Atithi or Guest Reception (study)

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

This page relates ‘Classification of Vanaprasthins’ 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 11 - Classification of Vānaprasthins

Vānaprasthins according to Baudhāyana Dharmasūtra are classified into two as those, pacamānaka (pacamānaka) and apacamāṃka[1] (apacamānaka). The pacamānakas are of five types,[2]

  1. Sarvāraṇyaka—eating all forest produce;
  2. Vaituṣika—eating only husked grain;
  3. Kandamūlabhakṣa—eating only bulbs and roots;
  4. Phalabhakṣa—eating only fruits; and
  5. Śākabhakṣa—eating only leafy vegetables.

Of these, the Sarvāraṇyakas are of two types, using two kinds of forest produce.[3] They are the Indrāvasiktas -those who use plants grown and nurtured by rain; and the Retovasiktas -those who use animals produced from semen. Of these, the Indrāvasiktas collect the produce of vines, shrubs, creepers, and trees; cook it; offer the daily fire sacrifice (with it) morning and evening, give portions of it to ascetics, atithis, and students; and eat what remains.[4] The Retovasiktas collect the flesh of animals killed by tigers, wolves, hawks, or other predators; cook it, offer the daily fire sacrifice (with it) morning and evening, give portions of it to ascetics, atithis, and students, and eat what remains.[5] Vaituṣikas, avoiding grains with husks, collect husked rice kernels; cook it; offer the daily fire sacrifice with it morning and evening; give portions of it to ascetics, atithis, and students; and eat what remains.[6] Those who eat only bulbs and roots, or only fruits, or only leafy vegetables, also do likewise.[7]

Different kinds of Vānaprasthins are classified in the seventh khaṇḍikā of eighth praśna of Vaikhānasa Dharmasūtra The hermits are either with or without a wife. Those who are with their wife are fourfold. They are, the Auduṃbara, the Vairiñca, the Vālakhilya[8] and the Phenapa hermit.[9] The Auduṃbara hermit subsisting on fruits that grow on unploughed land and herbs that are not sowed, or roots and fruits abstaining from salt, asafoetida, garlic, honey, fish, flesh, sour gruel made of the fermentation of foul rice, and of what has been touched or cooked by other persons, honouring Gods, Ṛṣis, fathers and men, dwells in the woods and keep himself far from the villages. Performing at evening and morning the agnihotra and the sacrifice in to the śramaṇaka fire and the Vaiśvadeva sacrifice, devotes him to ascetism. The Vairiñca hermit nourishes those who belong to him and his atithis with fruits, barley, wild rice and so on. The undertaking of the order of a Vānaprasthin is elaborated in the second khaṇḍa of the nineth praśna. After the Vaiśvadeva sacrifice vānaprasthins feeds the atithis that may come to him and himself eats moderately.

Though those who became vānaprasthins went to the forest only after handing over their duties and responsibilities to their sons, they are expected to continue their customary traditional practices in the forest too.

From the time of Vedas, atithi-saparyā has been very important. Atithi-saparyā became a systematic practice during the time of Dharmaśāstras when varṇāśrama system flourished. Gṛhastha practiced atithi-saparyā as a routine. It is found that there are certain ups and down in atithi-saparyā based on the varṇa system. Vānaprasthin also has to honour his atithis just as gṛhastha.

Receiving an atithi is the duty of a householder. It would bring him goodness, if performed appropriately. Otherwise, ie, if it is eschewed, it can become a sin. Both these boon and curse play a key role in many notable Sanskrit literary works.

Footnotes and references:


pañcaivā'pacamānakāḥ—unmajjakāḥ pravṛttāśino mukhenādāyinastoyāhārāvāyubhākṣaśceti || Baudhāyana Dharmasūtra,3.33.9


tatra pacamānakāḥ pañcavidhāḥ—sarvāraṇyakāvaituṣikāḥ kandamūlabhakṣāḥ phalabhakṣāśśākabhakṣāśceti || ibid., 3.33.3


tatra sarvāraṇyakā nāma dvividhāḥ dvividhamāraṇyamāśrayantaḥ—indrāvasiktā retovasiktāśceti ||  ibid.,3.33.4


tatrendrāvasiktā nāma vallīgulmalatāvṛkṣāṇāmānayitvā śrapayitvā sāyaṃ prātaragnihotraṃ hutvā yatyatithivratibhyaśca datvā'thetaraccheṣabhakṣāḥ || ibid.,3.33.5


retovasiktā nāma māṃsa vyāghravṛkaśyenādibhiranyatamena vā hatamānayitvā śrapayitvā sāyaṃ prātaragnihotraṃ hutvā yatyatithibhyaśca datvā'thetaraccheṣabhakṣāḥ || ibid.,3.33.6


vaituṣikāstuṣadhānyavarja taṇḍulānānayitvā śrapayitvā sāyaṃ prātaragnihotraṃ hutvā yatyatithivratibhyaśca datvā'thetaraccheṣabhakṣāḥ || ibid.,3.33.7


kandamūlaphalaśākabhakṣāṇāmapyevameva || ibid.,3.33.8


The Vālakhilya hermit wearing matted hair, clothed in a tattered garment or in bark, having the sun as his fire, abandoning on the day of full moon in the mouth of Kārttika his abundant food, living otherwise during the remaining months should perform ascetism. Vaikhānasasmārtasūtra, p.189-190


The Phenapa hermit, wearing his staff upraised, estatic, restraining himself, living on what is broken off and fallen down, performing the Cāndrāyaṇa penance and sleeping on the bare ground, fixing his thoughts on Nārāyaṇa, searches for deliverance only. ibid., p.190

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