|Yajur Veda: Pratah Sandhya Vandanam|
by Coimbatore Sadagopan Iyengar
Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama:
An Achamanam is the simplest of Vaidika karmAs, yet none the less in importance than an AsvamEdha Yagyam. Its importance can be well realised when we note that it forms the prelude to all rituals. No vaidika karma can be begun without an Achamanam.
What is the role of this short, simple act? Its main function is to purify the body and the mind. One may ask: before performing any ritual, we usually bathe well, wear a pure cloth, and apply TirumaN to the forehead and at eleven other places in the body, and are as pure as can be. What indeed is the need for another purificatory act, however short or simple? The answer to this question lies in an analysis of the ritual of Achamanam.
The act consists of sipping water in a cupped palm thrice, to the accompaniment of the mantras .AchutAya nama:, AnantAya nama: and GovindAya nama:, with the PraNava preceding these nAmAs, and thereafter touching twelve parts of the body with various fingers of the right hand and the palm, chanting twelve holy names of the Lord, all the while keeping the mind fixed on Him. Simple as it may sound, there are many do.s and don.ts relating to this function, some of which are enumerated here.
Some of the don.ts first-
The aforesaid are only indicative occasions for Achamanam and not an exhaustive list. It is not enough that water is sipped with the mantra- it must reach the heart, and not merely stop with the tongue, mouth or throat. This will be possible only if enough water is taken in the cupped hand. Smritis lay down that the quantum of water should be such that the .Masha. rEkhA in the palm is immersed. This water is to be conveyed into the mouth via the bottom of the palm, known as the .Brahma TIrttham..
It is a measure of this act.s significance that the mantras accompanying it are acclaimed to be the holiest. The tirunAmAs Achyutha, Ananta, and Govinda are a panacea for all ills, and destroy all disease, however deep-rooted and serious, says Sage Vyasa- .Achyuta Ananta Govinda nAma ucchAraNa bhEshajAt nasyanti sakalA: rOgA: satyam satyam vadAmyaham. These words come from the mouth of one of the most erudite, venerated sages, who was a master of the Scriptures and the author of the Brahma SutrAs, whose credibility is beyond question.
The Achyuta nAmA indicates the Lord.s attachment to His devotees and His promise never to forsake them, especially in times of distress. It is significant that this tirumama has the akAra or the letter A at the very beginning, because the letter alone is considered very auspicious and symbolic of Emperuman (.akAra: Vishnu vAchaka:. .akArArtthO Vishnu:. etc.)
The Ananta nAma describes Emperuman.s Paratvam or supremacy. He is limitless-unlimited by time, place or object (.dEsa, kAla, vastu paricchEda rAhityam.). He pervades all objects, and is present always at all places. Thus this sobriquet declares that the Lord is capable of protecting His devotees.
The Govinda nAma indicates the Lord.s soulabhyam or accessibility. The omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Lord took birth in the midst of unlettered cowherds, sharing fully in their happiness and sorrow, stealing butter like an ordinary greedy mortal child and getting punished for it, etc. If the Lord were to be only supreme and inaccessible, He would not be of much succour to us. On the other hand, if He were to be accessible but not possess omnipotence, He wouldn.t be capable of protecting and preserving us.
This unique combination of Paratvam and Soulabhyam makes Emperuman both capable of and inclined to rush to the rescue of souls in distress. What better evidence of the efficacy of the Govinda nAma do we need, than the episode of the Damsel in Distress-Draupati. When she cried out .Govinda! PundarIkAksha!Raksha mAm sharanAgatAm. the Lord protected her modesty with bales of clothing appearing miraculously to overwhelm even the powerful DucchAsana, intent on disrobing her. Sri LokAchArya goes to the extent of saying:.Draupadikku Apatthil pudavai surandadu tirunAmam irE.( it is indeed the Govinda nAma that saved PanchAli.s modesty- by implication, this denies the credit for this act of protection to the Lord Himself, and ascribes the same to His tirunAmam). The Acharya says that Emperuman.s holy names are more powerful than He Himself is, lauding the comparative greatness of the .Vachaka.( the name) over that of the .VAchyam. ( the possessor of the name). Even when the Lord is too far away to protect us, His hallowed name, if it is on our tongue, will protect us immediately (.avan doorastthan AnAlum idu kiiti nindru udavum.).
The combination of the Achyuta, Ananta and Govinda nAmAs has the effect of purifying us bodily and in spirit, of destroying all disease, whether of the body or the soul, of affording us constant protection, and washing away all sin, past, present and future. Thus it is out of their infinite mercy that the Maharshis who authored the various Smritis prescribed Achamanam as a prelude to and as a concluding act to all vaidika karmAs, and even to our daily ablutions.
Though there is a wealth of information on Achamanam to be found in the Ahnika granthAs, especially the one by prakritam Srimad Azhagiasingar, Smritis and their commentaries, notably the .Smriti MuktAphalam. etc., adiyen stops here, seeking the Bhagavatas. permission to cover some other aspects of this important purificatory rite later.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama: Dasan,sadagopan.Achamanam-2
We have seen the various occasions warranting Achamanam. One of these is eating or drinking. However, there are occasions too when Achamanam is forbidden; for instance it is not to be done after the intake of holy water like PerumAl Tirttham (Vishnu pAdOdakam), Sri PAda tIrttham of bhAgavatAs, madhuparkam, sOmapAnam (after conclusion of the SomayAga),etc.
The Achamanam in practice during Sandhyavandanam etc., is described in the Smritis. There is one more prescribed by the Shruti and which is done at the time of Brahma Yagyam ( done after PrAtah:sandhyAvandanam, in which one prasna from the Veda is recited daily in sequential order, along with the Purusha Sukta). This Achamanam is described in the TaittirIya AraNyaka ( 2nd Prasna, 15th panchati) thus-. tri:AchAmEt,dvi:parimrijya,sakrit u0pasprisya,shira: chakshushee nAsikE shrOtrE hridayam Alabhya. As in the ordinary Achamanam, here too, water is sipped thrice, the lips wiped twice. Then one should touch the head, eyes, two nostrils, two ears and the heart. This constitutes the Shrouta Achamanam.
The important difference in this type of Achamanam is that it is done without any mantra being uttered- the intake of water is without the accompaniment of .Achuta Ananta Govinda. nAmAs. Further, the body parts to be touched are only eight, against twelve in the SmArta Achamanam. Additionally, even while touching these parts, no mantra is to be recited (i.e., without the KesavAdi nAmAs). Perhaps due its peculiarities, and the absence of accompanying Bhagavan nAmAs, this Achamanam is prescribed only during Brahma Yagya and nowhere else.
There is one more type of Achamanam in vogue. If often happens that though we need to purify ourselves through Achamanam, no water is available at the time and place. In such situations, the Smriti prescribes an easy method of purification- that of touching the tip of one.s nose and then the right ear, uttering the Pranava mantra. This is based on the Scriptural texts, which say that Agni resides in the Brahmana.s nose tip and holy rivers like the Ganga in his right ear. Hence touching these two purifies a person immediately. This is why perhaps the YagyOpaveetam is rolled onto one.s right ear while carrying on excretory functions. We would have observed elders performing this ShrOtra Achamanam after letting out a yawn or sneezing. It is to be noted that this short cut is to be adopted only when the regular Achamanam is impossible due to circumstances.
Other types of mini-AchamanAs are prescribed by Sri BodhAyana, who says that when the vastram is worn again after its removal, one should perform Achamanam, and if that is not possible, touch wet grass, wet earth or wet gOmayam.
The importance attached to Achamanam is evident from the Smriti Chandrika vachanam, .ya: kriyA kurutE mOhAt anAchamya Eva nAstika: bhavanti hi vritA tasya kriyA:sarvA na samsaya:. All karmAs done without Achamanam are doomed to failure and would be futile, warns the Smriti. There are many Smritis, which prescribe different types of Achamanam, some mutually conflicting. Whenever one has a doubt, one should approach elders and BhAgavatAs and have the matter clarified, as there is nothing that is more authoritative.
