Atithi or Guest Reception (study)

by Sarika. P. | 2022 | 41,363 words

This page relates ‘Treatment of Atithi (guest-reception) in Ramayana’ of the study on Atithi-Saparya—The ancient Indian practice of hospitality or “guest reception” which, in the Indian context, is an exalted practice tracable to the Vedic period. The spirit of Vedic guest-reception (atithi-saparya) is reflected in modern tourism in India, although it has deviated from the original concept. Technically, the Sanskrit term Atithi can be defined as one who arrives from a far place with hunger and thirst during the time of the Vaishvadeva rite—a ceremony that includes offering cooked food to all Gods.

Part 1 - Treatment of Atithi (guest-reception) in Rāmāyaṇa

Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, two great Epics give much importance to atithi-saparyā. There are many references in atithi-saparyā, which reflect the social life. Atithi-saparyā gained importance during the period of Epics, with respect to the dharma of a householder.

Rāmāyaṇa describes several beautiful stories on atithi-saparyā.

1. Vālmīki’s reception of Brahma

In Bālakāṇḍa, Brahma visits Vālmīki. Vālmīki treates Brahma standing up with joined hands and also offeres arghya, pādya, āsana, vandana etc.[1]

2. Story of Ṛṣyaśṛṅga

Another story is that of the visit to Ṛṣyaśṛṅga’s hermitage by the gaṇikas of Aṅga kingdom; Ṛṣyaśṛṅga treats them well. Then Ṛṣyaśṛṅga goes to Aṅgarājya along with gaṇikas. King of Aṅga kingdom treats Ṛṣyaśṛṅga very respectfully and at the very moment Parjanya deva showers rain and makes the entire world happy. Romapāda, King of Aṅga kingdom ultimately gives his daughter to Ṛṣyaśṛṅga.

3. Ṛṣyaśṛṅga at Ayodhya

When Ṛṣyaśṛṅga arrived at Ayodhya for participating in the yajña, Daśaratha welcomes him warmly. At another instance, when Daśaratha performed Aśvamedha sacrifice, he treats Vasiṣṭha with great respect.[2] The ślokas 42 to 58 of the 18th canto of Bālakāṇḍa describe about the Daśaratha's reception of Viśvāmitra.[3] Daśaratha praises Viśvāmitra. Praise with sweet words is a part of hospitality.

In another instance Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are enjoying a journey along with Viśvāmitra. They reach the Aṅga’s hermitage. Sages of the hermitage treat them respectfully. Further in another place where Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Viśvāmitra reached Siddhāśrama in their journey, they get a warm welcome. When they departed from Siddhāśrama to Mithila, animals, birds etc. followed them. There they get a warm welcome. Actually, it is a part of hospitality. This idea can be seen in Dharmasūtras and Dharmaśāstras. On the way to Mithila, Viśvāmitra, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are respectfully honoured by King Sumati and they stayed one night there. Janaka, king of Mithila received Viśvāmitra, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. This is another striking situation of atithisatkāra in Bālakāṇḍa.

4. Viśvāmitra and Vasiṣṭha

One of the important instances of atithipūja is the reception of Viśvāmitra by Vasiṣṭha. This is one of the best stories about atithi-saparyā. Vasiṣṭha respectfully treats Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Viśvāmitra when they reach his hermitage.[4] Vasiṣṭha gives food and water to the renowned atithis. Then they engage in friendly talk. The hospitality could have finished there. But Vasiṣṭha says that he intends to offer all the retinue and force of Viśvāmitra proper reception.[5] Viśvāmitra politely refuses and says that he was already satisfied.[6] However, Vasiṣṭha, with the help of Kāmadhenu, arranged a great feast and many other luxurious treats to all the members of Viśvāmitra’s retinue.[7] After the reception Viśvāmitra was desperately craving for Kāmadhenu. But Vasiṣṭha was not ready to part with Kāmadhenu. This ended up in a great quarrel between them. Viśvāmitra was satisfied with the reception earlier accorded by. If it is ended then no controversies regarding Kāmadhenu or the conflict between them would have developed. This atithi-saparyā of Vasiṣṭha paved the way for Viśvāmitra the Kṣatriya king to be a great tapasvin. Viśvāmitra's great tapas and thereby reaching the position of a brahmanic saint is the result of Vasiṣṭhas atithi-saparyā. Knowing the greatness of maharṣi Viśvāmitra decides to perform tapas and all these are the end result of the atithi-saparyā.

