can destroy an entire kingdom along with its ruler. – Mahabharat 5.33.43

    H. एक: क्रुद्धो ब्राह्मणो हन्‍ति राष्‍ट्रम्‌ ।। – महाभारत ५.४०.८

         Meaning: A Brahman can destroy an entire state with his rage. – Mahabharat 5.40.8

    I. क्षत्रियस्‍यातिवृत्तस्‍य ब्राह्मणेषु विशेषत: ।
        ब्रह्मैव संनियन्‍तृ स्‍यात्‍क्षत्रं हि ब्रह्मसंभवम्‌ ।। – महाभारत १२.७८.२१

        Meaning: If Kshatriyas (warriors) abandon their Righteousness (Dharma) and outrage especially the Brahmans (priests) then the Brahmans themselves will subdue them as eventually the Kshatriya originates from the Brahman. – Mahabharat 12.78.21

    J. Annihilation of a Brahman and his curse

        स्‍त्रिय: कामेन नश्‍यंति । ब्रह्मणो हीन सेवया ।
        राजानो ब्रह्मदंडेन । यतयो भोगसंग्रहात्‌ ।

        Meaning: A woman is destroyed by desire, a Brahman by adopting inferior service, a king by the curse of a Brahman and an ascetic (yati) by accumulating objects.

        In this verse (shloka) the implied meaning of the line that ‘a king is destroyed by the curse of a Brahman’ is as follows: Since a Brahman is the Guru of the universe (Jagadguru) the responsibility of protecting him lies with the king. Under the king’s protection he can carry out his study smoothly and acquire knowledge. It is on the pure intellect of a Brahman that the health rather the prosperity of a king and his state and the happiness of all the subjects depends. That is why if such a Brahman is insulted by the king then due to destruction of knowledge itself, the state too is destroyed. The above discussion will illustrate how a Brahman is capable of destroying an evil king and his state with a curse. It also implies that only a Brahman can create an ideal king and an ideal state. Illustrations of several such pairs of a Brahman and a king like Arya Chanakya and King Chandragupta; Samarth Ramdas and King Shivaji can be cited. Chanakya destroyed Nanda, a cruel king and instated Chandragupta a righteous king on the throne. Samarth undertook a similar mission.

    8.2 The Brahman and the Shudra

    The Brahman is said to have been created from The Lord’s mouth. The main cavity out of all the cavities [called kha (ख) in Sanskrut] in the body is the mouth (mukha) [मुख]. ‘मुख्‍यं ख इति मुखम्‌ ।’ means the main cavity is the mouth because one can chant The Lord’s Name with it. Since the mouth is considered important a Brahman well versed in the Vedas is accorded a superior status. Even so from the spiritual viewpoint he became inferior and his importance declined. Presently the Brahman is considered superior only from the worldly point of view. The Brahman’s duty is to impart knowledge to the society, however since this knowledge is a part of nescience, it too is ignorance. Even then as the Brahman became vain he became inferior from the spiritual viewpoint. So eventually spiritually the Shudra (labourer) class is the greatest. The Shrimadbhagvat proclaims the Shudra class as the supreme one because it is allotted the task of serving all the other classes. Service cannot be done without humility and total surrender. No matter how great a Brahman is if mentally he does not become humble like a Shudra then he cannot attain the universality of a Sadguru. That is why it is said that ‘knowledge without modesty is futile (विद्या विनयेन शोभते)’. So being knowledgeable is not a good quality rather humility is and humility, the service attitude and politeness are all the qualities of a Shudra.

    The reason for the superiority of the Shudra class from the spiritual point of view is its origin from the feet (pad) of The Lord, the Sadguru. That is why the Sadguru (Shiva) is all pervading (padrup) while the disciple is attached to his body (pindarup). Deliverance from human life occurs at ‘the very feet of the Sadguru’. No matter how learned a man may be he can never become omniscient like God. He will acquire godliness only if he reduces this deficiency with humility. Thus the equation that human intellect + humility = God can be deduced.

    The Shudra is superior to the Brahman because of the qualities of humility, the service attitude, etc. Despite this only the effulgence of a Brahman and that of a Kshatriya are spoken of while that of a Vaishya and a Shudra are unheard of. This is because spiritual practices of a Brahman and a Kshatriya are principally for the sake of society while those of a Vaishya and a Shudra are mainly for the individual. The effulgence is in the context of others benefitting from it.


    Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
    1. Pg. 292           2. Pg. 300, 301
    4. Pg. 124,130    5. Pg. 124-125
    7. Pg. 126-128

    Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
    First edition : Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition : Vol. 1 and 2
    3. Vol. 6, Pg. 325-326     6. Vol. 6, Pg. 325-330
    8. Vol. 4, Pg. 571-572


    Why is Gouriharpujan performed prior to the marriage?


    1. The promise of giving the daughter’s hand in marriage (Vagdan/Vanhnishchay)

    1.1 Origin and meaning

    • A. The word Vagdan is derived from two words, vak and dan, meaning speech and donation respectively. Vagdan is promising to offer the daughter to the groom. In worldly terms it means the settlement made by the parents of the boy and the girl about arranging the marriage. In short, it is the resolve expressed by both parents.
    • B. Making the commitment of giving the girl’s hand in marriage by the girl’s father, and that of the groom’s father to accept her as a match for his son is called the commitment of arranging the marriage (Vanhnishchay).

    1.2 The prevalent custom

    It has become customary in the non-Brahman classes to perform the three rituals of Sakshagandha, Sakharpuda and Shalmudi according to the Purans. In reality, these three rituals are incorporated in the single Vedic ritual of Vagdan. Hence, when this Vedic ritual of Vagdan is performed, Sakshagandha, Sakharpuda and Shalmudi need not be performed as prescribed in the Purans.

    • A. Sakshagandha: After the promise (Vanhnishchay) to give the daughter’s hand in marriage to the groom is made, sandalwood paste (gandha) and vermilion (kumkum) is applied to the girl to mark the occasion. This is called Sakshagandha.
    • B. Sakharpuda: After performing the Vanhnishchay (Sakshagandha), the bride is given a cone filled with sugar (sweetmeats), a sari and some ornament.
    • C. Shalmudi: After the Sakshagandha and Sakharpuda, a ritual of presenting the groom a shawl (shal) and a ring (mudi) as a token of confirmation of the engagement is done. This is called Shalmudi.

    1.3 The time

    Actually, this ritual of promise of giving the daughter’s hand in marriage (Vagdan) should be performed many days before the wedding. This was practised formerly. However, nowadays due to the commencement of new rituals like Sakshagandha, Sakharpuda and Shalmudi, it has become customary to perform this ritual mostly on the day of the wedding or the previous day, at an auspicious time.

