Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (study)

by A. Yamuna Devi | 2012 | 77,297 words | ISBN-13: 9788193658048

This page relates ‘Customs, Belief and Rituals (Introduction)’ of the study on the Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (in English) which represents a commentary on the Amarakosha of Amarasimha. These ancient texts belong the Kosha or “lexicography” category of Sanskrit literature which deals with the analysis and meaning of technical words from a variety of subjects, such as cosmology, anatomy, medicine, hygiene. The Amarakosa itself is one of the earliest of such text, dating from the 6th century A.D., while the Amarakoshodghatana is the earliest known commentary on that work.

Customs, Belief and Rituals (Introduction)

(a) Pañcamahāyajña[1] (II. 7. 14; p. 166)–

pFive daily great observances or sacrifices]:

Amarakośa mentions the five sacrifices on which Kṣīrasvāmin elaborates with quotation from Manu (III. 70).

One’s own daily study of the Vedas (svādhyāya) is brahmayajña; performing the sacrifices (homa) is devayajña; honouring the guests (atithipūjanam) is nṛyajña; offering of waters to the manes (tarpaṇa) is pitṛyajña; and offerings to the living beings (bali) is bhūtayajña

svādhyāyo brahmayajñaḥ, homo devayajñaḥ, ātithipūjanaṃ nṛyajñaḥ, tarpaṇaṃ śrāddhākhyaṃ pitṛyajñaḥ, baliḥ bhūtayajñaḥ |
ādhyāpanaṃ brahmayajñaḥ pitṛyajñastu tarpaṇam |
daivo balirbhauto nṛyajño'tithipūjanam |

These daily observances have b een prescribed from Vedic times and is mentioned in the Śatapatha brāhmaṇa (XI. 5. 6. 1). The core intention of the ancients in prescribing these sacrifices was to guide people in following righteous path by discharging duities to the Gods or creator, to the ancient sages, to the manes, and to the whole universe with myriads of creatures of various grades of intelligence. The feelings of devotion, gratitude, reverence, loving memory, kindness and tolerence seem to have been the basic idea that prompted the sages to emphasise the importance of these five daily sacrifices. During the later ages some other purposes were attributed for the performance of these sacrifices. It was believed that every man was born with debts to teachers or ṛṣis, parents and forefathers, Gods, living beings and to fellowmen. By these performance of the sacrifices one was relieved of these debts. It was also said that man committed sins by injuring living beings in the five ways mentioned below and the sages prescribed that a house holder must perform the pañcamahāyajñas as atonement.

(b) Pañcasūnā[2] (III. 3. 113; p. 297)–

[Five sources of injury:]

Amarakośa mentions that the word sūnā signifies the uvulve. Kṣīrasvāmin commenting on the word sūnā adds that it also denotes the place of slaughter such as a kitchen.

The five sūnās are mentioned in Manu (III.69) as–

“A householder has five places where animal lives are destroyed; they are the hearth, the grinding stone, the broom stick, the pestle and mortar and the stool for water-pitcher. These five, when performing their proper functions, kill animal life.

āpi śabdāt prāṇivadhasthanam |
pañcasūnā gṛhasthasyeti tūpacārāt |

(c) Iṣṭāpūrta[3] (II. 7. 28; p. 168)–

[Pious liberality:]

Amarakośa defines pūrta as the act of digging ponds etc. Kṣīrasvāmin explains it quoting from the Mahābharata—

Dedication of deep wells, oblong large wells and tanks, temples, distribution of food and maintaining public gardens–these are called pūrta

khātaṃ vāpyādi | āha ca—
vāpīkūpataḍāgāni devatāyatanāni ca |
pūrtamāryāḥ pracakṣate |

The two words iṣṭā and pūrta are employed as a single word in samāhāradvandva compound as iṣṭāpūrta.

The earliest occurence of the word is found in the Ṛg Veda (X. 14. 8); Atharvaveda (III. 29. 1) and other Upaniṣads used in sense of what is sacrificed (iṣṭa) and what is filled (pūrta). These are acts of voluntary socialism based on the individual's moral responsibility for the society they live in. The Dharmaśāstra texts have emphasised on the performance of iṣṭāpūrta and have eulogised such acts as leading the performer to the heavens.

(d) Anvāhāryaṃ[4] (II. 7. 31; p. 169)–

[Monthly obsequies:]

The ancestors, after they die were believed to have obtained the status of manes. Certaian rituals were ordained to be performed in their memory.

Amarakośa defines it as the monthly obsiquies offered to the manes. Kṣīrasvāmin refers to it as the obseiquies performed on the new moon day–

āhnā hriyate'nvāhāryamamāvāsyāśrāddham |

Kutapa[5] (II. 7. 31; p. 169)–

[Eighth hour of the day:]

That part of the day, when the rays of the sun is less intense, was deemed the b est time for performing the rites to the manes by the Smṛtis.