5. Atithi-saparyā of Guha

In the context of “the Guha saṅgama”, when Rāma arrived at Śṛṅgivera with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa, Guha, the ruler of Śṛṅgivera receives Rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa by offering fruits, flowers and many other items to them. Rāma here hesitates to accept the customary saparyā of Guha's pleasure.

During vanavāsa Rāma visits hermitages of Bharadvāja and Vālmīki. He was welcomed by giving arghya, pādya and also different varieties of dishes, fruits etc. When Bharata went to see Rāma to bring him back to the palace, on their way Guha, Bharadvāja and Vālmīki treated them very well. At the end of Ayodhyākāṇḍa, when Rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa reached the hermitage of Atri, he also, along with his wife Anasūyā, is said to have extended a very warm reception with arghya and pādya.

6. Bharadvāja’s atithi-saparyā to Bharata

Another interesting episode is Bharata’s arrival at the hermitage of Bharadvāja. While treating his atithi Bharadvāja wants to please the retinue of Bharata. It is just same as Vasiṣṭha's reception of Viśvāmitra. Certain resemblances can be seen in both. When Bharadvāja invites Bharata for atithi-saparyā, Bharata replies that with the arghya, pādya available from the forest he has already done the atithi-saparyā. Then Bharadvāja replies that he keenly wants to treat Bharata's army. He arranged not only delicious food but also liquor with beautiful women to serve. The soldiers felt it as heaven and wished to remain there for ever. Here Bharadvāja's atithi-saparyā was a luxurious one. While comparing Bharadvāja's and Vasiṣṭha's atithi-saparyā we can find certain common features. Vasiṣṭha provide delicious food to his atithi, Bharadvāja in addition to food, also arranged liquor and beautiful woman to serve the dishes.

7. Anasūya’s offering to Sītā

Another episode of pleasing atithi can be seen in Atri’s hermitage. Anasūya is an aged female ascetic, wife of Sage Atri. On the onward journey to Daṇḍaka, Rāma and Sītā entered the hermitage of Atri. Anasūya being a staunch observer of dharma reminds Sītā about chastity and dharmas that are to be observed by women. Then Anasūya gives her ornaments and other valuable cosmetics to Sītā as a gift. Anasūya’s motherly affection towards Sītā can be seen here. Enquiry about the well beings of atithi and also uttering good words to atithi are essential part of atithi-saparyā.

8. Śarabhaṅga’s atithi-saparyā

In Āraṇyakāṇḍa when Rāma enters Daṇḍakāraṇya with Lakṣmaṇa and Sītā, the sages living there welcomed them by giving seat, arghya, fruits etc.[8] From there, Rāma visits the hermitage of Śarabhaṅga, along with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa. There Śarabhaṅga welcomes them by giving sweet ripe fruits.

9. Atithi-saparyā of Mārīca offered to Rāvaṇa

There is a description in Āraṇyakāṇḍa that indicates the atithi-saparyā accorded to Rāvaṇa when he visited Mārīca seeking help to distract Rāma from his hermitage. Mārīca received Rāvaṇa with much warmth and hospitality.[9]

10. Sītā as an ātitheyī

Another situation of atithi-saparyā is that when Rāvaṇa comes to the hermitage of Śrī Rāma as a Brahmin ascetic. Sītā receives Rāvaṇa with due respect when he comes to the hermitage.[10] This shows Sītā gives very much importance to do her duty as an ātitheyī.