    1.4 The ritual

    First the father (or any guardian in his absence) should send four or eight male relatives to the house of the girl’s father along with married women (suvasinis) dressed in clean attire carrying the materials required for the ritual of Vagdan. This is done at an auspicious moment to the accompaniment of music. Before leaving the house of the groom they should offer obeisance to God. At that time, the groom or his father should pray and chant the mantra which means, ‘O deities ! We have sent our friends by road, to the house of the girl’s father, to ask for the girl’s hand in marriage. May those roads be free of evil elements. May the two deities Aryama and Bhag transport our friends there, safely. May relations build between our family and the family to which they have gone to ask for the girl’s hand in marriage. Also may the married couple lead a happy life’.

    The relatives and the father of the bride or in his absence the guardians should welcome the groom’s relatives in the best possible way and offer them the best seats facing the west, as they are the receivers. Opposite them, the bride’s father should offer seats facing the east, to his relatives (as they are giving away the bride). Since they face the east they acquire the energy coming from that direction which is beneficial for the act of giving. Then the groom’s side should ask the girl’s father thrice, for her hand in marriage and the father should reply by saying, ‘I will give’, thrice. Then the groom’s side should pay respects to the girl by offering turmeric, vermilion (kumkum), a sari and a blouse, some ornaments, a packet of sugar, etc. and put some sugar in her mouth. [With relation to physical (adhibhoutik), psychological (adhidaivik) and spiritual (adhyatmik) dimensions it is a practice to ask thrice and a reply in the affirmative is given.]

    1.5 The prayer to Indrayani

    The prayer to be made by the bride and the groom – ‘By Your grace may my wedding take place without any obstacles. May I be able to acquire good fortune, health and a good son’.

    2. Deciding the auspicious time (Muhurtnishchay) and serving a meal to the parents of the bride (Vyahibhojan)

    These are just popular customs.

    • A. Deciding the auspicious time (Muhurtnishchay): After approval of the bride, discussion about exchange of gifts takes place. Then the day of the marriage and the auspicious time (muhurt) for the same is fixed in consultation with an astrologer.
    • B. Serving a meal to the parents of the bride (Vyahibhojan): The parents of the bride are forbidden from having a meal at their daughter’s (in-laws) place until she gives birth to a son. Hence the parents of the groom invite them over for a meal before the wedding and dine with them. This is called Vyahibhojan. It is customary to offer gifts to the bride’s parents on this occasion.
    • C. Offering consecrated rice (akshat): The host and the hostess first and foremost invite the family deity, followed by Lord Ganapati, the female deity (devi) and the deity of the village (gramadevata) to solicit their presence on auspicious occasions such as marriage, thread ceremony (Munja), etc. This invitation to which vermilion (kumkum) is applied is placed before the deities along with consecrated unbroken rice grains (akshata) tinged with vermilion, betel leaves, a coconut and a ladu (sweetmeat) of sesame seeds (til). At this time a prayer is made so that the auspicious function takes place smoothly without any obstacles. Then the host couple sets out to invite the others. In Maharashtra in India such invitations are given along with unbroken rice tinged with vermilion (kumkumakshata). It is known as offering akshat.

    3. Rituals performed before the wedding

    3.1 The ritual of Ganayag

    The wedding ceremonies start four days before the wedding at the groom’s place and three days before it at the bride’s place. On the first day excluding inauspicious stellar constellations like Bhadra, etc. at an auspicious time, mostly at night the ritual of Ganayag or Jevnar is performed. Five married householders (gruhastas) are chosen for it and they are made to worship the family deity using oil, turmeric, vermilion (kumkum), flowers, etc.

    3.2 The ritual of application of oil and turmeric paste (Tailharidraropan vidhi)

    The ritual of bathing the one on whom the sanskar (rite) of marriage is to be performed after an application of oil and turmeric paste is called Tailharidraropan vidhi. The turmeric is put in a mortar and pounded by five married women (suvasinis). The ability to absorb the energy generated by religious rituals is increased by oil and turmeric. The pure spiritual particles in the environment too are attracted by turmeric and remain in the body for a longer duration, due to the oil. The same principle is applied in the offering of oil to Maruti, and turmeric and vermilion to deities.

    A popular custom: The bride and her parents are made to sit on a wooden seat (pat) on which wheat grains are spread. Then oil and turmeric is applied to them by married women and they are given a ritualistic bath (mangal snan). The turmeric which is left-over after applying to the bride is sent to the groom. It is called ‘ushti halad’ meaning the left-over turmeric. This turmeric is later applied to the groom and he too is given a ritualistic bath.

    3.3 The ritual of Gadagner

    On the second day the ritual of Gadagner (or Gadagnhan) is performed. In this, five married women (suvasinis) and their husbands apply oil, perfume, etc. and bathe along with the bride at the bride’s place and along with the groom at the groom’s place.

    4. Acts to be performed on the day prior to the wedding

    • A. Definition: If sanskars (rites) like Jatakarma (the rite at birth), etc. have not been performed at the right time then on the day prior to the wedding one has to perform acts such as penance for omission of sanskars, the resolve for marriage (Vivahasankalpa), worship of Lord Ganesh, Punyahavachan, worship of the Matruka deities, Nandishraddha, a sacrificial fire for the planets (grahayadnya), installation of the deity of the pandal (mandapdevatapratishtha), installation of the family deity (kuladevata) and worship of the deity of oil and turmeric (tailharidradevata).
    • B. Preparation: On the day before the wedding the father of the bride and the father of the groom should apply oil and bathe (abhyangasnan), so also should the bride and groom, in their respective homes. Then wearing good clothing and draping the shoulders with a garment they should sit facing the east. The wife should sit to the right of the husband and the one on whom the sanskar is to be performed, that is the bride or the groom, on her right side.

    4.1 The resolve (sankalpa) for the marriage of the son and daughter

    • A. The resolve for the son’s marriage: ‘I am performing this rite of marriage (Vivaha sanskar) of my son named ….. to acquire the grace of The Lord and to acquire the ability to generate progeny capable of liberating him from the debts to the deities and ancestors, according to Righteousness (Dharma).’
    • B. The resolve for the daughter’s marriage: ‘I am performing this act of the rite of marriage of this daughter of mine so as to acquire the grace of The Lord by following Righteousness along with her husband, generating progeny, accepting the fire worshipped in the house (gruhyagni) and attaining the right to follow the path of Righteousness.’
    • C. The resolve to be made by both the parties, that is the bride’s and the groom’s: ‘I will perform the rite of marriage of my son named …. or daughter named …., tomorrow. I am performing the worship of Lord Ganapati, Svastivachan, worship of the Matruka deities, Nandishraddha and a sacrificial fire for the planets (grahayadnya) to obtain their favourability, installation of the deity of the pandal (mandapdevata) and of the family deity (kuladevata). I am also worshipping the deity of oil and turmeric.’

