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Hospitality In Hindu Religion

In Hindu religion, hospitality or atithya is the fifth among the daily obligations of a householder, the others being offerings to the sages, gods, ancestors and other beings. Atithya is derived from the word atithi, a guest who comes unexpectedly to one’s home. The above obligations have an overt and covert sense and the latter leads the practitioner to the full life of sacrifice. The outer sense of sacrifice to men is that hospitality should be shown to the visitor and the inner meaning is that one should serve and help humanity by feeding the poor, providing them with clothing and offering them shelter and consoling the suffering ones.

The provision of food to pilgrims, by individuals and voluntary service organizations, is a common feature throughout India. Offering drinking water to the visitor is a living Hindu tradition.

One who does not stay and partakes food thrice a day is defined as a guest. Guests are of three types – a person invited to dine at Shraddha (the annual ancestral rite), a person who has come after one had made the offering to vaishvadeva (all the devas) in the course of the daily worship and the one arriving at sunset desiring to stay for the night.

If a person of any one of the first two types does not turn up, the householder should offer clarified butter in the fire in his name. A friend or an inhabitant of the same village or town is not known as a guest.

Vedas declare that a guest is to be regarded as vaishvarana (the fire god) himself or as Bhagavan Vishnu or as the creator himself, irrespective of the fact whether such a person is a dear one or a friend or an enemy or ignorant or learned or a degraded person.

A brahmin householder is required to look and wait for a guest outside his house daily, for the duration of milking of cow before taking his food, and he and his family members should eat only after feeding the guest.

One should not cook food for one’s own sake only but should offer to gods and guests before taking food. Only a casual, hungry, wearied, indigent visitor in search of food and whose name, clan or antecedents, family details, the school (of dharma) and the branch of Veda to which he belongs, and his time and place of birth, and status are unknown, is deemed as a guest. It is a sin to examine whether a guest is virtuous or not or learned in Vedas, etc. It is stated that gods, ancestors and sacred fires accompany the weary guest and they feel honored if the guest is received well and return disappointed if the guest is denied hospitality. All the pious acts and learning of a person get lost if the guest is not entertained. A guest who is denied hospitality takes away the merits of the householder leaving behind the demerits.

Since food it life for the human being, the giver of food is said to be the giver of life. Moreover, a hungry person gets immensely satisfied more with food than with anything else. Hence one desirous of prosperity has to extend hospitality. Besides offering food, a person providing comforts to the seeker is rewarded with immeasurable benefits in his life. Hospitality to the guest may be according to one’s ability without any stipulation. The general practices relating to hospitality are offering water for padya (washing the feet), arghya (offering water as expression of regard), achamana (water for sipping) and then water for drinking before one is served food. Then, according to one’s ability, one may offer the guest the necessities of life which come under the category of dana (gifts).

Puranas narrate the story of a pair of pigeons living in a next on a tree sacrificing themselves in order to provide heat and food to a hunter who resorted to that tree for shelter. The Mahabharata highlights the greatness of extending hospitality by narrating the story of a mongoose, half of whose body turned golden by wallowing on the remnants of powdered barely, which was offered to a guest by the family members of a devoted couple who sustained the guest on unchavritti (gleaning grains) by sacrificing their respective shares.