Impact of Vedic Culture on Society

by Kaushik Acharya | 2020 | 120,081 words

This page relates ‘The Expression of Charity in Modern Age’ of the study on the Impact of Vedic Culture on Society as Reflected in Select Sanskrit Inscriptions found in Northern India (4th Century CE to 12th Century CE). These pages discuss the ancient Indian tradition of Dana (making gifts, donation). They further study the migration, rituals and religious activities of Brahmanas and reveal how kings of northern India granted lands for the purpose of austerities and Vedic education.

1.F: The Expression of Charity in Modern Age

[Full title: The Concept of Dāna and its Understanding in the Indian Context (F): The Expression of Charity in Modern Age]

Satras, dharamshala (Choultry) in parts of India, are one expression of charity today. Satras are the shelters for needy people or rest houses for the travelers and the poor, with much serving water and free food. These are usually built along the roads that connect to significant temples or religious institution sites. As well, they serve as charitable institutions. They collect donations (dāna) from devotees who are used to feed people in distress as well as to fund public projects.

A choultry is a resting place, an inn, or caravansary for the travelers, for pilgrims or any visitor to a site associated with Buddhist, Jain, and Brahmanical temples. They are also referred to as chottry, choultree, chathra, etc. those terms are more common in South India, Central India, and West India. They are known as a chatra, satram, chatram or dharamshala in eastern regions of India, while in North India similar facilities are called dharamshala.

A choultry provides seating space, rooms, water, and sometimes food financed by a charitable institution. Its services are either at no cost or nominal rates, or it is up to the visitor to leave whatever they wish as a donation. Many significant temples have mandapam and pillared halls;some called thousand pillared halls with an attached kitchen for servicing pilgrims and travelers to the temple. Many Brahmanical mathas (monasteries) Belur Math, for example, also built and operated such choultries.

Traditional expressions of religious generosity in India have been the establishment of temples, mathas (saints’ abodes), pathaśālās (schools), dharamshalas (sheds for travelers), gauśālās (cowsheds), community halls, construction of wells, ponds, and roads, feeding the poor in temples or on special religious occasions. In the early and early medieval period the temple was not only the center of religious and welfare activities, but also had a pathaśālā attached to it, and often had guilds of artisans who imparted vocational training to apprentices. However, a disjunction of these educational and vocational activities from the temple has taken place in the last few centuries.[1]

The forms that religious philanthropy has taken in modern times in India are numerous. A large number of religious denominations, sects, and cults have come into existence, reflecting the need for ideological guidance among people in today’s society. The religious streams, in particular, have been more responsive to the social, developmental, and psychological demands of modern society, characterized more than anything else by the rapid pace of socio-economic and religious change. These developments have been superimposed upon the diverse forms of religious generosity, which continue to exist since ancient times.

Among the Brahmanical and related religious streams, the Tirupati Devasthānam, the Rāmakṛṣṇa Mission, the Satya Sāi Sevā Organization, the Ārya Samāj, the Aurobindo Āśram, the Swāminārāyaṇa temple and among othersare some of the prominent examples of institutions and movements that have taken up activities for social welfare and development in an organized way. The Sikhs have carried out welfare and development activities in a big way through their Sri Gurudwārā Prābhandhak Committee spread across the country. Not only that, but the work of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity has also received global recognition, and today the missionaries run India’s most popular schools and colleges. During ancient times temples and mathas received the patronage of Brahmanical kings, noblemen, and wealthy people who endowed temples with landed property to get religious blessings and merit for their own and their ancestors. This system of patronage, however, declined during the medieval period. In general, there are few rules and regulations that provide for control over religious institutions and their properties and funds. Afterward, this situation deteriorated with time, and the properties were considered as private properties by the priests or the heads of the mathas.

Swami Dayānanda Saraswati, the founder of the Ārya Samāj, recommends that one must give away one-hundredth of one’s income to charity. In Brahmanism, some rituals take place around main festivals, and no ritual is considered complete without dāna, as mentioned above. The Buddhist and Jain movements from the 6th century onwards gave rise to a large number of monks and wandering mendicants who lived exclusively on alms. Such alms are called bhikṣā, not dāna.

Footnotes and references:


Rakesh Kapoor and Amit K. Sharma, Religious Philanthropy and Organised Social Development Efforts in India.

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