11. Śabarī's atithi-saparyā

Śabarī's atithi-saparyā is also worth mentioning . One of the important situations in Rāmāyaṇa is the visit of Rāma to the hermitage of Śabarī. When Rāma entered the hermitage of Śabarī along with Lakṣmaṇa, She received them with full respect by giving arghya and pādya. She also washed their feet and gave fresh fruits to them. Then she gave information about Sītā and told them to seek the help of Sugrīva who lived in the mountain Ṛṣyamūka. Because of her good hospitality, Śabarī got salvation and she went to the heaven.[11]

12. Sugrīva's reception

In Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, the situations which describes atithi-saparyā is, when Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa along with Hanumān met Sugrīva at Ṛṣyamūkācala mountain, he received them very well with all respect.

13. Reception of Svayaṃprabhā

Another important situation in Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa is that when Hanumān, Aṅgada, Jāṃbavān and other vānaras who were searching for Sītā, entered a cave in search of food and water. There lived a female ascetic named Svayaṃprabhā. She treated them by giving fruits and drink from her garden.

14. Atithi-saparyā of Maināka mountain

When Hanumān flew over the ocean, the mountain Maināka emerged from ocean and requested him to accept his hospitality. Maināka requested Hanumān to take rest for a while and treated him very well.[12] Though Hanumān rejected the offer, the warmth of Maināka’s words are noteworthy.

15. Atithi-saparyā of Vibhīṣaṇa

In the Yuddhakāṇḍa, Vibhīṣaṇa is said to have offered a heartful ātithya to all the vānaras after his coronation as the Lord of Laṅkā.

When Rāma reached Ayodhya, Bharata, Śatrughna and all the people of Ayodhya received Rāma, Sītā, Lakṣmaṇa and all others along with them by giving food, gold, dress, palace etc.

16. Atithi-saparyā at the time of consecration of Śrī Rāma

In the Uttarakāṇḍa of Rāmāyaṇa, there are lot of situations which describe the importance of atithi-saparyā. One of such situations is the consecration of Śrī Rāma. When the sages such as Agastya, Kaṇva, Kauśika, Dhaumya, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Gautama, Atri, Kaśyapa, Bharadvāja and Vasiṣṭha came to see Rāma, he welcomed them with all respect and treated them very well by giving them arghya, pādya and seat for them.

In Vālmīkirāmāyaṇa, the arghya and pādya offerings can be seen very often. Some of them are, In the Uttarakāṇḍa, when Nārada visited Rāvaṇa, the latter welcomed him very well. Another occasion is when Sītā entered the hermitage of Vālmīki after the banishment, the sages welcomed her to their hermitage by giving arghya and pādya. When sages came to the palace of Śrī Rāma to inform him about the harassment they experienced from Lavaṇāsura, Rāma welcomed all sages by giving them arghya and pādya and also fruits, sacred water and gifts. He also promised to save them from the torture of Lavaṇāsura. When Śatrughna enteres the hermitage of Vālmīki after killing Lavaṇāsura, Vālmīki welcomed him with full respect. Another situation is when Rāma killed Śambūka and enteres the hermitage of Agastya, he welcomes and treats Rāma very well. The situation in which when Lava and Kuśa come to Ayodhya to participate in the Aśvamedhayajña, Rāma welcomes them by giving gifts. There is also another situation in which when sage Durvāsas entered the palace of Rāma, the latter welcomed the sage with all respect and treated with delicious feast.

Footnotes and references:


vālmīkiratha taṃ dṛṣṭvā sahasotthāya vāgyataḥ |
prāñjaliḥ prayato bhūtvā tasthau paramavismitaḥ ||
pūjayāmāsa taṃ devaṃ pādyārghyāsanavandanaiḥ |
praṇamya vidhivaccainaṃ pṛṣṭvā caiva nirāmayam ||
athopaviśya bhagavānāsane paramārcite |

vālmīkaye ca ṛṣaye saṃdideśāsanaṃ tataḥ || Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Bālakāṇḍa, 1.24-26


abhivādya vasiṣṭhaṃ ca nyāyataḥ pratipūjya ca |
abravīt praśritaṃ vākyaṃ prasavārthaṃ dvijottamam ||
ibid., 13.2


prahṛṣṭavadano rājā tato'rghyamupahārayat |
sa rājñaḥ pratigṛhyārghyaṃ śāstradṛṣṭena karmaṇā |
kuśalaṃ cāvyayaṃ caiva paryapṛcchannarādhipam |
pure kośe janapade bāndhaveṣu suhṛtsu ca ||
ibid., 18.44,45


svāgataṃ tava cetyukto vasiṣṭhena mahātmanā |
āsanaṃ cāsya bhagavān vasiṣṭho vyādideśa ha ||
upaviṣṭāya ca tadā viśvāmitrāya dhīmate |
yathānyāyaṃ munivara
: phalamūlamupāharat || ibid., 55.2,3


ātithyaṃ kartumicchāmi balasyāsya mahābala |
tava caivāprameyasya yathārhaṃ sampratīccha me ||
satkriyāṃ hi bhavānetāṃ pratīcchatu mayā kṛtām |
rājā tvamatithiśreṣṭha
: pūjanīya: prayatnata: || ibid., 55.13,14


evamukto vasiṣṭhena viśvāmitro mahāmatiḥ |
kṛtamityabravīd rājā pūjāvākyena me tvayā || 
phalamūlena bhagavān vidyate yat tavāśrame |
pādyenācamanīyena bhagavaddarśanena ca ||
sarvathā ca mahāprājñaḥ pūjārheṇa supūjitaḥ |
namaste'stu gamiṣyāmi maitreṇekṣasva cakṣuṣā ||
ibid., 52.15-17


yasya yasya yathākāmaṃ ṣaḍraseṣvabhipūjitam |
tat sarvaṃ kāmadhug divye abhivarṣa kṛte mama || 
rasenānnena pānena lehyacoṣyeṇa saṃyutam |
annānāṃ nicayaṃ sarvaṃ sṛjasva śabale tvara ||
ibid., 52.22,23
evamuktvā vasiṣṭhena śabalā śatrusūdana |
vidadhe kāmadhuk kāmān yasya yasyepsitaṃ yathā || 
ikṣūn madhūṃstathā lājān maireyāṃśca varāsavān |
pānāni ca mahārhāṇi bhakṣyaṃścoccāvacānapi ||
uṣṇāḍhyasyaudanasyātra rāśayaḥ parvatopamāḥ |
mṛṣṭānyannāni sūpāṃśca dadhikulyāstathaiva ca ||
nānāsvādurasānāṃ ca ṣaḍrasānāṃ tathaiva ca |
bhājanāni supūrṇāni gauḍāni ca sahasraśa
: || ibid., 53.1-4


vaidehīṃ lakṣmaṇaṃ rāmaṃ netrairanimiṣairiva |
āścaryabhūtān dadṛśuḥ sarve te vanavāsinaḥ || Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Āraṇyakāṇḍa
, 1.14
atrainaṃ hi mahābhāgāḥ sarvabhūtahite ratāḥ |
atithiṃ parṇaśālāyāṃ rāghavaṃ saṃnyaveśayan ||
ibid., 1.15
tato rāmasya satkṛtya vidhinā pāvakopamāḥ |
ājahruste mahābhāgāḥ salilaṃ dharmacāriṇaḥ ||
ibid., 1.16
maṅgalāni prayuñjānā mudā paramayā yutāḥ |
mūlaṃ puṣpaṃ phalaṃ sarvamāśramaṃ ca mahātmanaḥ ||
ibid., 1.17
nivedayitvā dharmajñāste tu prāñjalayo'bruvan |
dharmapālo janasyāsya śaraṇyaśca mahāyaśāḥ ||
ibid., 1.18


