By Swami Harshananda
Āhnika literally means ‘that which is done in a day’.
According to the dharmaśāstras, every dvija (‘the twice-born,’ i.e., the brāhmaṇa, the kṣattriya and the vaiśya) has to follow a strictly regulated daily routine. Every activity of them, even those pertaining to the physical needs of the body, should be considered and performed as a religious duty. Such an attitude is conducive to his spiritual welfare.
Such duties as are to be performed during the course of an ‘ahan’ or day, which is called as ‘āhnika.’ Day-time, for practical purposes, was extended for a short time before sunrise and after sunset. This period was usually divided into eight equal parts and different activities of the daily routine were assigned to different periods of the day.
Principal activities of daily routine covered under āhnika are :
- Utthāna - getting up from the bed
- Śauca - Bodily purity
- Dantadhāvana - brushing the teeth
- Snāna - bath
- Sandhyā - prayers to be offered at dawn
- Japa - repetition of mantras
- Tarpaṇa - libations to forefathers
- Pañcamahāyajñas - five daily sacrifices
- Homa - attending to the sacrificial fire
- Devapujā - worship of God
- Bhojana - taking food
- Arthasañcayana - Earning wealth
- Svādhyāya - studying of Vedas
- Pravacana - teaching the Vedas
- Evening sandhyā - prayers to be offered in the evening
- Dāna - giving gifts
- Nidrā - going to sleep
Each one of these has been described in great details in the smritis. The important ones out of these is briefly described as follows :
- Contemplating on God and holy beings is the first duty to be done, on waking up.
- Answering calls of nature should be done in consonance with the rules of health and sanitation.
- Bath should be taken in cold water, preferably in a river or a pond, repeating the Aghamarsana sukta, the Purusa sukta and other prescribed Vedic hymns.
- A householder is expected to bathe twice a day, once before sunrise and again before noon. While bathing, tarpaṇa (offering water ceremonially to gods, sages and manes) should also be done.
- After wearing fresh washed clothes after bath, putting the tilaka or caste mark (urdhva- puṇḍra, tiryakpuṇḍra, candana and so on) is recommended.
- Then comes the sandhyā ritual and Gāyatrī japa.
- This is followed by homa, offering libations of milk in the consecrated fire.
- Study of Vedic texts, feeding guests and animals, devoting time to the earning of wealth for maintaince of the family are other activities of daily routine.
The word āhnika has been used as the name of the various chapters or sections of the Mahābhāsya (the great commentary) by Patañjali on the grammatical sutras of Pāṇini.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore