By Swami Harshananda
Śāntis literally means ‘propitiatory rites’.
Humans to react with the fear of the unknown when eerie unnatural incidents take place. Right from the most ancient times they have also tried to forestall such happenings that might follow, with appropriate propitiatory rites called śāntis by the scriptures in advance. Derived from the root śam, the word śānti means a rite that can offset or reduce the evil effects prognosticated by bad omens. Though this word has not been found in the Ṛgveda in this sense, it does find a prominent place in the Atharvaveda, the Taittiriya Samhitā and the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa.
- 1 Literature on the Śāntis
- 2 Aspects of Śāntis
- 3 Śāntis on a General Note
- 4 Some Special Śāntis
- 5 Epilogue
- 6 References
Literature on the Śāntis
The literature on the śāntis is quite large. A few of the works may be mentioned here:
- Apastamba Grhyasutras
- Viṣṇudharmottara-purāṇa\ Bṛhatsamhitā
Aspects of Śāntis
These works have dealt with the śāntis in all their aspects quite extensively.
Treatises of Śantis
The treatises dealing with śāntis generally use three words that prognosticate future events. They are:
- Adbhuta - The adbhutas are divided into seven groups relating to the deities Indra, Varuṅa, Yama, Agni, Kubera, Visnu and Vāyu. When some adbhutas take place as related to these deities, certain śāntis are prescribed. For instance, when a rainbow is seen at night, Indra is the god to be appeased. If there is smoke without fire, the deity is Agni. The śānti consists in the japa of certain mantras of the Atharvaveda.
- Utpāta - The word utpāta refers to occurrences that portend evil to all. It is the reverse of the usual natural order.
- Nimitta - Nimitta is a prognostic sign which may indicate either an auspicious or an inauspicious event. Generally, it is restricted to the throbbing of a person’s limbs, though it may be used in a wider sense, as utpāta, also.
Examples of utpātas and nimittas, usually unfavorable, occur plentifully in the Mahābhārata. The chief utpātas and adbhutas fore-boding evil are:
- Terrible dreams
- Falling of meteors
- Howling of jackals facing south
- Solar eclipse at an unusual time
- Vultures sitting on temples
- Spontaneous fires
- Halos round the sun or the moon
- Rain of blood-red water
- Sudden darkness in the sky
- Horses shedding tears
- Rivers flowing in the reverse direction
- Throbbing of left eye or arm in men
- Images of gods trembling, dancing or weeping
On the other hand, the auspicious signs are:
- Clear and cloudless sky
- Cool and pleasant wind
- Fire without smoke
- Shower of flowers
- Auspicious birds like herons and peacocks chirping
Such omens and portents are generally described as occurring at certain important times and events as on the eve of a battle or coronation or exile of a king and so on.
Śāntis on a General Note
The purāṇas like the Matsya and the Agni prescribe different śāntis of different names for the various purposes. Some of them are:
- Abhayaśānti for a king who wants to conquer others or protect himself against the machinations of the enemies
- Saumyaśānti for health
- Vaiṣṇavīśānti to offset the effects of an earthquake or famine
- Raudrīśānti against epidemics or ghosts
- Brāhmīśānti against the spread of atheism
- Vāruṇīśānti against drought
- Kaumārīśānti for the welfare of children
- Āgneyīśānti to ward off the fear of fire-accidents
- Yāmyaśānti when there is the fear of accidental death
- Kauberīśānti when wealth is lost
- Pārthivīśānti when trees are affected by abnormal conditions
Some Special Śāntis
Gajaśānti is of two types. The first one, with a simple procedure, is done to restore a sick elephant to health. The second one described in detail in the Agnipurāṇa is aimed at making the royal elephant strong, powerful and inspired so that it protects the king in a battle.
This is performed to offset the effects of mishaps indicated by such occurrence as the falling of meteors or to facilitate the coronation of a king or his victory in a battle and so on. A yajña is performed on a raised platform using mostly mantras from the Ṛgveda. The yajamāna takes a ceremonial bath at the end. Holy water used in the rite is sprinkled over him.
Navagrahaśānti, also called Navagrahamakha, is performed to the images of the nine planets made out of nine different kinds of materials. It is meant to offset the evil effects of the planets. It's three aspects are:
The mantras used are those from the Ṛgveda and the Yajurveda.
It is also known as puṣyābhiṣeka or bārhaspatyasnāna which is reserved for the well-being of kings. Purṇimā associated with the Puṣya nakṣatra is the best day for the performance of this śānti. Some of the more important steps of this rite are as follows:
- Selecting a suitable spot for the performance of this rite
- Drawing a maṇḍala
- Keeping the various articles on it at appropriate places
- Homa with special oblations into the fire
- Sprinkling clarified butter and holy water on the king seated nearby, with mantras
- Release of prisoners and animals meant for slaughter
Also called Ugrarathaśānti, it has to be performed by one who has completed sixty years of age. Its aim is to ward off diseases and death and make him live up to a hundred years. It should be performed in the month of his birth and on the day associated with the nakṣatra of his birth. Some of the steps involved in this rite are:
- Worship of a small golden image of Mṛtyu
- Japa of certain Vedic mantras
- Oblations of cooked food with appropriate mantras
- Sprinkling the yajamāna with holy water from the established jars
The birth of a girl after three successive births of boys or of a boy after three successive births of girls, was supposed to indicate harm to the family like a death or loss of wealth or some other catastrophe. The Trikaprasavaśānti, to be performed at the earliest on an auspicious day, was aimed at offsetting the evil consequences. Worshiping the golden images of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva, Indra and homa with mantras from the Rgveda and the Taittiriya Samhitā were recommended. Donating a cow apart from the usual dakṣiṇā to the chief priest was the last part of the rite.
This is a comprehensive and popular rite which is practiced even now. It is performed for averting the consequences of many evil happenings and also for securing good health and a happy life. It is an elaborate ritual involving many Vedic mantras, both from the Samhitās and the Brāhmaṇas. The date for the performance of the śānti is determined by the nakṣatra of the yajamāna or the performer in his horoscope. The chief priest is generally assisted by an even number of brāhmaṇas. The śāntijala is prepared by him by dipping two kuśa grass blades in the kumbha and chanting the appropriate mantras. At the end, the sanctified water is sprinkled over the performer and others for whose sake it may have been performed.
This śānti which is performed even in the modern days, has to be done on the same day or the previous day of gṛhapraveśa The actual day has to be fixed as per the nakṣatra of the owner. Grahamakha and the usual rites of worship of Gaṇeśa are part of this śānti. A maṇḍala of 81 squares is drawn and 62 deities are invoked to be present. Some other rituals as a part of this rite are:
- Sprinkling of water made holy by appropriate mantras
- Surrounding the new building thrice with a thread to the accompaniment of suitable mantras from the Rgveda
- Digging a pit in the āgneya or the south-east corner and filling it with seven sacred articles
- Ceremonial entry into the house by the owner along with his family
Though what cannot be cured will have to be endured invoking the grace of the Divine. It will definitely help in reducing, if not eliminating, the effects of unforeseen mishaps. This spirit is the core of the various śāntis prescribed by the religious scriptures. These rites are still being resorted to is proof enough for their efficacy.
- Śam means to appease.
- Atharvaveda 19.9
- Taittiriya Samhitā 188.8.131.52-8
- Aitareya Brāhmaṇa 13.10
- Agnipurāṇa Chapter 291
- Purṇimā means full-moon day.
- Maṇḍala means geometrical diagram of mystical significance.
- It means Death; Yama.
- Taittiriya Brāhmana 184.108.40.206
- Rgveda 7.59.12
- Rgveda 1.22.17
- Taittiriya Samhitā 220.127.116.11
- Nakṣatra means star.
- Śāntijala means propitiatory water.
- Kumbha means pot of water.
- Gṛhapraveśa is the formal entering into a newly- built house, by the yajamāna or owner.
- Nakṣatra means birth-star.
- Grahamakha is a rite for propitiating the nine grahas or planet.
- Maṇḍala means mystical diagram.
- Rgveda 4.4.1-15
- Rgveda 9.1.1-10
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore