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Atithi Devo Bhavah

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In India, the saying “Atithi Devo Bhavah” is also integral. It means “the guest is equivalent to god”. It is a Sanskrit verse taken from the Hindu scriptures which later became a part of the “Code of conduct” for Hindu society, since the guest has always been of supreme importance in the culture.

 

Guest is God

“Atithi Devo Bhava” 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 or even in Hindi language means a (calendrical) date. “A-tithi” means who does not have any date. In olden times, there were no fast modes of communication as compared to today and thus if anyone wants to visit or meet his near and dear ones, there were no ways he could communicate his arrival. So he used to pay visit without any information and therefore in course of time guest used to be called “athithi” 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.

 

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Ritual or Puja

In Hinduism Personal God is worshipped in a five-step worship; this is known as Panchopchara Puja. The "Shodashopchar Poojan" is more elaborate and formal, and involves 16 steps.

The five steps from the worship become the five formalities to be observed while receiving guests:

Fragrance (Dhupa) - While receiving guests the rooms must have a pleasant fragrance, because this is the first thing that attracts or detracts guests from their visit. A pleasant fragrance will put a guest in good humour.

Lamp (Dipa) - Prior to the electrification of India, a lamp was put between host and guest so that expression and body language would remain clearly visible and therefore no gap would be created between host and guest.

Eatables (Naivedya) - Fruits and sweets made of milk were offered to guests.

Rice (Akshata) - It is a symbol of being undivided. A tilak, often made of a vermilion paste, is put on the forehead and rice grains are placed on it. This is the highest form of welcome in Hindu Indian families.

Flower Offering (Pushpa) - A flower is a gesture of good will. When the guest departs, the flower symbolizes the sweet memories of the visit that stay with them for several days.

 

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