    4.2 Installation of the deity of the pandal/ installation of deities (mandapdevatapratishtha / devak basvine)

    ‘It is customary to establish the deity of the pandal and Lord Ganapati, the vanquisher of obstacles, at the commencement of the sanskars (rites) of marriage, thread ceremony, etc. so as to carry them successfully to completion. This itself is known as installation of the deities (devak). For this, sacred grass (durva), leaves of trees such as shami, etc. are rolled in leaves of the mango tree and tied with new cotton thread. Six such bundles are made. The fifth bundle among these represents the pestle (musal). A stick of sacrificial firewood (samidh) is included in this bundle. A blade of sacred grass (darbha) is put in one of the bundles to symbolize a weapon. All these are known as branches (shakha). Then the branches are affixed to a new sifting pan (sup) in the following manner – four on one side, the bundle containing the pestle and the stick of sacrificial firewood is placed to their north and the bundle with the weapon of sacred grass to its north. Then consecrated rice (akshata), turmeric and betelnuts are put into an earthen pot which is painted white. The mouth of the pot is closed with an earthen lid and a cotton thread is wound around it. The pot is also placed in the sifting pan. It is called the pot warding off obstacles (avighnakalash). A coconut draped with cotton thread, symbolising the family deity is placed beside it. Commencing from south to north the deities Nandini, Nalini, Maitra, Uma, Pashuvardhini and Shastragarbha Bhagvati in that order are invoked in the six bundles and Lord Ganapati the vanquisher of obstacles is invoked in the pot. The five deities are then established on the pillars in the four corners of the pandal and the central pillar and are ritualistically worshipped. After this the host lifts the pot warding off obstacles and places it in his wife’s hand while he holds the sifting pan. Then the host couple installs the pot and the sifting pan on three heaps of rice in a clean, decorated north-east corner of the house or near the temple in the house. Various mantras are to be chanted when all these rituals are being performed. This ritual is known as installation of the deity of the pandal (mandapdevatapratishtha).

    After the completion of the above ritual the relatives and friends of the host offer presents like clothes, etc. to the host couple. The Marathas and people belonging to some other classes perform the ritual two days before the wedding. The hosts of both sides go to the respective trees where their family deity (devak) is situated and perform ritualistic worship (puja). A small branch of that tree is cut and brought home in a new sifting pan. Later that sifting pan is placed in the temple in the house and the betelnuts representing the various deities of the household are arranged in it and are all ritualistically worshipped. Simultaneously the washerwoman worships the grinding stone. On the day of the marriage the groom is asked to sit on the grinding stone. Vermilion (kumkum) is applied to his forehead and unbroken rice (akshata) over it. This is known as the ceremony of “shes dharne”.’(1) This ritual is also known as the ritual of Devakundi or installation of the deities (devak), that is the ritual of establishing the divine pot (Kalashsthapanprayog).

    5. The day of the marriage

    The rites prior to marriage

    5.1 Installation of the pot denoting the auspicious time (Muhurtghatikasthapana)

    • A. The resolve (sankalpa): ‘I am installing the ghatikayantra to know the auspicious moment for my daughter’s marriage rite (Vivaha sanskar) scheduled for today.’
    • B. The ritual: A copper vessel should be placed on a heap of rice or any other food grain. Then chanting the mantraImam me (इमं मे)’ water should be poured into it and the ghatikayantra should be placed in it. One chants a mantra with the following meaning ‘O yantra (device) you are the chief among the yantras created by Prajapati (Lord Brahma). Hence become the instrument of time in uniting the bride and the groom’.

    5.2 Tying a string of flowers or pearls across the brow (mundavalya)

    On the day of the wedding after completing his ritualistic actions (nityakarma) the groom should have lunch with his friends. At that time he should wear new attire and have the ‘mundavalya’ tied across his brow. It is made by stringing together flowers or beads. This headgear is tied across the brow so that the ends overhang both the cheeks. In some non-Brahman communities there is a custom of tying a headgear made from paper (bashing).

    5.3 Departure (Varaprasthan) and arrival (Agaman) of the groom

    These are popular customs.

    • A. Refreshments (rukhvat): ‘Before the departure of the groom (varaprasthan) the members of the bride’s family go to the place where the groom’s side has put up, amidst pomp and fanfare. A decorated vehicle and refreshments (rukhvat) meant for the groom also accompany the procession. After serving refreshments to the groom he is requested to come to the bride’s house. This ritual is also called “mul jane – going to fetch the bride from her home”.’(2)
    • B. Departure of the groom to the bride’s house (Varaprasthan): ‘The groom’s leaving for the bride’s house to wed her amidst playing of auspicious musical instruments is called the departure of the groom to the bride’s house (Varaprasthan). At that time the groom should pay obeisance to the elders and proceed to the bride’s house along with his friends, in the vehicle. The Brahmans should accompany the groom chanting the “Kanikradajjanusham” sukta. Married women (suvasinis) should also accompany the groom.

      The servant walks behind the groom holding a plate of sweetmeats (halva). The groom’s sister walks with the groom holding a metal pot containing water (kara), a coconut and a twig of mango leaves. She is known as the “karavli”. Should one pass a territory of a deity or encounter cross roads, a coconut is moved around the groom’s head and broken. As the groom reaches the decorated lintel (toran) of the pandal the maid servant pours a pot of water on his feet. Rice and curd mixed together is rotated around the groom’s head by a married woman or the bride’s mother. This is followed by moving lit lamps around his head (oukshan). Then the bride’s father comes forward, hands a coconut to the groom and leads him into the pandal (mandap).’(3)

    • C. The ritual of worship while crossing the border (Simantapujan):

      1. Definition: The practice of honouring the groom at the border after he leaves his village (or if the proposal is from the same village, when he leaves his house) and enters the bride’s village by the bride’s relatives offering him clothes, etc. is known as the ritual of worship while crossing the border (Simantapujan).

      2. Welcoming the groom and honouring the elder son-in-law: ‘In this ritual of worship (puja) the bride’s father washes the feet of the groom and offers him clothes and ornaments. At the same time he also offers betelnuts and betel leaves to all other members of the groom’s side. Before the ban on the dowry system by the law, the bride’s father would give the dowry to the groom’s father. The groom’s father would receive the dowry fearing that it may not be given after the marriage. According to the scriptures the offering to the groom (Varadakshina) is given after the giving away of the bride (Kanyadan). At the time of Simantapujan the bride’s father has to offer clothes and honour the elder son-in-law and daughter. This is referred to as the honouring of the elder son-in-law.’(4)

      3. The place: This ritual rather than being Vedic is worldly. As its name suggests it should be performed at the village border. However, at present it has become customary to perform it either at the place where the groom stays after his arrival at the bride’s village, in the temple of some deity like Maruti or any other convenient place.

    5.4 Donning the sacred thread (Yadnyopavitdharan)

    Before marriage the groom wears one sacred thread (yadnyopavit). After the tying of the headgear (mundavalya) to the groom the bride’s father gives him another sacred thread which is worn along with the previous one. After marriage one has to wear two sacred threads.

    5.5 Worship with a mixture of honey and curd (Madhuparka puja)

    • A. Definition: The mixture of honey and curd is called madhuparka. This mixture has a greater ability to absorb pleasant frequencies than either honey or curd alone. [Further details are given in‘Science of Spirituality: Chapter 7 – Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.] Some add sugar cubes (khadisakhar), clarified butter (ghee) and water to the above mixture. If curd and honey are not available then milk is used instead of curd and jaggery instead of honey.
    • B. The resolve (sankalpa): ‘I am worshipping the groom who has come to my place to accept my daughter, with madhuparka as a part of giving away the daughter (Kanyadan)’. The bride’s mother should pour water and the bride’s father should first wash the groom’s right, then left and then both the feet and wipe them with a dry towel.
    • C. Sprinkling of the mixture of honey and curd (Madhuparkaprokshan): Using the thumb and ring finger the groom should sprinkle the madhuparka in various directions intended for various deities and then partake of it. The deities get appeased with this act and prevent obstacles posed by distressing energies at the marriage ceremony.

    5.6 Worship of Lord Shiva (Har) and His consort Gouri (Gouriharpujan)

    This is a popular ritual.

    • A. Definition: Worship of Gouri and Har means the worship of the deities Parvati and Shiva.
    • B. The ritual: On the wedding day the bride should be given a ritualistic bath (mangalsnan) and new clothes to wear. Then on the grinding stone and muller used in the house (or two other stones) pictures of Gouri and Har should be drawn with turmeric. New cotton thread should be wound around the grinding stone. Then four pots should be placed on its four sides and it should be worshipped with the resolve of prolonging married life, etc. The reasons behind worshipping Gouri and Har thus are as follows:

      1. Just as the relationship of the grinding stone and the muller with one another is binding and solid so should that of the bride and groom be.

      2. The energy generated in the grinding stone should enter their system through food and increase their sattvik (sattva predominant) nature.

    • C. The resolve (sankalpa): ‘I am worshipping Gouri and Har so that I may acquire eternal married life, good progeny and plentiful food, wealth, etc.

    Until the time of departure to the pandal (mandap) for the wedding, the bride keeps offering rice to Gouri and Har. After this worship when the bride is taken for the ritual of holding the wedding curtain (Antahapatdharan vidhi) the bride’s mother takes over the worship of Gouri and Har until the wedding ceremony is complete so that the bride has a happy life. Consequently she does not see the bride and groom garlanding one another. This rule is followed so that the mother does not feel unhappy thinking “my daughter now belongs to someone else” and mar the spirit of the happy occasion. As men are less emotional than women this rule does not apply to the bride’s father. In some communities the groom’s mother too does not listen to the chanting of the eight auspicious verses (mangalashtakas) thinking that now she does not have a right to her son as before.

    5.7 Worship of the card denoting the auspicious time (Muhurtpatrikapujan)

    Before the wedding ceremony starts, the card written by the astrologer denoting the auspicious time should be worshipped. This is called worship of the card denoting the auspicious time (Muhurtpatrikapujan).


    Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publishers: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
    Vol. 3 to 10: First edition           Vol. 1 and 2: Second edition
    1. Vol.4, Pg. 423, 424
    2. Vol 8, Pg. 730
    3. Vol 8, Pg 727, 730
    4. Vol 8, Pg 727


    Which sanskars are vital for overcoming defects in foetus?


    1. Garbhadhan/Rutushanti

    1.1 The objectives

    • A. To overcome any defects in the ovum and the foetus and to purify the womb.

      2% of all physical and psychological problems are constituted by defects in the ovum and womb, half of them being physical and the other half psychological in nature. The table below gives the percentage of people in whom defects in the ovum are seen and the period when it occurs.

      The time when the
      defects in the ovum
      and the foetus
      become manifest
      The time when the
      defects in the ovum
      and the foetus
      become manifest
      From conception
      till the first
      75 7 to 8 months 1
      1 to 2 months 5 8 to 9 months 1
      2 to 3 months 3 From birth till the
      first year of life
      3 to 4 months 2 1 to 5 years 2
      4 to 5 months 2 5 to 10 years 2
      5 to 6 months 2 10 to 20 years 2
      6 to 7 months 1 Later 1
          Total 100
    • B. The son born through this sanskar (rite) has the capacity to acquire the knowledge of Brahman (Brahmavidya).

    1.2 The auspicious time (muhurt)

    This sanskar is performed on the first sixteen nights after the first menses following marriage. This period is referred to as the rutu period (rutukal). Excluding the first four, eleventh and thirteenth nights, the remaining ten nights are considered suitable for this sanskar. According to some, the fourth day should also be included. It is said that one who wishes that a son be born to him should have intercourse with his wife on the days with an even number (4-6-8-10-12-14-16) and one who desires a daughter, on odd number days (5-7-9-11-15). The sanskar of Garbhadhan is forbidden on the fourth (chaturthi), sixth (shashthi), eighth (ashtami), fourteenth (chaturdashi), new moon (amavasya) and full moon (pournima) dates (tithis) of the Hindu lunar calendar. On any of the remaining dates and on Monday, Thursday and Friday and during the reign of the lunar asterisms Shravan, Rohini, Hasta, Anuradha, Svati, Revati, the three Uttaras and Shatataraka the ritual should be performed after assessing a good propitious moon (chandrabal). Everything in Prakruti changes with time. Only Brahman is steady. Accordingly the fertilization of the ovum, the birth of a son or daughter, etc. vary with time. Thus based on these rules the dates, days of the week and lunar asterisms favourable for the birth of a son or daughter have been decided.

    1.3 The ritual

    • A. Partaking of the juice of ashvagandha or a sacred grass (durva): Chanting the mantra, the juice of ashvagandha or durva is instilled into the right nostril of one’s wife who is seated to one’s left. After that juice is swallowed she should take a sip of water from her palm (achaman). The right nostril comes under the perview of the Pingala nadi (channel). For most actions to be successful it is essential for the Pingala nadi to be operational. The juice of ashvagandha or durva facilitates its activation.
    • B. The main deity of Garbhadhan and marriage (Vivaha) is Prajapati.
    • C. Offering oti: After worship of the sun (Suryastavan), five married women (suvasinis) should offer oti along with fruit to the woman and should hand over a coconut placed on a pair of betel leaves to the husband. Thereafter offering obeisance to the deities and elders they should have their meals. The sun being a symbol of the tej (absolute fire) element is worshipped to impart radiance to the foetus. The womb lies in the lower abdominal cavity. Thus the practice of offering oti is followed so that conception occurs.
    • D. The ritual of intercourse: At night, clad in white clothing the woman should enter the bedroom and sitting on the bed decorated with flowers should eat betel leaves along with her spouse. Then she should lie down on the bed. The husband should place his hand on her navel and chanting the (Upasthasparsh) mantra commence the ritual of Garbhadhan. The mantra means : ‘May your vagina be made potent for conception and may The Lord bestow His grace upon you so that the foetus grows happily and does not abort before ten (lunar) months’. Uttering this he should touch her vagina (upastha) with three fingers. Then he should have intercourse with her and say, ‘I am endowing your ovum with my sperm’. Again he should chant a mantra which means ‘Just as the earth is impregnated by fire, Yahi by Indra and the directions bear the wind as their progeny , I too am impregnating you’. The ritual is finally complete when he touches her heart and then sips water from his palm (achaman). Touching the heart signifies love and affection.

