The Catu-Bhanavara-Pali (critical study)

by Moumita Dutta Banik | 2017 | 50,922 words

This study deals with the Catu-Bhanavara-Pali, (lit. “Text of the Four Recitals”) which in Buddhism is popularly known as “The Book of Protection”. This text, in the Pali language, represents a recital of the Dhamma meant for protection and deliverance from evil and sorrows as well as promoting welfare and well-being. The spreading time of Catubhan...

Efficiency of Paritta (Buddhist protecting charms)

In this part efficacy or the Efficiency of paritta is to be discussed which deals in origination, its spiritual level of existence and above all its authenticity and power of truth in it. This however is to be found in the ttipitaka.

Among the practitioners and wellwishers of Buddhism, it is not strange that paritta suttas are often ridiculed at or laughed at, specially in a society overcroweded intellectual minds which are although rational are after presudisced harden and lost in dreary habits.

However it may be ridiculed that paritta words were practiced by Buddha himself and proofs had been found that during prevalence of most social evils like ailments, epidemic and mass starvation, this paritta sutta brought drastic changes in overcoming these calamities and raining back order in this society.[1]

The Catu-Bhanavara-Pali Catubhanavara or the text of the four recitals or the Great Book of protection (Maha-paritta-potthaka) is a recital of the Dhamma for protection and deliverance from evil, sorrows and also promoting welfare and wellbeing. The selected discourses for recital are known as Paritta suttas.

Grammatical meaning of parittas is parittas DA = “small, little, trifling”. This is collection of Pali texts (varying from 28-32) taken from the Digha, the Majjhima, the Anguttara and the Khuddaka and used as a manual for novices in monastic training and as a collection of mantras for protective, blessing and healing purpose. They are collectively known as the Catubhanavara (the “four sections for recitation”) known to the Sinhalese as “pirith Potha”. The special occasion when Sinhalese monks recite the whole Catubhanavara is known as “pirith pinkima” (for paritta punna, kamma), a favourite religious ceremony conducted on various occasions like house-warmings, anniversaries, etc. The Sinhalese Catubhanavara comprises 29 extracts of which the first five pieces are preliminary to the remaining 24 which form the Paritta proper. A 13th century monk, pupil of Ananda Vanaratana wrote the Saratthasamuccaya as a commentary to it.[2]

In Burmese tradition Paritta or Rakkhanas are originally prayers for prosperity, safety, and the welfare of the Buddhist devotees in Burma, but graduallty the paritta Gathas, became Buddhist spell.

The practice of reciting and listening to the Paritta suttas began very early in the history of Buddhism, It is recited in the temples and houses in SriLanka and Myanmar, ceremonially to ward off evils and bring good luck. It is not a separate book in the Pali canon, but it is an anthology of suttas culled out from the five Nikayas[3] of the Sutta 6 pitaka.

Now a question arises about the meaning of 'bhanavara', 'Bhanavara' is a section of the scriptures divided into such for the purposes of recitation. Literally the word 'Bhanavara' means ‘recital’ and one 'Bhanavara' consists of 8000 syllables. In this text there are four such Bhanavaras.

Paritta may therefore be interpreted as Buddhist protecting charms or Buddhist Raksha Mantras. ‘Maha’ means great; sacred; auspicious; mighty, alreudant. Thus as the great collection of Buddhist spells is generally known as maha paritta suttas in Burma.

Paritta the term is famous in Pali. It means principally ‘Protection’ which is used to describe certain sutta discourses (spoken by the Buddha) that are regarded as affording protection and deliverance from harmful influences.[4]

It is a collection of sermons or discourses. Four such collections are called Catubhanavara. The whole Pali tripitaka has been divided in 2547 bhanavaras for the benefit of committing to memory. The bhanavara consists of two words bhana + bara. The advantage of recitation of Pali tripitaka divided into different parts and is called bhanavara as preaching of Buddha; such as the whole Dighanikaya[5] has been divided in 64 bhanavara that is section for recital. This sutta has been chosen from five Nikayas. The most important suttas have been connected to form the catubhanavara pali as it has been referred. King Abhaya Vattagamini’s time marks SriLanka’s Alok Vihars Buddhist sermons which have been written down and since this time suttas have been divided and mentioned. In one bhanavara there are 8 thousand letters forming one pada. 4 padas creats one gatha. One bhanavara consist of 2 to 50 thousand gathas.

Initially this book consisted of 4 bhanavara. That is why the catu bhanavara is known in pali. This contains the “Sarattha Samuccaya” composition which gives joy and was given by the student.

Since the time of Buddha for the healing of illness, the sutta’s recitation was common. At the time when bhikhus became ill then recitation of this suttas to cure them is found in the Girimananda Bojjhanga.

