Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
"How can any Brahmin perform so many samskaras these days?" is
perhaps a natural question. "What is the use of speaking about things
that are not practicable?"Suppose I myself give two lists, the first
containing the samskaras that are easy to perform these days and the
second containing those that are not so easy. What will happen then?
You will keep on adding items to the second from the first list and,
eventually, I am afraid nothing will be left for you to perform. So, on
retirement at least, you must perform all the religious rites imposed on
you as Brahmins. You must not ask for an extension of service with your
present employers nor look for a new job.
Let me now speak about a Brahmin's daily religious life according to the
sastras. It is indeed a harsh routine. A Brahmin must get up five
or two hours, before sunrise. "Panca -panca-usatkale", so it is said.
means five*five - "panca-panca usatkale"denotes during
the 25th nadika". From sunset to sunrise is 30 nadikas. So a Brahmin
rise during the 25th nadika-from this time to sunrise is "Brahma
After getting up, he cleans his teeth, bathes in cold water and performs
sandhyavandana and japa. Next he goes through aupasana and agnihotra.
These rites come under "devayajna", sacrifices to the gods. Next is
"Brahmayajna", the daily study and chanting of the Vedas. As part of
rite there are some tarpanas or libations to be offered. (For people
following certain sutras these come later). If daytime is divided into
parts one part would have been over by now.
In the second part of the daytime, the Brahmin must teach his disciples
the Vedas-this is adhyapana. Afterwards, he must gather flowers himself
for the puja he is to perform. Since he is not expected to earn a
if he does not own any land received as gift -he must beg for his food
and also for the materials for the conduct of various sacrifices. The
Brahmin has the right to beg, but it is a restrictive right because it
that he can take only the minimum needed for the upkeep and what is
required for the performance of the rituals. A considerable part of what
he receives as gifts is to be paid as daksina to the priests officiating
sacrifices he performs.
Of the six "occupations" of the Brahmin one is "pratigraha" or accepting
gifts. Another is "dana", making donations to others. It is asked why
Brahmins alone have the right to receive gifts. The answer is that they
also enjoined to make gifts to others. Indeed, the Brahmin accepts gifts
for the purpose of the charity he himself has to render. This apart, he
also to make gifts during the rites to be mentioned next, "atithya" and
After the second part of the day and a portion of the third have been
spent thus, the Brahmin must bathe again and perform madhyahnika.
Next he does pitr-tarpana, that is he offers libations to the fathers;
this rite is followed by homa and puja. In the latter rite he must
to the deities all those objects that he perceives with his five senses
five jnanendriyas). It must now be midday and the fourth part of the
daytime will have been over and the Brahmin must have completed the
rites meant for the deities, the Vedas and the fathers.
Of the five great sacrifices or panca-mahayajnas, two remainmanusyayajna
or honouring and feeding the guests and "bhutayajna"
which includes bali to the creatures of the earth and feeding the poor
(vaisvadeva). Rice is offered in the sacrificial fire and also as bali (
without being placed in the fire). In bali, food is placed in different
of the house to the chanting of mantras-food meant for outcastes,
beggars, dogs, birds, etc. In the manusya-yajna, guests are entertained
and it is also known as atithya. The Brahmin has his mealtime only after
going through these rites. Until then he must not take anything except
perhaps some milk or buttermilk, but never coffee or any snacks. If he
any other sacrifices to conduct, paka, havir or soma, his mealtime will
further delayed. If he has a sraddha to perform also he will have to eat
later than usual. A sraddha ceremony must be commenced only in the
"aparahna": I will tell you what it means.
Daytime, we have seen, is divided into eight parts. But it can also be
divided into five, each of six nadikas. If the sun rises at 6, 6 to 8.
morning or "pratah-kala"; 8. 24 to 10. 48 is "sangava-kala"; and 10. 48
1. 12 is "madhyahnika". From 1. 12 to 3. 36 it is "aparahna"; and from
36 to 6 (or sunset) is "sayam-kala". (The time close to sunset is
"Dosa" means night, the prefix "pra" meaning "pre" or "before". The
English "pre' is derived from "pra". Pradosa thus is the time before
I said that the time for sraddha is aparahna. Rites meant for the gods
be performed only after the completion of the sraddha. After his meal,
the Brahmin must read the Puranas. Next he has the duty of teaching
members of other castes their hereditary vocations, arts and crafts. He
does not have a moment for rest or relaxation. For soon it will be time
his evening bath, sandhyavandana, sacrifices and japa. Vaisvadeva has to
be performed at night also before the Brahmin has his meal and retires
bed. On most nights he takes only light food consisting of fruits, milk,
On Ekadasi he has to fast the whole day.
There is not a moment without work. It is clear that, if the Brahmin
created the sastras, it is not because he wanted to live a life of ease
comfort. On the contrary, the sastras impose on him a life of hardship
and austerity, a life of utter physical and mental discipline.
Even today Brahmins who work in offices or other establishments must
try to live according to the sastras. They must get up at 4 a. m.
muhurta), perform aupasana, agnihotra, Brahmayajna, etc, in the
traditional manner. They may perform puja and madhyahnika during the
sangava time (8. 24 a. m. to 10. 48 a. m. ). "Madhyahnika" as the name
suggests is a midday rite but, making allowances for present-day life,
may be performed during the sangava kala. In the evening too the rites
may be gone through in the sastric manner. as they say, if there is a
there is a way. On holidays it must be possible for a Brahmin to perform
all the rites expected of him.
Even those who are on the morning shift and have to rush to their places
of work must perform the rites as best they can. In the evening the
Gayatri-japa be extended to compensate for non-performance in the
morning. If it is morning shift for a week, will it not be mid-shift or
shift in the subsequent weeks? There could be adjustments made to suit
Brahmins must feel repentant if they fail to perform the rites they are
duty-bound to perform. They must devote the years of their retirement
to the pursuit of their dharma instead of feeling sorry for not going
work. There are rare cases ---perhaps one in a lakh---of people who have
learned the Vedas during their retirement and lived the rest of their
according to the tenets of the sastras.
The rites of our religion go back to a time when no other faith was
prevalent. We must make every effort to ensure that they do not cease to
be performed. They are not meant for our sake alone [as individuals] but
for the welfare of all mankind.
(See also Chapter 3, Part Twenty)