    2. Punsavan (Begetting a son)

    2.1 The objectives

    The word Punsavan (पुंसवन) has originated from ‘punsya avanaha (पुँस्‍य अवन:)’. Punsya means prowess and avanivar means descent onto the earth. Hence after conception, this sanskar (rite) is performed to beget a son.

    2.2 The auspicious time (muhurt)

    This sanskar should generally be performed after confirmation of pregnancy preferably in the second month, that is before the foetus becomes active and the foetal sex organs develop. With time the effectiveness of the sanskar, decreases. The lunar asterism with masculine gender should be chosen for this rite. Punarvasu, Pushya, Hasta, Mul are the lunar asterisms which are widely accepted. All scholars however do not share the same view about the lunar asterisms with the masculine gender.

    2.3 The resolve (sankalpa)

    • A. To overcome any defects in the ovum or foetus.
    • B. To conceive a male child.
    • C. To not just destroy but also liberate the clan of demons who devour flesh and blood.
    • D. To acquire the blessings of Mahalakshmi, the presiding deity for continuous bestowal of opulence (soubhagya).
    • E. Worship of Lord Ganesh, Punyahavachan, Matrukapujan and Nandishraddha.

    2.4 The ritual

    After the sacrificial fire (hom) the woman should cup her hands and hold them proximal to the knees. On the right hand is placed curd made from the milk of a cow whose colour is the same as that of her calf (or if unavailable, their colour may vary). A cob of barley (jav) with its head facing the east should be placed on it like the male sex organ (penis). Then on either side of it are placed two black grams (udid) which resemble the testes. Then uttering thrice, ‘I am drinking the punsavan’, the woman should partake of it and sip water from her palm (achaman). This procedure is repeated twice. Then this ritual is deemed to be complete. Similar shapes emit similar frequencies according to the law ‘समानशीले व्‍यसनेषु सख्‍यम्‌ ।’ meaning ‘likes attract and befriend one another’.Thus the same assumption is made that the shapes of the penis and testicles attract identical frequencies of the male principle towards the womb.

    ‘The ritual of squeezing juice from the rootlets of the banyan tree into the left nostril, placing an earthen plate filled with water on the lower abdomen of the woman and chanting mantras such as the ‘Suparno’si (सुपर्णो ऽसि)’ , etc. prove effective in producing a male offspring. Brahmi, somlata, banyan, etc. are trees which prevent bilious humour (pitta), overcome vaginal defects, enhance oja (precursor of divine energy) and protect semen. The cumulative effect of all these is a generation of masculine components in the semen.’ (1)

    3. Simantonnayan (Parting the wife’s hair)

    3.1 The objectives and the auspicious moment (muhurt)

    The word Simantonnayan is derived from two words simant (meaning the line of parting of hair) and unnayan (meaning combing hair from the sides to the top). Simantonnayan thus means parting the wife’s scalp hair, drawing the hair from the sides, upwards. As a result pleasant frequencies enter her body through the Sahasrar chakra and facilitate the proper growth of the foetus.

    When performing a sanskar (rite) on the foetus in the womb, a flat earthen plate which represents the uterus is used.

    ‘Just as for Punsavan a lunar asterism with the masculine gender is necessary so also for Simantonnayan. If this sanskar is performed in a month with an even number preferably in the fourth month then it proves most beneficial. Punsavan is performed to conceive a male child while this rite is for the purification of the foetus. Just as having a son is important it is equally important that he should be born without deformities, good health and intelligence. For overall development of all organs of the foetus Simantonnayan is important during pregnancy.

    3.2 The ritual

    The offering of the sacrifice (yadnyaprasad) charged with the mantras of Simantonnayan, branches of trees like the holy fig tree (oudumbar) which bear plenty of fruit and also have medicinal value, porcupine spikes (since it procreates in large numbers), etc. are used by the man to part his wife’s hair. As a result of this sanskar which is performed with spiritual emotion (bhav), the latent divine consciousness (chaitanya) present in the pregnant woman has maximum effect on the foetus.’ (2)


    Shastra Ase Sangate. First edition, fifth reprint – October 94, Vedavani Publications, Kolhapur 416 010.
    1. Pg. 137
    2. Pg. 138


    When is the sanskar of Sodmunja performed?


    1. Mahanamnivrat

    This vowed religious observance is followed for a year before commencing the study of the Mahanamni mantra. Consequently, the study of the mantra becomes easier.

    2. Mahavrat

    This vowed religious observance is followed for a year after completion of the Mahanamnivrat and before commencement of the study of the Aranyak named Mahavrat.

    3. Upanishadvrat

    This follows the Mahavrat. It lasts for a year and facilitates the process of learning the Upanishads from the Guru.

    4. Godanvrat (The rite of Keshant)

    ‘In this sanskar (rite) the celibate is supposed to shave off all the hair on his head as well as the moustache and beard. This sanskar should be performed for the three classes, that is Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya. The variation of time according to the class has been described. In the Brahman, the sanskar of Godan is performed at the age of 16 years, in the Kshatriya at 22 years and in the Vaishya at 24 years. According to the Sutras during this rite the head should be shaved off completely without leaving even a tuft of hair (shikha) [Manusmruti 2.65]. However a ritual in which a small portion of hair is retained on the head is also described. According to another school of thought merely performing a fire sacrifice is equivalent to performing Godan; shaving off the head is not necessary. The following day the Guru commands the celibate “गोदानन्वतमाचर ।” meaning undertake the vowed religious observance of Godan. Thereafter for one year the celibate observes celibacy growing his hair and sporting a beard.’ (1)

    The four vowed religious observances given above are referred to as the the vowed religious observances of the four Vedas (Chaturveda vrat). The teacher makes one practise these vowed observances in the celibate student stage (brahmacharyashram).

    5. Keshant (Keeping a small portion of hair on the head)

    This sanskar (rite) of keeping a small portion of hair on top of the head should be performed at an auspicious moment (shubhamuhurt) in the sixteenth year of life. Only a tuft of hair, the size of the hoof of a cow, is retained in the region of the Brahmarandhra, on the crown of the head. The importance of retaining a tuft of hair on the crown of the head is given in point ‘The objectives’.

    6. Samavartan [Sodmunja (Giving up bachelorhood)]

    6.1 Definition

    The return of the student who has accepted the vowed religious observance of the celibate student (brahmacharyavrat) from the home of his Guru to his own is called Samavartan or Sodmunja.

    6.2 The ritual

    The following acts are performed amidst chanting of mantras – wearing clothes, applying lampblack (kajal), wearing earrings, a garland of flowers, footwear, holding an umbrella and a staff and wearing a gold bead. Now that the boy is returning to the stage of a married householder (gruhasthashram) this ritual teaches him to live like one.

