From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
By Swami Harshananda
Haṃsa literally means ‘that which moves gracefully’.
Haṃsa is one of the words in Sanskrit that has been used in several senses like:
- A king who has transcended worldly desires
- The jīvātman
- A particular type of horse
Variants of the word Haṃsa includes:
- Swan : The bird swan is the most widely accepted meaning. It was believed in the ancient days that the bird swan had the special power to separate milk from water and drink it, leaving the water behind. This gave rise to the maxim "Haṃsa-ksīra-nyāya". It means the capacity to separate the good from the bad, accept only the good and reject the bad.
- Type of Sanyāsin : Sanyāsin-s (ascetics) have been divided into four orders, of which the ‘hamsa-s’ are the third. They do not stay for more than one night in a village. They reside outside the village in the night. They enter it only for alms and carry one daṇḍa or staff.
- A Mantra : The mantra “so’ham haṃsah” (‘He is myself and I am He’) is called ‘haṃsa mantra’. It is specially used by the sanyāsin of the advaita school of philosophy for constant japa or repetition.
- A Journal : Haṃsa was one of the generals of the Magadhan emperor Jarāsandha mentioned in the Mahābhārata.
- Śukla Yajurveda 19.73
- Sabhāparva, 13
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore