India is a land of many cultures. It is the amalgamation of many traditions and customs, and each has a unique place in the hearts of its citizens.
One such tradition is treating guests as god, or “Atithi Devo Bhava”.
The line is part of the verse mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.20 that reads in full as: matrudevo bhava; pitrudevo bhava; acharyadevo bhava; atithidevo bhava. The literal translation of the verse would bring out the sense that an ideal person should strive to “become a person who considers the Mother as God, the Father as God, the Teacher as God and the guest as God.”
“Tithi” in Sanskrit means a date. “A-tithi” means who does not have any date. In earlier days, there was no way of fast communication, and so guest didn’t have the means of communicating their arrival. So they used to pay visit without any information and therefore in course of time they came to be called as “athithi” i.e. one who does not have any fixed time of arrival. “Devo” in Sanskrit means God-like and “bhava” means to assume/understand. Atithi Devo Bhava means to assume or understand a guest as God-like and so pay respect and homage in the similar way one would give to his God. This unique custom came about to make sure that no guest was left felling unworthy- each and every person was treated the same and not discriminated on the basis of caste ore creed or religion or colour. So, despite the high cultural diversity, guests in India are treated the same.
After it is understood that guest is like a god then comes the process of serving them. In Hinduism, the rituals performed to welcome the guests comprise of five-steps which is known as Panchopchara Puja. These five rituals from the worship similarly become the five “code of conduct” to be followed while receiving guests which are as follows:
- Fragrance/Incence (Dhupa)
- Earthen Lamp (Dipa)
- Eatables (Naivedya)
- Rice (Akshata)
- Flower Offering (Pushpa)
Thus, Atithi Devo Bhava, the tradition of hospitality in India is what drives the tourism industry. The Ministry of Tourism has even made this the tagline for their Incredible India campaign, which is used to increase social awareness, and they have even roped in Bollywood actor Aamir Khan as their brand ambassador.
Stay tuned to Triveni Times for more such insights on unique Indian traditions.
Authored by Sabiha Gani