    6.3 Sodmunja and the one on whom the sanskar is being performed (munja)

    ‘If a celibate (brahmachari) Brahman expires there are chances of his becoming a spirit (munja samandha). Hence Sodmunja is performed hurriedly after thread ceremony (Upanayan). However if a celibate expires then before performing his last rites, the sanskars of Samavartan and Arkavivaha are performed. Further it is noticed that inspite of performing the Sodmunja some celibates become spirits and even if it is not performed some of them are reborn in a spiritually evolved state. This makes it clear that becoming a spirit is independent of whether Sodmunja is performed or not, it is dependent on the desires and instincts harboured by that individual. Hence, after the thread ceremony, performing the Sodmunja immediately and heaving a sigh of relief that now “I am liberated from all problems” is ignorance. Sodmunja does not absolve one from the restrictions of ritualistic bathing (snan), sandhya, etc. Those have to be performed in all the four stages (ashrams). On the contrary, it is wrong to perform the Sodmunja immediately after the thread ceremony (Munja) as till marriage one ceases to be in any of the stages (ashrams).’(2)

    6.4 The celibate who has returned from his Guru’s home (snatak)

    • A. Meaning: ‘After completion of education at times some time elapses before the marriage of a man. This intermediate bachelor state is known as the stage of a celibate who has returned from his Guru’s home (snatak). Thus it is the stage between that of the celibate (brahmachari) and the married householder (gruhastha). After the ritual of Samavartan, till marriage the twice born (dvij) is a celibate who has returned from his Guru’s home.
    • B. Types: Vidyasnatak, vratasnatak and vidyavratasnatak are the three types of celibates who have returned from their Gurus’ homes. One who completes the study of the Vedas within twelve years and undergoes Samavartan is a vidyasnatak; one who undergoes Samavartan after performing the thread ceremony (Upanayan), the vowed religious observance of Savitri (Savitrivrat) and those of the Vedas is a vratasnatak; and the one who undergoes Samavartan after completion of the entire period of celibacy (brahmacharya) and the completion of the study of the Vedas is a vidyavratasnatak.’(3)
    • C. The regulations to be followed by a celibate who has returned from his Guru’s home
      • ‘I will not bathe nude either in the evening or at night without reason.
      • After marrriage, except during intercourse I will not look at a nude woman.
      • I will not travel or run in the rain.
      • I will not climb trees.
      • I will not climb down into a well.
      • I will not swim across a river.
      • I will not perform any deed which in my opinion is likely to endanger my life.

      I will abide by these rules’. After making this resolve one should remove the loin cloth (langoti) and the girdle (mekhala).

    If after performing the thread ceremony, in the stage of celibacy any relative has expired then one should observe mourning (ashouch) for three days, after returning home (Samavartan). Even if more than one relative has expired, mourning should be observed for only three days.


    Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publishers: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
    Vol. 3 to 10: First edition           Vol. 1 and 2: Second edition
    1. Vol. 3, Pg. 134
    3. Vol.10, Pg. 204

    Shastra Ase Sangate. First edition, fifth reprint – October 94, Vedavani Publications, Kolhapur 416 010.
    2. Pg. 129


    Why are specific sanskars performed after birth of a child?


    1. Jatakarma [Janmavidhi (The rite at birth)]

    1.1 The objectives

    To eliminate the defects in the foetus arising from intake of liquor (amniotic fluid) and to liberate the father who has glanced at the son’s face, from the three debts (to the ancestors, to the sages and to the deities) as well as the debt to society. When in the womb the liquor enters the foetus through the mouth. Since intake of liquor is forbidden, partaking it is considered to be a sin.

    1.2 Preparations

    As soon as a son is born, the father should glance at his face and then bathe facing the north. After donning clean attire he should apply sandalwood paste (gandha) to himself. Then before cutting the umbilical cord, the baby who is untouched by anyone except the midwife, who has not suckled the mother’s breast and has been bathed is placed facing the east onto his mother’s lap, by the father.

    1.3 The resolve (sankalpa)

    ‘I am performing this sanskar of Jatakarma (birth) so that this son of mine is freed from all defects from the time of conception including the intake of amniotic fluid, and is granted a long life, spiritual intellect (medha) and so that he may acquire the grace of The Lord. I am also performing worship of Lord Ganapati, Punyahavachan, Matrukapujan (worship of Matruka deities) and Nandishraddha which are a part of it.’

    1.4 The ritual

    There is no restriction of maintaining seclusion after a birth (soyar) in the family, only for this sanskar (rite). After completing the rituals right from worship of Lord Ganapati to Nandishraddha the mantra with the following meaning is chanted: ‘O beloved son, I am feeding you with honey and clarified butter (ghee) for the first time. May The Almighty bless you with knowledge, food and wealth. May He protect you always and bestow you with a lifespan of a hundred years’. One should then feed the infant a mixture of honey and clarified butter with a gold coin, wash the coin and place it in the baby’s right ear. Then drawing one’s mouth towards that of the son, the father should chant the verse, ‘ॐ मेधाते देव:० ।’ which means, ‘O beloved son, may The Lord bestow you with sharp acumen and intellect to study the Vedas. May the Ashvini deities who support the pran and apan vital energies and the others like Som (Moon) bestow you with perfect intellect’. Then replacing the same coin in the baby’s left ear the same verse, ‘Om medhate devaha (ॐ मेधाते देव:० ।).’ should be repeated. Gold has greater ability to both absorb and transmit frequencies than any other metal. Thereafter, chanting a mantra the father should sniff the child’s head thrice, and decide in his mind what the child should be named. When in the womb the baby’s Brahmarandhra is closed. When the father sniffs the head, it opens. Sometimes instead of sniffing the head the father exhales at the site of the Brahmarandhra, thrice . That too bestows the same benefit. However, it occurs only if the father is of a sattvik (sattva predominant) temperament. Then the mother’s right breast is washed and after chanting a mantra the mother holds the baby to her breast. Since the right breast is associated with the Pingala or Surya nadi (Sun channel), it helps in activating the baby’s right sided channel. Hence the process of digestion of milk commences easily. Nowadays since childbirth occurs in maternity hospitals one cannot perform the sanskar of Jatakarma there. Therefore it is often done along with the rite of Namakaran (naming).

    2. Namakaran (The naming ceremony)

    2.1 The objectives

    This sanskar is performed for longevity and prosperity in worldly life.

    2.2 The resolve (sankalpa) and the ritual

    This sanskar is performed on the twelfth or thirteenth day of birth. Placing the baby in the cradle (palakharohan) constitutes an important ritual, in this rite. The resolve expressed that day is ‘I am performing this sanskar (rite) of Namakaran (naming) to wipe off any sin generated from the ovum and foetus, to prolong the lifespan, so that the child achieves success in all activities and to acquire the grace of The Supreme Lord. I am performing the worship of Lord Ganapati, Punyahavachan, the worship of the Matruka deities (Matrukapujan) and Nandishraddha which are incorporated in it’.

    2.3 Selection of the name

    • A. The name should be selected using the following rules : The first letter should consist of any of the nineteen alphabets viz. g (ग), gh (घ), nh (ङ), j (ज), jh (झ), yan (ञ), d (ड), dh (ढ), n (ण), d(द), dh (ध), n (न), b (ब), bh (भ), m (म), y (य), r (र), l (ल), v (व), excluding the first two alphabets of the pentads in the Devanagari alphabets which are k (क), kh (ख), ch (च), cha (छ), t (ट), th (ठ), t (त), th (थ), p (प) and ph (फ). These alphabets being dominant in the pruthvi (absolute earth) and apa (absolute water) elements as well as in the tama component, the first letter of the name should not begin with them. [Refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 9 – Path of Chanting The Lord’s Name (Namasankirtanyoga )’.]
    • B. The last letter should be prolonged (dirgha) or should have the visarga [namaha is the visarga (the soft aspirate)]. The less prolonged letters (rhasva) are predominant in Energy (Shakti) while the more prolonged (dirgha) ones or those containing visarga are predominant in Shiv (Brahman). Since the motive in Spirituality is union with the Shiv principle, this rule is followed.
    • C. A boy’s name should consist of two or four letters, for example Bhadra, Dev, Devdatta, Bhava, Bhavanath, Nagdev, etc. while a girl’s should consist of an odd number of letters that is 3, 5 or 7. Letters in odd numbers predominate in Energy (Shakti) while those in even numbers are Shiv predominant.
    • D. The first letter in a girl’s name should not be double, for example Florence should not be spelt as Fflorence. Women predominate in Energy (Shakti) while the conjoint first letter is dominant in The Absolute Being (Purush). Thus this conjoint first letter can have an undesirable effect on the girl.
    • E. If one desires that the child be famous then its name should consist of two letters.
    • F. If one desires excellence in Spirituality, learning and conduct then a name consisting of four letters should be selected. The four letters represent Righteousness (Dharma), wealth (artha), desire (kama) and the Final Liberation (Moksha), the four objectives (purusharthas) of human life.
    • G. The name of a Brahman should suggest auspiciousness, that of a Kshatriya strength, that of a Vaishya wealth and that of a Shudra reproach. (Manusmruti 2.31).Formerly the practice of prefixing the name with ‘Sharma’ in a Brahman (priest), ‘Varma’ in a Kshatriya (warrior), ‘Gupta’ in a Vaishya (businessman) and ‘Das’ in a Shudra (labourer), was prevalent. Thus from the name one could perceive the class to which one belonged.

    2.4 The types of names

    ‘The five types of names which are popularly known are the name according to the lunar asterism at birth (nakshatranam), the name according to the month of birth (masanam), the name according to the family deity, the worldly name and the name according to the star sign (rashi).

    • A. The name according to the lunar asterism at birth (nakshatranam): Including Ashvin the twenty-seven lunar asterisms have twenty-seven corresponding presiding deities. The writings of Shankha state that the boy should be named according to the deity of the lunar asterism, for instance Ashvinikumar from Ashvini. Another type of name according to the lunar asterism also exists. Each lunar asterism is considered to have four parts (charans) and each of the parts is designated a letter. For instance the letters chu (चू), che (चे), cho (चो), la (ला) are associated with Ashvini, li (ली), lu (लू), le (ले), lo (लो) with Bharni, etc. The child is named according to the letter of the respective part of the lunar asterism when it is born, for example Chudeshvar for the first part of Ashvini, Lileshvar or Liladev for the first part of Bharni, etc. According to Boudhayan the name according to the lunar asterism should be kept a secret. The child should be imparted this name on the day of birth itself. Several teachers say that only the parents of the child should be aware of this name and that it should be uttered while offering obeisance unto the Guru at the time of the sanskar (rite) of thread ceremony (Upanayan). Currently, however, it is customary to impart this name during the sanskar of thread ceremony. The objective of maintaining secrecy about this name is to prevent the enemy from doing blackmagic (abhicharkarma) such as Jaran, Maran, etc. on the child.
    • B. The name according to the month of birth (masanam): The name chosen according to the month is based on the presiding deity of the month of birth. According to Gargya’s opinion the deities of the twelve months beginning with Margashirsha are as follows –
      कृष्‍णोऽनन्‍तोऽच्‍युतश्र्चक्री वैकुण्‍ठोऽयं जनार्दन: । उपेन्‍द्रो यज्ञपुरुषो वासुदेवस्‍तथा हरि: ।
      योगीश: पुण्‍डरीकाक्षो मासनामान्‍यनुक्रमात्‌ ।।
      All these names – Krushna, Anant, Achyut, Chakri, Vaikuntha, Janardan, Upendra, Yadynapurush, Vasudev, Hari, Yogish, Pundarikaksha are the Names of Lord Vishnu. From this, it appears that this custom of naming the child after the month of birth began after the Vaishnav sect gained fame in India, that is after the Sutra period.
    • C. The name according to the family deity: Before imparting this name to the child a suffix such as Das, Sharan, etc. is added to the Name of the family deity (kuladevata). If the family deity or the benevolent deity (ishtadevata) happens to be of the feminine gender, then in some places it is the practice to name the boy with the same name. In such cases a suffix ‘ji’ which converts it to the masculine gender, for example Shivaji from Shivai, Banaji from Banashankari, Bhavanrao from Bhavani, etc. is used.
    • D. The worldly name: This name is meant for social, worldly interactions and is the most important. This name is mainly kept to suit the cultural and prestigious background of the family. It should also be auspicious, easy to pronounce and pleasing to the ear.
    • E. The name according to the star sign (rashi): This name can be kept in two ways. 1. According to the lunar star sign (chandra rashi) – Supposing at the time of a child’s birth the moon is in Taurus (Vrushabh) the child’s name should include the letters b (ब), v (व) and u (उ), for example Brijesh, Vasant and Umashankar respectively. 2. According to the solar star sign (surya rashi) – If the same child’s date of birth is 12th March its solar star sign will be Pisces (Min).
    • F. Other names1. The dimunitive name (kutsitnam): If children of a couple do not survive after birth then it is customary to name the child born with a dimunitive name, for instance Dagadu, Dhondu, Bhiku, etc. It is a popular belief that by naming a child so, it will survive and will also attain longevity.

      2. The name amongst the Adivasi tribals: The tribal communities in eastern India name their child after a deceased ancestor. They believe that the soul of the late ancestor has been passed onto the newborn. Some tribal communities name the child according to the tree under which it was born or after a nearby mountain. Others name their children even after the day of the week, for example Soma after Somvar (Monday), Budha after Budhvar (Wednesday), Shukraya after Shukravar (Friday), etc.’(1)

    2.5 Astrology and the name

    Just as a child’s sex is decided in the womb, so is its name. A sound, touch, form, taste and odour coexist. Hence a child’s name corresponds to its appearance. Only one is unaware of it. Only the spiritually evolved know the matching name. If one cannot get advice from a spiritually evolved person the science of astrology can give guidance on the suitability of the name.