Kṣīrasvāmin quotes the relevant text here while explaining the choice of the eighth hour of the day–

kuṃ tapati sūryo'treti kutapo madhyāhnātpravṛttaḥ śrāddhakālaḥ |
bhāge mandībhavati bhāskare |
sa kālaḥ kutapo yatra pitṛbhyo dattamakṣayam |

Pravaṇa[6] (III. 3. 56; p. 283)–

[Declivity, sloping down:]

Amarakośa records that the word signifies the ground sloping downwards, illustrating this Kṣīrasvāmin remarks that in śrāddha the southward sloping ground is preferred

krameṇa nimnāyāṃ bhuvi yathā—śrāddhe dakṣiṇapravaṇā bhūḥ |

(e) Kriyā (III. 3. 156-57; p. 308)–

[Rite for departed:]

Amarakośa mentions one of the meaning of kriyā as the rites performed to the departed.

Illustrating this sense, Kṣīrasvāmin remarks that such rites should be performed without shedding tears or crying

na roditavyaṃ hi kriyāḥ kāryāḥ prayatnataḥ |

Gandharva[7] (III. 3. 132; p. 301)–

The soul after death and prior to its being born again: Amarakośa mentions that gandharva signifies the soul after death and prior to its being born again; also, a horse and the divine singers.

Kṣīrasvāmin explaining the first idea cites from an unknown source the view that the Vindhya dwellers do not like this state of existence–

āntarā maraṇajanmanormadhye bhavaṃ satvaṃ yātanāśarīram |

āntarā bhavadeho hi neṣyate vindhyavāsinā |

(f) Niyama[8] (II. 7. 37; pp. 170-71)–


Amarakośa defines niyama as vrata or the fasts which are meritorious.

Kṣīrasvāmin explains it as the abstinence from food and others; the upavāsas like kṛcchra, cāndrāyaṇa and others were considered meritorious–

vratyata varjyate'nnādi yatreti tadvratamupavāsakṛcchracāndrāyaṇādikaṃ puṇyaparyāyam |

(g) Aupavastam (II. 7. 38; p. 171)–


Amarakośa gives it as a synonym of upavāsa.

Kṣīrasvāmin supplements that the term is also read as aupavastra and used for denoting food to be avoided during fast. He quotes from the Smṛti that substances like urad gram, honey, masūra, are to b e avoided in fasting–

upavastāprāpto'syaupavastraṃ upavastasyedamaupavastamityeke upavasturidamityannādyapi yatsmṛtiḥ—māṣānmadhu masūrāṃśca varjayedaupavastrake |

(h) Kalka (III. 3.14; p. 271)–


Amarakośa mentions that the term kalka denotes b oth dirt and sin. Kṣīrasvāmin illustrates kalka in the sense of sin and quotes from an unknown source that 'penance and self study were not sins'–

enaḥ pāpaṃ | yathā—tapo na kalko ādhyayanaṃ na kalkaḥ |

(i) Kṛcchra (II. 7. 52; p. 147)–

[Expiatory penance:]

Amarakośa mentions that kṛcchra[9] is like sāntapana and others. Kṣīrasvāmin explains that kṛcchra is 'a penance that destroys the sin'[10] and sāntapana is 'that penance which exerts or emaciates'. He quotes from a Smṛti that in sāntapana ' during first three days one shall eat his meals in the day, during the second three days only in the evening and during the next three days he shall subsist on food obtained without solicitation and arrived at any part of the day; and during that last three days he should abstain from food'.

Thus it seems that the observance is meant for a duration of fifteen days–

kṛntati pāpaṃ kṛcchraṃ nāma tapaḥ |
saṃtapane bhavaṃ sāṃtapanaṃ |
tryahaṃ sāyaṃ tryahaṃ prātastryahamadyādayācitaṃ |
tryahaṃ paraṃ ca nāśnīyātkṛcchraṃ sāṃtapanaṃ smṛtam ||

It is interesting to observe that the above mentioned procedure for sāntapana is named in Manu (II. 211), as prājāpatya. Again Manu (II. 212; Yājñavalkya III. 314) mention sāntapana as subsisting on cow's urine and five other things; and the duration of penance is variously mentioned by each text ranging from two to eighteen days.

(j) Tīrtham[11] (II. 7. 51; p. 173)–

[Water poured in religious rites:]

Amarakośa explains the part of right hand by which water is taken or poured in religious rites and the parts named after deities as four daiva–the water at the tip of the finger, kāya–the portion of the palm near the small finger; pitryam–portion between the thumb and the finger; brāhma is the base of the thumb.