Adiyen seeks the pardon of BhagavatAs for any errors of commission or omission that might have crept in the above piece.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama: Dasan,sadagopan.
This is an unintended sequel to the earlier two-part posting on the subject, resulting from the clarifications sought by various BhAgavatAs, which enabled adiyen to research deeper into the Smritis and Ahnika Granthas, especially the one by Prakritam Srimad Azhagiasingar.
Is Achamanam prescribed for ladies too? Yes, it is. The difference between the regular Achamanam and that to be done by ladies is that the latter is to be done without the pranava and the chaturtthi. That is, the water is to be sipped thrice, once each with .Achuta, Ananta, and Govinda. only and not .AchyutAya Nama..etc. Also, only these three namas are to be uttered and not the other twelve beginning with .Kesavaya Nama:.
How is the water to be sipped? Water is to be taken for Achamanam via the Deva tIrttham (formed by the joined finger-tips-this is especially when Sandhyavandanam is performed in rivers or tanks), held in the palm which should be in the form of a cow.s ear, and sipped via the Brahma Tirttham(that is, via the bottom of the palm).This is indicated by the Saccharitra Sudhanidhi vachanam .Brahma tIrtthEna nissabdam mAsha magnam jalam pibEt.. This also implies that the intake of water should be without any sound, as occasioned by noisy sucking. This would necessitate the head to be in a slightly raised position, not of course as raised as for drinking water normally, so that the water comfortably flows down the throat.
Incidentally, an Achamanam is supposed to be complete only when the water sipped reaches the heart-it is not enough if it stops with the tongue, palate or even the throat. (.apsu prAptAsu hridayam brAhmaNa; shuddim ApnuyAt.). Though this appears difficult, it should be possible with practice, correct posture of the head, sipping the correct quantity of water, etc.
One more clarification sought was whether the practice of Brihaspatis, not to advise Achamanam at the commencement of various rituals, is correct. Adiyen can only quote the HArIta Smriti- .Shrouta SmArtEshu gArhyEshu kritEshu vidhivat budha: dvirAchAmEt tu sarvatra. This pramANA enjoins upon all to perform two AchamanAs at the beginning of all rituals of all descriptions.
A few prescriptions regarding the water used for Achamanam-
Why should one touch the various body parts while performing Achamanam? Replies Sage VyAsa- All the DevAs are propitiated by the intake of water with the Achuta, Ananta and Govinda nAmAs. Wiping the lips pleases Ganga and Yamuna, while touching the eyes pleases SuryA and Chandra. Similarly, the AswinI dEvAs are propitiated by touching of the nose, Agni and Vayu by the ears. When the heart is touched with the Padmanabha mantra (which is also the mantra for touching the navel) all the thirty-three crore dEvAs are pleased and the Paramatma by touching the head.
The importance of Achamanam can be well understood, when we find it prescribed even as a PrAyaschittam (act of atonement) for all sins. Says Sri BodhAyana in the PrAyaschitta PrakaraNa, .AchamanAdEva sarvasmAt pApAt pramuchyatE.
The purpose of this piece is not to list so many do.s and don.ts that people despair of performing this correctly, but to emphasise the need for due care in this regard, so that any ritual, to which Achamanam is a prelude, is well-begun. And, as everybody knows, well begun is half-done. .Such a simple act, and so many rules for its performance!. One might wonder: but in view of the apparently boundless benefits to be derived from a single correctly done Achamanam, it is well worth our while to observe the requirements to the maximum possible extent.
Srimad InjimEttu Azhagiasingar, the 42nd Pontiff of Sri Ahobila Mutt, renowned for His erudition and anushttAnam, was reputed to devote great care on every Achamanam He performed, consuming quite a few minutes for the act. And so have several other MahAns of different SampradAyAs, highlighting the significance they attached to this simple, but extremely effective act.Srimate Sri LakshmINrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama: Dasan,sadagopan.