    2.6 The ritual and the four types of naming

    The host of the ritual should address the priest, ‘O priest, I am naming the child …..’, thrice. Then the priest should convey his approval saying, ‘Name him ….’. The consent given by a saintly priest helps the name and form of the child to blend with each other.

    • A. The first type of naming: After spreading rice in a bronze plate, using a fine gold rod one should write, ‘Devotee of …. [ Name of the family deity (kuladevata)]’ on it. Then one should write the name of the month of birth. The names of the twelve months are – 1. Krushna, 2. Anant, 3. Achyut, 4.Chakri, 5. Vaikuntha, 6. Janardan, 7. Upendra, 8.Yadnyapurush, 9. Vasudev, 10. Hari, 11. Yogish and 12. Pundarikaksha. These twelve names correspond to twelve months of the Hindu lunar calendar beginning from the month of Margashirsha, for instance Margashirsha corresponds to Krushna, Poush to Anant, etc.
    • B. The second type of naming: Then the name with which obeisance has to be offered should be uttered softly. Till the thread ceremony is performed, only the parents should know this name. Others should not come to know it. The reason behind this is that black magic (karni) cannot be done if the real name is not known. After the thread ceremony the son should be told, ‘Pay obeisance using the name…..’.
    • C. The third type of naming: According to astrology, the name should be chosen based on the Avakadaha chakra and the part (charan) of the lunar asterism at birth.
    • D. The fourth type of naming: This name is chosen for day-to-day activities according to one’s wish. The name should be appropriate otherwise it would sound awkward like if the name is Sonubai (sona means gold) and she wears anklets made of tin instead of gold. Even the short form of the name should sound nice, like ‘Shiva’ for ‘Shivadas’ sounds good but ‘Pakya’ for ‘Prakash’ does not.

    2.7 The naming of a daughter

    The naming of a daughter is done without chanting mantras while that of a son is done with them. The reason for this is that if the naming of the daughter is performed amidst chanting of mantras then there is a 5% chance of her being afflicted with problems. The main problem is the untoward effect on the ovaries. [Refer ‘Science of Spirituality: Chapter 9 – Path of Chanting The Lord’s Name (Namasankirtanyoga) point – Prefixing Shri or Om to the Name’.]

    3. Nishkraman (The rite of taking the child out of the house)

    3.1 The objectives

    The motive behind this sanskar (rite) is to increase the lifespan and wealth.

    3.2 The auspicious time (muhurt)

    This sanskar is performed in the third month after birth on the same date as the date of birth or the lunar asterism at birth. In the fourth month the baby is made to look at fire, a cow and the moon at an auspicious time.

    3.3 The resolve (sankalpa)

    ‘I am performing this sanskar of Nishkraman (taking the child out of the house) to win over The Lord’s grace so as to increase my child’s lifespan, for acquisition of wealth that is, Lakshmi (Shri) and to overcome the defects generated from the ovum and foetus’.

    3.4 The ritual

    The benevolent deities (ishtadevatas) should be worshipped with sandalwood paste (gandha), consecrated rice (akshata), flowers, etc. After chanting a mantra, the father and the other relatives should hold the child on their laps. A prayer should be made to The Almighty for the child’s longevity as follows: ‘I am giving the custody of this child unto the moon, the sun, the guardians of the eight directions (dikpal), the eight directions and the sky. So please protect him. Whether the child is vigilant or not protect him by day and by night. May the deities such as Lord Indra perpetually protect him.’

    After this, one should worship Lord Mahadev or Vishnu by going to Their respective temples or in the house of any well-wisher. Then the child should be placed in a sitting posture on a heap of rice and other food grains, spread on the floor smeared with cowdung. After chanting a mantra the head and forehead of the child should be sprinkled (prokshan) with holy ash (bhasma) or consecrated rice. This should be followed by worship of deities like Lord Mahadev, Ganesh, etc. with sweets like anarase, etc. The child should then be given some sweetmeats and placed in front of God in the prone position and then brought home.

    4. Annaprashan (Partaking of the first solid feed)

    4.1 The objectives

    This sanskar (rite) eliminates the defects generated by swallowing urine and faeces when in the mother’s womb.

    4.2 The auspicious time (muhurt)

    The sixth or the eighth month in case of a boy and the fifth or any month with an odd number in case of a girl is favourable for the sanskar of Annaprashan (partaking of the first solid feed). (Even numbers represent the masculine gender whereas odd numbers represent the feminine gender.)

    4.3 The resolve (sankalpa)

    ‘I am performing this sanskar of Annaprashan to win the grace of The Supreme Lord for the destruction of defects acquired by the intake of faeces by the baby when in the mother’s womb, the acquisition of pure food, etc., the acquisition of divine splendour (effulgence), the perfect development of the organs, longevity and to overcome the sins committed by the foetus. I am performing the worship of Lord Ganesh and the Matruka deities, Svastivachan, and Nandishraddha along with it.’

    4.4 The ritual

    After expressing the resolve the child should be placed to one’s right on a white cloth placed on the mother’s lap, in front of the deity. The child should face the east and should then be fed solid food for the first time. Food containing curd, honey and clarified butter (ghee) should be put in a gold or bronze vessel and the following prayer should be made ‘O God, the presiding deity of food, give us food which promotes health and bestows strength’. Then wearing some gold ornament on the hand one should give the child the first mouthful of solid food. After the child has had its fill, its mouth should be washed and then it should be placed on the ground.

    4.5 The test of earning a livelihood

    To test the choice of a livelihood, books, instruments, clothes and other tools which sculpt the future should be placed in front of the child. The object touched by the child as the first choice may be considered as the means of his earning a livelihood.

    5. Choulkarma [Chudakarma (The rite of keeping a small portion of hair on the front of the head)]

    5.1 The objectives

    This sanskar (rite) is performed in order to attain longevity, strength and radiance. The small portion of hair facilitates the entry of the sattva frequencies from the universe through the Brahmarandhra. It functions like the antenna of a television set. [Refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 38 – Path of Activation of Spiritual Energy (Kundaliniyoga)’.]

    5.2 The auspicious time (muhurt)

    It is customary to perform this rite either in the third, fourth or fifth year of a child after choosing an auspicious time. Nowadays, however it is often performed along with the thread ceremony.

    5.3 The resolve (sankalpa)

    ‘I am performing the sanskar choul (the rite of keeping a small portion of hair on the front of the head) in order to win the grace of The Lord so as to acquire pure food, for attaining longevity, to increase oja (precursor of divine energy) and strength and also to nullify the sins generated by the ovum and foetus. Along with it, I am performing the worship of Lord Ganapati, Punyahavachan, worship of the Matruka deities and Nandishraddha.’

    5.4 Javal (Jaul, Jayval)

    This is also known as the first haircut. This is customarily performed when the child is about one year old. Only some hair in front of the head is retained. The importance of keeping a small portion of hair will be clarified by point ‘5.1 The objectives’.


    Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publishers: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
    Vol. 3 to 10: First edition           Vol. 1 and 2: Second edition
    1. Vol.5, Pg. 32