sa rāvaṇaḥ samāgamya vidhivattena rakṣasā |
mārīcenārcito rājā sarvakāmairamānuṣaiḥ ||
ibid., 35.39
taṃ svayaṃ pūjayitvā ca bhojanenodakena ca |
arthopahitayā vācā mārīco vākyamabravīt ||
ibid., 35.40
kaccitte kuśalaṃ rājan laṅkāyāṃ rākṣaseśvara |
kenārthena punastvaṃ vai tūrṇameva ihāgataḥ ||
ibid., 35.41
evamukto mahātejā mārīcena sa rāvaṇaḥ |
tataḥ paścādidaṃ vākyamabravīdvākyakovidaḥ ||
ibid., 35.42


dvijātiveṣeṇa hi taṃ dṛṣṭvā rāvaṇamāgatam |
sarvairatithiskāraiḥ pūjayāmāsa maithilī ||
ibid., 46.33
upānīyāsanaṃ pūrvaṃ pādyenābhinimantrya ca |
abravītsiddhamityeva tadā taṃ saumyadarśanam ||
ibid., 46.34
dvijātiveṣeṇa samīkṣya maithilī samāgataṃ pātrakusumbhadhāriṇam |
aśakyamudveṣṭumupāyadarśanānnyamantrayadbrāhmaṇavattathāgatam ||
ibid., 46.35
iyaṃ bṛsī brāhmaṇa kāmamāsyatāmidaṃ ca pādyaṃ pratigṛhyatāmiti |
idaṃ ca siddhaṃ vanajātamuttamaṃ tvadarthamavyagramihopabhujyatām ||
ibid., 46.36


tau dṛṣṭvā tu tadā siddhā samutthāya kṛtāñjaliḥ |
pādau jagrāha rāmasya lakṣmaṇasya ca dhīmataḥ ||
ibid., 74.6
pādyamācamanīyaṃ ca sarve prādādyathāvidhi |
tāmuvāca tato rāmaḥ śramaṇīṃ dharmasaṃsthitām ||
ibid., 74.7
dharmiṣṭhaṃ tu vacaḥ śrutvā rāghavaḥ sahalakṣmaṇaḥ |
praharṣamatulaṃ lebhe āścaryamiti cābravīt ||
ibid., 74.30
tāmuvāca tato rāmaḥ śabarīṃ saṃśitavratām |
arcito'haṃ tvayā bhadre gaccha kāmaṃ yathāsukham ||
ibid., 74.31
ityevamuktvā jaṭilā cīrakṛṣṇājināmbarā |
[tasmin muhūrte śabarī dehaṃ jīrṇaṃ jihāsatī |]
anujñātā tu rāmaṇe hutvā''tmānaṃ hutāśane || ibid., 74.32
jvalatpāvakasaṃkāśā svargameva jagāma ha |
divyābharaṇasaṃyuktā divyamālyānulepanā ||
ibid., 74.33
divyāmbaradharā tatra babhūva priyadarśanā |
virājayantī taṃ deśaṃ vidyutsaudāmanī yathā ||
ibid., 74.34
yatra te sukṛtātmāno viharanti maharṣayaḥ |
tatpuṇyaṃ śabarīsthanaṃ jagāmātmasamādhinā ||
ibid., 74.35


atithiḥ kila pūjārhaḥ prākṛto'pi vijānatā |
dharmaṃ jijñāsamānena kiṃ punaryādṛśo bhavān || Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Sundarakāṇḍa
, 1.112
tvaṃ hi devavariṣṭhasya mārutasya mahātmanaḥ |
putrastasyaiva vegena sadṛśaḥ kapikuñjara ||
ibid., 1.113
pūjite tvayi dharmajñe pūjāṃ prāpnoti mārutaḥ |
tasmātvaṃ pūjanīyo me śṛṇu cāpyatra kāraṇam ||
ibid., 1.114
śramaṃ mokṣaya pūjāṃ ca gṛhāya harisattama |
prītiṃ ca mama mānyasya prīto'smi tava darśanāt ||
ibid., 1.122
evamuktaḥ kapiśreṣṭhastaṃ nagottamamabravīt |
prīto'smi kṛtamātithyaṃ manyureṣo'panīyatām ||
ibid., 1.123

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