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Concept Of Atithi – Guest – In Hindu Culture

The word atithi literally means a + tithi (without date) and denotes a person or guest who arrives without prior intimation. Such a person, the atithi, is accorded great respect in Hindu culture. A common saying is that ‘atithi should be treated as divine’. An atithi who arrives before or after meal-time should not be sent away without being fed. Regardless of caste, the guest must be given food.

In Hindu tradition, atithi satkara (proper hosting of an atithi) is considered a yajna. It is said that even if one lives on scattered grains in the fields after harvest and offers penance in the midst of panchagni (five fires), a guest still must be fed or else all virtuous deeds are nullified.

According to Dharmashastra, the grihastha (householder) should perform pancha-mahayajna daily. Duty towards atithi occupies a prominent place among these five yajnas. Manu, the lawgiver, states that one should not start studying Vedas without permission of an atithi, if one is present in the house.

In Katha Upanishad, Yama regrets his absence from home when Nachiketa, an atithi, has to go without food. Yama hailed the atithi as a great knower of knowledge and offered him a boon for each night he dwelt in his house.