Kṣīrasvāmin supplements this with a quotation from Yājñavalkya smṛti (I. 19) and adds the fifth name saumya as the centre of the palm–

kaniṣṭhādeśinyaṅguṣṭhamūlānyagraṃ karasya ca |
prajāpatipitṛbrahmadeva-tīrthānyanukramāt |
karamadhyaṃ saumyaṃ tvāhuḥ |

(k) Athiti (II. 7. 34; p. 170)–


Kṣīrasvāmin defines an atithi in the words of Smṛti that ' one who is not from the same village, a brāhmaṇa and a visitor who does not stay even a night is termed atithi.

He further adds that an atithi is so called because he does not stay for a whole tithi (day) or is one who is constantly on the move; the great one who has completely abandoned the count of the days, parva and utsava because he is constantly moving is truly a guest while the others are mere visitors–

naikagrāmīṇamatithiṃ vipraṃ sāṃgatikaṃ tatheti smṛteḥ |
nāsti tithirasyātithiḥ ātati satataṃ
gacchati vā yatsmṛtiḥ—
ādhvanīno'tithirjñeyaḥ | kiṃ ca—
tithiparvotsavāḥ sarve
tyaktā yena mahātmanā |
ātithiḥ sa hi vijñeyaḥ śeṣaḥ prāghūrṇīkaḥ smṛtaḥ |

In this context Kṣīrasvāmin adds two more words for a guest–prācūrṇīkaḥ and prāghūrṇīkaḥ and further remarks that to recieve him standing (abhyutthānam)–was a mark of respect–

prācūrṇikaḥ prāghūrṇīko'pyabhyutthānaṃ tu gauravam |

Ātithya[12] (II. 7. 33; p. 169)–

[Offering for a guest:]

Amarakośa defines ātithya as that which is proper for a guest.

Kṣīrasvāmin observes that the word ātithya is used both by Kātya and the author of Mālā to denote a guest while Śāśvata (247) ordains both the meanings fit for a guest and a guest to the word ātithyaātithau sādhu, kātyastvāha—

āveśikaṃ vipaścidbhirātithyamabhidhīyate, ātithyo'tithirāganturiti ca mālā, śāśvato'ta evobhayamāha -ātithyaṃ syādatithyartha ātithyamatithiṃ viduḥ |

(l) Asvādhyāyaḥ (II. 7. 54; p. 174)–

[One who has not made his studies:]

Amarakośa mentions that one who has not made his study or Asvādhyāyaḥ is called nirākṛtiḥ. Kṣīrasvāmin makes note of the custom that such a man was considered an outcaste and quotes from Manusmṛti (II.168) 'that one who strives to acquire other learnings without studying the Vedas is degraded to the status of śūdra even in his life time along with his progeny.

(m) Vrātyaḥ (II. 7. 54; p. 174)–

[An uninitiated person:]

Amarakośa defines a vrātyaḥ[13] as one who has not undergone the principal saṃskāras.

Kṣīrasvāmin specifies that it denotes a person who has not undergone the saṃskāra especially the upanayana and quotes Yājñāvalkya (I. 38) in this regard', specifying the age limit for initiation (upanayana) as 16th year for brāhmaṇas, 22nd for kṣatriyas and 24th year for vaiśyas.

Those who exceed these (age limits) are vrātyas (outcastes) disqualified in performing any ritual until they carryout the expiatory rite called vrātyastyoma

vrate sādhuḥ kālo vratyaḥ tatra bhavaḥ vrātyaḥ prāyaścittārhaḥ saṃskāro'tropanayanam yatsmṛtiḥ—sāvitrīpatitā vrātya vrātyastomādṛte kratoḥ |

The Yājñavalkya smṛti (I. 38) mentions that vrātya is a sacrifice performed to recover the rights forfeited by the non-performence of due saṃskāras.

Footnotes and references:


pāṭho homaścā'tithīnāṃ saparyā tarpaṇaṃ baliḥ |
ete pañcamahāyajñā brahmayajñā'di nāmakāḥ |


sūnā'dhojihvikā'pi ca |


pūrtaṃ khātādi karma yat |


ānvāhāryaṃ māsike |


āṃśo'ṣṭame'hnaḥ kutapo'striyām |


pravaṇe kramaḥ -nimnorvyāṃ prahve nā tu catuṣpathe |


āntarā bhava satve'śve gandharve divye gāyane |


niyamo vratamastrī taccopavāsādi puṇyakam |


kṛcchraṃ sāntapanā'dikam |


Manu (II. 210) prescribes kṛcchra penance for trying to strike a Brāhmaṇa with a weapon or a cudgel 181


āṅgulyagre tīrthaṃ daivaṃ svalpāṅgulyoḥ mūle kāyaṃ |madhye'ṅguṣṭhāṅgulyoḥ pitryaṃ mūle tvaṅguṣṭhasya brāhmam |


kramādātithyā'titheye ātithyarthe'tra sādhuni |


vrātyaḥ saṃskāra hīnaḥ

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