At the time of meditation in the jungle when the bhikkhus faced problem then Tathagata asked them to recite the Ratana sutta. The Ratana sutta is preached to in Vaishali. This sutta is also recited to overcome unnatural fear and other calamity.

The father of Dirghayu Kumara went to Buddha when his son was about to die within one week and prayed to Lord Buddha for saving his son. Then Buddha replied if he was to make a stage at the door of his house and make a sitting arrangement of 8 or 16 samana bhikkhu and they would recite paritta sutta for at least one week. Then his son might not die. After doing this his son was saved and got a new name Dirghayu Kumara’ The whole paritta sutta is chanted traditionally generation by generation.

Many Many years ago according to Rajkumar Vijaya seven hundred Sinhala Ariyans reached to Srilanka from north India. There at first Rajkumar Vijaya fell in love with princes Kubeni.

The above incident has been stated in Milinda Panha. Ratana sutta, Khandha paritta, Moraparitta, Dhajagga paritta, Atanatiya paritta, Angulimala paritta, are the six suttas that have been described.

The spreading time of catubhanavara pali was at the earlier time of Buddha ghosa. Paritta atthakatha have been started to be written before Achariya Buddha ghosa went to Sinhala. Like Nanodaya of Achariya Buddhaghosa, this book is not also available today.

Description about parikraman was written at Atanatiya paritta of samantapasadika vinaya Atthakatha by Buddhaghosa. From this it is proved that Maha paritta recitation has been found from the earlier stage of Buddhaghosa’s time. 'Parittatika' was written by Tejadeepa Bhikkhu which is available today also in Myanmar.

In Vedic religion there are several methods of removing sufferings. The Vedic followers performed these rituals by keeping fire as a symbol of purity. Fire makes a burning sensation and physical desire but in Buddhist opinion, water is considered as a symbol of quieteness and peace. In India nowadays, Vedmantra, Ramayana, Gita are recited with great honour. And in Buddhist countries, Mahaparitta is also as famous as the Vedic counterparts. In some places it is recited for seven days.

It is said that a place can be free from any bad happening if Mahaparitta is chanted there. If chanting is not possible then this holy book should be kept in home with respect and honour for welfare. By chanting Mahaparitta sutta information regarding ancient Indian history, and ancient social condition can be found. In Mahasamaya sutta and Atanatiya sutta, descriptions about sur-asura, deva, yakkha, naga, gandharba, kumbha, ancient tribe were very important. There are also similar 4 bhanavara or recitals in the above mentioned book named catubhanavara Pali First Bhanavara starts from Sarangamana to dhajagga Paritta, second bhanavara starts from Mahakassapa Thera bojjhangha to isigili sutta. Third bhanavara starts from dhammacakkapavattana sutta to Atanatiya sutta’s first part and fourth bhanavara includes remaining part of Atanatiya sutta. All the subject matters of this book of collections are taken from sutta pitaka such as Maha samaya sutta and Atanatiya had been taken from Dighanikaya. Isigili sutta and Saccavibhanga sutta had been taken from Majjhimanikaya.[6] canda Pritta, suriya Paritta, dhajagga Paritta, Mahakassapa Thera bhojjhanga, Maha Moggallana Thera bojjhangha, Maha chunda Thera bojjhangha, dhmmachakkapavattana sutta had been taken from Samyutta nikaya.[7] Alabaka, kasi bharadaja sutta, parabhava sutta and Vasala sutta are collected from the khuddaka patha, Sutta nipata of the Khuddakanikaya.[8]

Footnotes and references:


Buddhist Pali recitals, by Ve.Waragoda sarada nayaba mahathera and rev. Weragoda sundida, jointly complied. And edited by Prof. Chandima Wijebandara, Singapore 2007. By Ven sew Samyutta Nikaya V. Pandit P. Pemaratana Thero. Page-XIV.


See Net Dhajagga sutta, or


Nikaya is pali word meaning “Volume”. It is used like the Sanskrit word Agama to mean collection “assemblage”.


Eleven Holy Discourses of Protection, Maha Paritta Pali, Sao Mtuh Hmat Win.


Digha is a Pali word which means ‘long’ is the first division of Sutta Pitaka and consists of thirty-four suttas, grouped into three vaggas or divisions.


Majjhima Nikaya or ‘Middle-length Discourses’ of the Buddha, is the second of the srive nikas (collections of the Sutta Pitaka).


The third division of the sutta pitaka, contains 3889 settlas grouped into sive sections (vaggas).


The khuddaka Nikaya, or collection of Little texts (Pali smaller lesser). The fifth division of the sutta Pitaka.

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